6,300,000 pageviews


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Advice From a Writing Professor

     Martin Russ' classic 1980 memoir, Showdown Semester: Advice From a Writing Professor, is an entertaining and practical instruction manual for anyone interested in the art and craft of creative writing, or in the difficult job of teaching students how to write for publication. Almost everything in this book is quotable, but here are a few passages that stand out:

The brute fact is, the instructor in a fiction workshop earns his pay by telling students what's wrong with their stories. The students themselves are convinced they need encouragement more than anything, and of course you'll encourage them as much as you can; but what they need most of all is discouragement, so that they'll come to realize how appallingly low their standards are and break the terrible habits they've learned.

As I believe in passive sadism in childrearing, so I advocate the same stance in dealing with the obstreperous student. Kill him with kindness or at least benevolent inattention. Not only must you never let yourself be drawn into any sort of emotional escalation, you must avoid acknowledging his attitude.

Make sure you have something to say before you write it down. One of the most difficult things undergrads have to learn is they have as yet little to say.

Many nonfiction teachers make the dumb mistake of providing subjects or topics. Let the student choose them himself, and make damn sure he says something about the subject--rather than merely turning in a description or summary or noncommittal analysis of it.

For some cockeyed reason it is assumed that if you have the required degree you can therefore do an adequate job of teaching.

Often a classroom of students will unconsciously follow a peer leader--a sarcastic put-down artist, for instance, who by dint of personality and precocious verbal skills will turn your course into a living nightmare unless you step in and blandly damp him off.

It's quite true that fiction can't be taught; but you can pass along a few shortcuts and get them interested in the craft of it. I don't think any student wastes his time in a good fiction workshop, not even the talentless ones.

Undergrads tend to use more words than they need to, and much of your work involves showing them that a certain word or phrase or sentence or paragraph can be deleted without loss.

The most prevalent problem in student fiction writing is lack of plot or suspense, or drama.

Undergrad fiction writers are intensely interested in the possibilities of metaphor, simile, alliteration, allusion, parallelism, symbolism, and all the other literary devices. Which is fine. The problem is that they're more interested in the devices themselves than in using them effectively.

For student writers one of the most difficult problems is "creating character"--and it's a damned hard thing to teach.

Fiction-writing students would much rather describe than narrate. Would rather tell than show. Would rather summarize than dramatize. Would rather explain than demonstrate. Would rather obscure than clarify. I don't know why...but students seem to want to do everything wrong.

The amateur's attitude: It is I who am doing this thing, and I'm more important than the thing I am doing. The professional's attitude: This thing I'm doing is more important than me. (In other words, just because you wrote it doesn't make it good, or even interesting.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Reading Reviews of Your Book

While it would be better not to read reviews, you're always looking for some reviewer who will tell you something about your book that you didn't know yourself and at the same time that you think is true. And that very, very rarely happens.

Mary McCarthy in Conversations With Mary McCarthy, edited by Carol Gelderman, 1991 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Truth Can Be Stranger Than Fiction

       In New York state, a male home intruder in his 20s was beaten up and restrained by the female homeowner, an 82-year-old bodybuilder.

     In Florida, a robber entered a bank and ordered the teller to hand over a specific sum of cash. When she gave him too much, he returned the excess.

     In California, someone swiped the prosthetic legs that belonged to a high school wrestler.

     In Dresden, Germany, two thieves broke into a museum and stole $1.1 million in 18th Century jewelry on temporary display. The smash-and-grab burglars activated the intrusion alarm but left the scene before the police arrived.

     In Maine on Thanksgiving Day, a man who had rigged his house with a booby trap to kill an intruder with a shotgun blast, killed himself when he somehow tripped the device himself.

Children's "Chapter Books"

Around the end of the second grade, many children spurn heavily illustrated picture books and look for what they call "chapter books." Finally, children can read on their own, and publishers provide easy-to-read books that invite them to read with a simple vocabulary, short sentences, and a lot of white space. If the book is broken into chapters, children feel that they're reading a "grown-up" book.

Olga Litowinsky, Writing and Publishing Books For Children, 1992 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Contradictanyms

Contradictanyms are words which have opposing meanings depending on the context in which they are used. For example, the word DUST can mean to add fine particles (as in dust the cake with icing sugar) as well as to remove fine particles (as in dust the furniture).

Ben Schott, Schott's Original Miscellany, 2002 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Peter Nygard Sex Trafficking Case

     Peter Nygard was born in Finland and grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. In 1967, the 26-year-old fashion designer founded Nygard International, a women's clothing, manufacturing and supply company headquartered in Winnipeg. By 1990, Nygard had offices and warehouses in New York City and Los Angeles. He also owned estates in Marina del Rey, California and in the Bahamas. 

     In December 2019, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York secured a nine-count indictment charging Peter Nygard with sex trafficking, racketeering, and related federal offenses. According to the indictment, Nygard took teenaged girls he called his "girlfriends" to company funded "Pamper Parties" where the girls were given free drinks and access to the spa. The events were held in Marina del Rey and in the Bahamas. At these events, the girls were given alcohol and drugs then raped by Nygard and his friends. Most of the victims were from poor families and had been the victims of previous sexual abuse.

     Nygard also took his "girlfriends" to swinger clubs were they were intimidated into having sex with other men. The victims of Nygard's sex trafficking operation were paid by being placed on the company payroll as either "models" or "assistants." To keep his young victim's silent, the girls were threatened with arrest. They were also promised real modeling jobs.

     In January 2020, ten of Peter Nygard's alleged victims filed a civil lawsuit accusing him of enticing young and impoverished women to his estates in the Bahamas and Marina del Rey with cash and promises of modeling opportunities. According to the lawsuit, Nygard kept a database containing the names of his "girlfriends." Some of the victims were as young as fourteen. Eventually, 57 women, plaintiffs from the U.S., the Bahamas, and Canada, joined in the class action suit. 

     In February 2020, FBI agents and New York City Police Officers raided Peter Nygard's Times Square offices. 

     Police in Winnipeg, on December 14, 2020, pursuant to the Extradition Act, arrested Peter Nygard on the sex trafficking and racketeering charges. The 79-year-old was booked into a Winnipeg jail where he was held without bail until extradited to the U.S. for trial.     

Friday, December 25, 2020

A Radical Take on Santa Clause

Isn't Santa just a stand in for a society...that watches and judges, telling kids they got what they deserved based on their behavior? Surely children have to notice that Saint Nick, like the judicial system itself, tends to look more favorably upon the rich. He is fat, white, past middle age, and holds all the cards.

Thomas Quackenbush, A Creature was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

"Gun Control" in Chicago

In Chicago, so far in 2020, 4,000 people have been shot, 740 of them fatally. Most of the shootings took place on weekend nights during the summer months on the west and south sides of the city. 1,400 more people were shot in 2020 than the previous year. Such gun violence took place in a city where its leaders are strong advocates of "gun control," a concept that apparently just applies to the law abiding citizens of the city.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Knowing Writers By Their Styles

A novelist is revealed in his style, the language which he has created for himself.

Henry Miller in Henry Miller on Writing, edited by Thomas H. Moore, 1964 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Inserting Humor Into Nonfiction

Sociologists, linguists and biologists say that our ability to laugh and desire to do so isn't all fun and games, but actually serves two essential life functions: to bond with members of our "tribe," and to lessen tension and anxiety. Both of these are also excellent reasons to incorporate humor in your nonfiction. As a communication tool, effective use of humor can humanize you, cementing your bond with readers. It can also help your work stand out in a crowded market. And as advertising studies have shown, humor enhances how much we like what we're reading and how well we remember it afterward.

Anne Jasheway, writersdigest.com, August 9, 2011

Friday, December 18, 2020

As Local Journalism Shrinks, Government Corruption Expands

Over the past 15 years, local newspapers in the U.S. have lost more than $35 billion in advertising revenue and half of their reporters. Journalism studies show that as local news reporting declines, government corruption and inefficiency rises. As they say, no one is watching the store.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Franc Cano and Steven Dean Gordon: Why Serial Sex Offenders Should Not Be Paroled

     In 1992, 23-year-old Steven Gordon, a resident of Orange County, California, was convicted of two counts of lewd and lascivious acts with girls under 14 and 10-years-old. He was convicted and spent three years behind bars. In 2002, in Riverside County, California, Gordon was sent to prison on a kidnapping conviction.

     Twenty-one-year-old Franc Cano, another Orange County sexual predator, went to prison in 2008 for rape.

     In April 2012, Gordon was on parole and wearing a federal GPS device. His friend Cano, also on parole, wore a state-issued ankle bracelet. That month, the two transients removed their tracking devices, and under the names Dexter McCoy and Joseph Madrid, boarded a Greyhound bus for Law Vegas.

     On May 8, 2012, federal agents apprehended the two paroled sex offenders at the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Back in California, they both pleaded guilty to failure to register as sex offenders. Instead of sending these men back to prison where they belonged, the parolees were ordered to provide DNA samples. As further "punishment", their computers (they had computers?) would be monitored by parole and probation authorities. They were also required to check in once a month with the Anaheim Police Department. New GPS tracking devices were attached to each man and they were sent on their way.

     On October 10, 2013, Kianna Jackson, a 20-year-old from Las Vegas, disappeared while she was in Santa Ana, California. In Santa Ana, she had been charged with prostitution and loitering to commit prostitution. Jackson wasn't the only sex worker that had gone missing in southern California during that period. Thirty-four-year-old Josephine Monique Vargas was last seen on October 24, 1913 after attending a family birthday party at a Santa Ana Red Roof Inn. Vargas had a history of drug abuse and prostitution.

     Martha Anaya, a 28-year-old Santa Ana woman with a history of prostitution, was last seen on November 12, 2013. Before her disappearance, Anaya had asked her boyfriend to pick up her 5-year-old daughter so she could work her trade.

     On March 14, 2014, the naked body of 21-year-old Jarrae Nykkole Estepp was found on a conveyor belt at an Anaheim trash-sorting plant. Estepp was known to work on a strip of beach in Anaheim known for prostitution. She had moved to southern California from Oklahoma.

     On April 11, 2014, Anaheim police officers arrested Franc Cano, 27 and his traveling partner Steven Dean Gordon, 45, near the trash sorting facility in Anaheim where Jarrae Estepp had been raped and murdered. (I presume the suspects were linked to this victim through DNA.)

     On Monday, April 14, 2014, an Orange County prosecutor charged Cano and Gordon with four felony counts of special circumstances murder and four counts of rape. If convicted as charged, these men faced sentences of life without parole. While they were also eligible for the death penalty, no California judge had imposed that sentence for decades. 

     Anaheim Police Lieutenant Bob Dunn, at a press conference on April 15, 2014, said the suspects may have raped and killed more women in southern California. The officer would not say if the bodies of the other three prostitutes had been found. According to Lieutenant Dunn, the suspects, when they raped and murdered the four victims, were wearing their GPS tracking devices.

     Just prior to his December 2016 Orange County murder trial, Steven Dean Gordon fired his public defender so he could act as his own defense attorney. In his opening remarks to the jury, the defendant did not deny murdering the four women. Instead, he blamed Franc Cano and the parole and probation department for not monitoring him more closely.

     On December 16, 2016, the jury just took one hour to find Gordon guilty as charged,.

Property Rights and Freedom

Man's liberty is, of course, often related to his property rights. The home and its privacy are property rights. Ownership of a press is essential to the freedom granted newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and books. Ownership of a church or cathedral is basic to the free enterprise of religion.

U. S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, 1963

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Police Use of Deadly Force

      When it comes to US police officers firing their weapons, the rules, on paper, are very clear. "Ultimately you come to your firearm as a last resort," says Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Order of Police. "You should only use that weapon in a situation where you felt your life or the lives of civilians in the area were in danger." [The Supreme Court in 1982 ruled that shooting at an unarmed fleeing felon who had not just committed a violent crime was not justified.]

     The use of Kevlar vests and other protective police gear have enabled police officers to work with less fear of their lives than in the past.

     Only a small percentage of the nation's 500,000 police officers are involved in shootings. Most retire without ever firing their gun in the line of duty. Still, officers are 600 times more likely than a non-officer to kill a citizen, and about 400 people are killed a year by police. [According to my research, the police shoot about a thousand people a year, killing about half of them. Over the past few years, the number of police officers who are shot or in some way physically assaulted has been on the rise. Increased hostility and danger from the public has kept the rate of police-involved shootings high.]

"What Goes Through a Policeman's Head Before He Shoots?" BBC, August 20, 2014

Silence is Golden

Thanks to cable news, the Internet, and talk radio, the world is polluted with the spoken word. There was a time when words silently lifted off the page and drifted into our minds. Today, the air is filled with talk-- conversations, discussions, debates, and commentary. The subjects include sports, crime, politics, the weather, celebrities--you name it. The talking never stops. For many it creates frustration, anger, anxiety, depression, envy, and fear. It rips at the fabric of our society, splits us into groups, makes some people a little crazy. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Socialists

Listening to what a socialist has to say about economics and government is like taking a geography course from a teacher who believes the earth is flat.

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Bad Check Artist

Former police chief of Houston once said of me: "Frank Abagnale could write a check on toilet paper, drawn on the Confederate States Treasury, sigh it 'U. R. Hooked' and cash it at any bank in town, using a Hong Kong driver's license for identification.

Frank W. Abagnale, Catch Me if You Can, 1980

Legalizing Prostitution

Prohibiting something doesn't make it go away. Prostitution is criminal, and bad things happen because it's run illegally by dirtbags who are criminals. If it's legal, then the girls could have health checks, unions, benefits, anything the worker gets, and it would be far better.

Jesse Ventura, ex-pro wrestler and former governor of Minnesota 

Fiction for Men

     Some authors appeal mainly to men: Tom Clancy, Len Deighton, Jack Higgins, Gavin Lyall, Frederick Forsyth, Harlan Coben, Lee Child, Gerald Seymour. This is neither praise nor blame, it's just a fact. I don't think there's a school of writing that's classified as Bloke Lit, not yet. But it may be the next big thing.

     Points that come to mind about writing for men are: Men like information and excitement. Men like heroes and heroines who are lookers. Men like shorter books. [Most true crime readers, however, are women. Women like their crime, and they like it real.]

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

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Cop Burnout

For a detective or street police, the only real satisfaction is the work itself; when a cop spends more and more time getting aggravated with the details, he's finished. The attitude of co-workers, the indifference of supervisors, the poor quality of the equipment--all of it pales if you still love the job; all of it matters if you don't.

David Simon, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, 2006

The Trial Lawyer

     They might best be called the shock troops of the legal profession, the ones called in when all else has failed. After the niceties of early legal wrangling, it is up to the trial lawyers to right wrongs, prosecute or defend the accused and see that--for at least one side--truth wins out in the courtroom's bright glare.

     Of course, real-life courtroom lawyers know that real-life cases seldom are won solely on the basis of flowery oratory. Instead, it's a matter of mastering an extraordinary complex set of facts and presenting them to jurors in a way that convinces them there is only one possible right version: their client's. And witnesses who confess on the stand, freeing an unjustly accused person, are even rarer; litigation rules now leave few opportunities for dramatic flourishes of that sort.

T. Summer Robinson in Emily Couric, The Trial Lawyers, 1988

The Obsessive Literary Fan

I have had quite a few obsessive fans. They write to me and then they turn up at my book signings and look really sheepish. If I said "boo" to them, they would run away. I think they maybe believe I could take over their lives and sort them out. If they saw the state of my kitchen they wouldn't think that.

Denise Mina, Scottish crime novelist and playwright, 2014

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Poor Man's Punishment

The death penalty has been and remains a poor man's punishment. As an old saying puts it, "only those without capital get capital punishment." There are no rich men or women on death row, and no rich person has ever been executed in America. The reasons are many. The rich can avail themselves of good lawyers who help their privileged clients avoid death sentences by artful plea bargaining or skillful courtroom tactics. The poor often get shoddy legal defense.

Robert Johnson, Death Work, Second Edition, 1998 

Detectives and Their Unsolved Murder Cases

Being a homicide detective can be the loneliest job in the world. The friends of the victim are upset and in despair, but sooner or later--after weeks or months--they go back to their everyday lives. For the closest family it takes longer, but for the most part, to some degree, they too get over the grieving and despair. Life has to go on, and it does go on. But the unsolved murders keep gnawing away and in the end there's only one person left who thinks night and day about the victim. It's the homicide [detective] who is left with the case. [This degree of investigative dedication is more true in crime fiction than in reality.]

Stieg Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, 2011

"Literary" Writers Snub Plots: Readers Snub Them

If you read interviews with many prominent authors...you will notice how many of them seem to turn up their noses at the mention of plot. "I never begin with plot," they say. "Characters (or situations or setting or thought) is where I begin my novels." What's the implication? Only bad authors begin with plot. Some of these writers don't just imply it, they say it: A well-plotted book isn't really "artistic." Books like that are for the great mass of dunderheads who read trash, not for us sophisticates who appreciate literature.

J. Madison Davis, novelist, 1998

The Shared Experiences of Writers

Writers have helped me when members of my own family could not. Some writers have been closer than dear friends, even though I never have seen them in the flesh. For example, when I have read some of Somerset Maugham and his The Summing Up, the lucidity of his view of the writing profession illuminated dusky corners in my mind...I have been helped by other writers.

Margaret Culkin Banning, in Writer's Roundtable, 1959 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Carl Panzram: The Remorseless Serial Killer

I am not the least bit sorry. I have no conscience so it does not worry me. I don't believe in man nor devil. I hate the whole damned human race, including myself.

Carl Panzram, killed at least 22 boys and men. Claimed to have raped more than 1,000 victims. He was hanged in 1930 at Leavenworth Prison in Kansas.

Charles Bukowski On Love and Murder

People in love often become edgy, dangerous. They lose their sense of perspective. They lose their sense of humor. They become nervous, psychotic bores. They even become killers.

Charles Bukowski, Women, 1978

Sherlock Holmes' Place in English Literature

Sherlock Holmes remains one of the few household names in English fiction, arguably the most famous character in literature after Hamlet, and one with whom the public has an extraordinarily intimate acquaintance. Everyone knows his catchphrase, "Elementary, my dear Watson!", although few are aware it is nowhere to be found in the stories. His eccentricities--pinning correspondence to the mantel shelf with a jackknife and keeping tobacco in the heel of a Turkish slipper, for example--are common knowledge. He is a valuable asset to the British tourist industry, known to 87 percent of visitors to Britain, and is one of London's major attractions--indeed, Japanese and Russians often cite him as their main reason for visiting the city. Misguided souls still write to him at his Baker Street "consulting rooms," in the hope that his genius may solve their problems, even though--had he ever existed--he would be long since dead.

Russell Miller, The Adventure of Arthur Conan Doyle, 2008

Good Writing Looks Easy

I'm a very labored writer. I hammer it out sentence by sentence, and it takes a long time. That's what the work is, right? To make the reader think it is not hard to do.

Janet Malcolm, journalist, nonfiction book author

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Aileen Wuornos: One Nasty Woman

I want the world to know I killed those [seven] men, as cold as ice. I've hated humans for a long time. I killed them in cold blood, real nasty.

Aileen Wuornos, executed, Florida State Prison in 2002

The Dark Side of Water

[Homicide] investigators hate rain. It washes away everything that may help you: blood, semen, hair, fingerprints, gunshot residue. Given enough time, water destroys it all. Death prays for rain. With the water, Death's chances of having a bountiful harvest increase exponentially. Slick roads, drownings, rainy-day blues--water is one of Death's favorite toys.

Joseph Scott Morgan, Blood Beneath My Feet: The Journey of a Southern Death Investigator, 2012

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Case of the Sleeping Trial Attorney

     In 1983, a jury sitting in Houston, Texas, following a six-day trial, found 29-year-old Calvin J. Burdine guilty of murdering a man during a convenience story robbery. The trial judge sentenced Burdine to death.

     Calvin Burdine's appellate attorney appealed the conviction in federal court on the grounds his client had been denied an adequate defense. The case was eventually taken up by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Houston. Burdine's attorney, during the trial, had repeatedly dozed off. Jurors noticed it and so did the judge who did not order a mistrial.

     In August 2001, the panel of three appellate judges ruled that a sleeping defense attorney, especially in a capital case, cannot adequately represent his or her client. Mr. Burdine had therefore been denied his 6th Amendment right to effective counsel. The appeals court granted Burdine a new trial.

     In 2003, Calvin Burdine realized that even if he had an attorney who managed to stay awake during his trial, he would again be convicted and sentenced to death. As a result, Burdine pleaded guilty in return for three life sentences. Calvin Burdine died a natural death in prison, and will always be remembered in the annals of crime as the murder defendant with the sleeping trial attorney.

Politics and Corruption in the Medical Examiner's Office

Becoming the chief medical examiner of New York City [in 1978] was a fulfillment...I envisioned the office as independent, scientific, apolitical. Pure. Robert Morgenthau, the district attorney of Manhattan, saw it as an arm of the DA's office, with a malleable medical examiner doing his bidding. But if the DA needs a rape in order to prosecute, should the ME somehow find evidence consistent with a rape? If the police say their prisoner died of a heart attack and not a choke hold, should the ME oblige with a death certificate that says cardiac arrest? What is really wanted is an elastic man, one who will stretch and bend his findings to suit the DA's needs and the political climate. Truth and excellence play no part in this arrangement. Numbers are what count, getting convictions for the DA, and the ME's office exists for that purpose. Its own purposes are always subordinate to somebody else's agenda. The DA and his numbers look good for a while, but the ME is degraded and his work suffers. The office succumbs to creeping corruption, a little bit here, a little bit there, until it begins to resemble the old coroner system it replaced.

Dr. Michael M. Baden, Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner (with Judith Adler Hennessee), 1989

The First Autobiography

The first autobiography is considered to be St. Augustine's Confessions (c. 400), the groundbreaking exploration of the author's philosophical and emotional development during his restless youth and his conversion to Christianity.

Sherri Szeman, Mastering Point of View, 2001

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

If You Don't Love Writing, Don't Do It

Writing a book is a strange job. "Here you go," a publisher says at the onset, handing you a salary of sorts, and a deadline. "We'll see you in two years." And there you go indeed, in a state of high alarm, without any day-to-day ballast--no appointments, no tasks assigned each morning, no office colleagues to act as sounding boards, no clue as to what you are doing: equipped solely with a single idea, which you cling to like driftwood in a great dark, sea. [Really? You acquired a book contract based on a single idea? If you miss office routine, quit writing and go back to the office.]

Patricia Pearson, When She Was Bad, 1998

Long-Form Journalism

     Writing a book is so hard and painful--it demands such a huge commitment of time and energy--that I won't embark on a book-length project unless the subject matter has me by the throat and won't let go.

     This [book writing] is a cold and capricious business. To make a living at long-form journalism you have to possess at least a modicum of talent, but it's perhaps even more important to be stubborn and determined and, above all, lucky.

Jon Krakauer in The New Journalism (2005) edited by Robert S. Boynton 

Monday, December 7, 2020

The Less Familiar Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

A few of the amendments to the U.S. Constitution are quite familiar, while others, equally important, are not. For example, most of us know about the First Amendment right of free speech, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, the Fourth Amendment right to privacy, The Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, the Six Amendment right to an attorney, and the 8th Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. Amendments less familiar include the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, the 14th Amendment guaranteeing citizenship to those born in the U.S., the 15th Amendment giving black males the right to vote, and the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. There is also the 18th Amendment that created prohibition, and the 21st Amendment that ended it.

Nothing Is On The Level

Confidence men trade upon certain weaknesses in human nature. Until human nature changes perceptibly there is little possibility that there will be a shortage of marks for con games. So long as there are marks with money, the law will find great difficulty in suppressing confidence games, even assuming that local government officers are sincerely interested. Increased legal obstacles have, in the past, had little ultimate effect upon confidence men, except perhaps to make them more wary and to force them to develop their technique to a very high level of perfection. As long as the political boss, whether he be local, state, or national, fosters a machine wherein graft and bribery are looked upon as a normal phase of government, as long as juries, judges and law enforcement officers can be had for a price, the confidence man will live and thrive in our society.

David W. Maurer, The Big Con, 1940

The Novelist's Fear of Failure

American novelists, more than others, are haunted by the fear of failure, because it's such a common pattern in America. The ghost of Fitzgerald, dying in Hollywood, with his comeback book unfinished, and his best book, Tender Is The Night, scorned. His ghost hangs over every American novelist's typewriter.

Irwin Shaw in Writers at Work, Fifth Series, edited by George Plimpton, 1981 

The Unfair Evaluation of Science Fiction

Science Fiction is the only branch of literature whose poorer examples are almost invariably used by critics outside the form to attack all of it. A lousy western is a lousy western, a seriously intentioned novel that falls apart is a disaster...but a science fiction novel that fails illuminates the inadequacy of the genre, the hollowness of the fantastic vision, the banality of the sci-fi writer...this phenomenon is as old as the American genre itself...and as fresh as the latest rotten book.

Barry N. Malzberg, "The Engines of the Night," 1980, reprinted in Breakfast in the Ruins, 2007

Journalists: Save the Schmaltz

I don't go out of my way to be friendly, because it's completely unnecessary. People tell you what they are going to tell you, no matter what.

Janet Malcolm, journalist, nonfiction book author

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Traveling Corpse

     There is nothing more unsettling while driving than seeing a corpse strapped to a gurney rolling down a busy highway. That is exactly what happened when a Buck's County coroner's van in Festerville, Pennsylvania lost control of the body when the rear doors flew open.

     Bystander Jerry Bradley saw the corpse and the gurney rolling along with traffic. He took control of the stretcher and wheeled it off the road…"Just when I thought I'd seen everything," he said.

"Corpse Rolls Out of Coroner's Van," Associated Press, July 14, 2014

Writing Humor: A Risky Business

There may be a certain risk with humor. Someone said it's not only ten times harder, it's fifty times harder to bring an audience to laughter than to bring it to tears. With humor, it's easier to bomb…You don't want to be corny. Corny is something that's not funny.

Gail Galloway Adams in How to Write Funny, John B. Kachuba, editor, 2001 

A Thief is Still a Thief

The difference between a thief and a congressman: when a thief steals your money, he doesn't expect you to thank him.

Walter Williams (1936-2020) economist, professor, columnist, author 

The Struggle For Journalistic Impartiality

I believe that impartiality is a worthwhile aspiration in journalism, even if it is not perfectly achieved. I believe that in most cases it gets you closer to the truth because it imposes a discipline of testing all assumptions, including your own. That discipline does not come naturally. I believe journalism that starts from a publicly declared predisposition is less likely to get to the truth, and less likely to be convincing to those who are not already convinced…And yes, writers are more likely to manipulate the evidence to support a declared point of view than one that is privately held, because pride is on the line.

Glenn Greenwald, The New York Times, October 27, 2013 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Timothy Tyler's "Three Strikes and You're Out" Sentence

    In 1991, 22-year-old Timothy Tyler, an avid user of the hallucinogenic drug LSD, was a so-called "Deadhead" who traveled the country attending Grateful Dead concerts. That year, while en route to a rock concert in California, DEA agents arrested Tyler on the charge of conspiracy to possess LSD with the intent to distribute.

     Tyler, from his home in Florida, had mailed an out-of-state friend five grams of the drug. As it turned out, the friend had become a DEA snitch. Tyler had been arrested twice before on LSD charges. On both of these occasions the judge had sentenced him to probation.

     In 1986, five years before Tyler's third LSD arrest, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act that contained a "three strikes and you're out" provision. Under the new federal sentencing guidelines, judges, without regard to a defendant's age, lack of violent crime record, mental state, or drug addiction, were required to impose a sentence of life without parole on a defendant's third drug conviction.

     Under the 1986 Anti-Drug Act, prosecutors were supposed to use the law to bring down major drug traffickers. Instead, as could be predicted, prosecutors went after low-level drug offenders like Timothy Tyler. Federal prosecutors did this because it was easy, and made them look like real crime-fighters. (The three strikes and you're out sentencing provision is no longer in effect.)

     The federal prosecutor in Florida offered Tyler a plea bargain. If he agreed to testify against his co-defendants, Tyler would go to prison for ten years. Since his father was one of the co-defendants in the case, Tyler turned down the deal. Unfortunately for  him, his public defender attorney failed to inform him of the mandatory life without parole sentence for three-time losers. Tyler pleaded guilty, but refused to testify against the others. When he learned of the mandatory life sentence law, he tried to withdraw his guilty plea but it was too late.

     In 1992, a federal district judge imprisoned Tyler to life without parole. His father was handed a lesser sentence and died in prison on April 2001. Tyler was serving his time at the federal prison in Waymart, Pennsylvania in the northeastern corner of the state.

     On April 23, 2014, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole announced proposed changes to the presidential clemency criteria. Pursuant to the new policy, clemency could be granted to persons who met the following conditions: The clemency applicant must be a low-level, nonviolent offender without a significant criminal history. If convicted today for the same offense, the modern sentence would be shorter than the one imposed. To be eligible for clemency under the new policy, the applicant must also have served at least ten years of his sentence, and his prison record must reflect good conduct.

     The clemency policy announcement gave Timothy Tyler some hope that he might not spend the rest of his life behind bars for mailing five grams of LSD in 1991.

     In August 2016, Tyler was one of 111 federal prisoners granted reduced sentences by President Obama. He was released from prison later that year.

The Individual Rights Revolution And The Abuse of Legal Power

     Every culture, wittingly or unwittingly, has a public philosophy, a frame of reference by which people relate to each other. Many among us probably think that the last half of the twentieth century will go down in history as the Age of Individual Rights, or some such high-minded name. There are certainly heroes who'll get credit for breaking the bondage of racism and gender discrimination. But those triumphs may be tarnished, if in the name of rights, we lose our ability to raise healthy children or run our schools. Just as the defenders of laissez-faire hoped to be remembered as defenders of freedom, but ended up being remembered as apologists for industrial abuse, so too the age of individual rights may be remembered as a period of bullying by using law.

     Our governing philosophy is not, in truth, fairly characterized as one of individual rights, except in a mutant version that removes our freedom to act. Our governing philosophy is to strive for the least common denominator--a belief that society will somehow achieve equilibrium if it placates whoever is complaining. Our monocular focus on the individual, like our obsession to eliminate risk, makes it impossible to achieve any of our stated goals, including fairness.

     The rights revolution was doomed from the start. It didn't account for a truth of human nature--that people are wired to be self-centered. "The power of self-interest," Richard Niebuhr argued, colors all human activity. As Neibuhr put it, "reason is aways the servant of interest." Our founders understood this well. "Since man was an unchangeable creature of self-interest," historian Richard Hofstadter observed, our founders "would not leave anything to his capacity of restraint." That's why they created a government structure that in various ways could be insulated from the passions of what they called faction. Modern rights, by giving legal powers to some groups over others, basically institutionalizes faction. The effect, predictably, is to draw out the worst of human nature. Give me, give me more.

Philip K. Howard, Life Without Lawyers, 2009 

Sloppy Writing

Few people realize how badly they write. Nobody has shown them how much excess or murkiness has crept into their style.

William Zinsser, Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, 1998

Lies, Lies, and More Lies

Everyone lies. Murderers lie because they have to; witnesses and other participants lie because they think they have to; everyone else lies for the sheer joy of it, and to uphold a general principle that under no circumstances do you provide accurate information to a cop.

David Simon, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, 2006

The Stigmata of Prostitution

Their faces go before their time, their skin coarsens, their speech turns foul until at last it is true to say they are almost completely de-womanized in every gentle aspect of that word. This, like the mark of Cain on the brow of the murderer, is the stigmata of prostitution which none can escape.

John Gosling, head of Scotland Yard's vice squad in the 1950s, in The Book of Criminal Quotations, J.P. Bean, editor, 2003 

Book Reviews Don't Help

Good reviews aren't helpful, and the bad reviews are less. They're not creatively critical. I don't think there's really any point in reading them. You don't learn anything from them.

Thomas Tryon in Conversations With Writers, edited by Margaret M. Duggan et. al., 1977 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Criminal Investigation in the High Tech Surveillance Era

Not that long ago, criminal investigators had fewer tools to work with than today's detective. Investigators who enter the field this century have so many more ways to solve crimes and gather evidence for court. Rapists, for example, can be incriminated by their DNA. A suspect's movements at the time of the crime and afterwards can be tracked through GPS technology. Crimes committed in public are almost always recorded on surveillance cameras. Quite often suspects incriminate themselves on social media, or are incriminated by others on Facebook and other sites. In the old days, investigators didn't have Google, or latent fingerprint, forensic ballistics, and DNA databases. And many criminals today, through their email, give themselves away. Advances in science and technology, and the emergence of the surveillance state, have not been friendly developments for criminals. Nevertheless, overall crime solution rates have not improved since the 1930s. This is because criminal investigation is not a law enforcement priority in this country. It never has been.

Your Misery is the Journalist's Glee

The journalist confines himself to the clean, gentlemanly work of exposing the griefs and shames of others.

Janet Malcolm, journalist, nonfiction book author, 2005

Telling a True Story

As a writer, I prefer to get bossed around by my notebook and the facts therein. They may not lead to a perfect, seamless arc, but they lead to a story that coheres in another way, because it is true.

David Carr (1956-2015), The Night of the Gun, 2008

Adapting Historical Romance Novels To Film

I think historical romances are difficult to produce as films because of the expense of the sets and costuming. But I know there is a tremendous demand in Hollywood for modern day romantic comedies. Certainly a good contemporary, with a lot of witty sparring, could very easily translate into film.

Patricia Cabot, likesbooks.com, 2001 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

"Inflict" Versus "Afflict"

     To afflict is to cause distress to someone: "The villagers were afflicted with the plague.

      To inflict is to impose something unpleasant (such as defeat, punishment, or pain) on someone: We believed that the punishment inflicted on the criminal was appropriate.

     Note that, generally speaking, a person is afflicted with something, but a thing is inflicted on someone.

Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide To Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language, 2009

Just-the-Facts Journalism

I'm not in the what-people-feel business. It is not my place to guess.

Bill Dedman, investigative journalist

Writer Versus Writer

The irony is that writers are generally meaner to other writers than critics are. Few critics have anything to gain by penning a bad review…Writers, on the other hand, have everything to gain…It's writers who have personal scores to settle; who drop their professionalism and let it rip. Critics, by and large, say what they think of a book. If they say they don't like it, that usually means they didn't like it, not that they waited for the chance to get back at a bestselling author for the luxury Tuscan villa he owns and they'll never have, or because they have wallpapered their room with rejection slips.

Lesley McDowell, "How Writers Review Their Critics," theguardian.com, September 22, 2010 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Murdered Rappers

Since 1987, 70 rappers, also referred to as hip-hop artists, have been murdered. While nationally, about 64 percent of murder cases lead to an arrest, only a handful of perpetrators have been taken into custody in these cases. The vast majority of these homicides remain complete mysteries. Perhaps the principal reason for the low solution rate in rapper killings involves a cultural reluctance to cooperate with the police. Moreover, witnesses, in this gangster culture, are afraid to come forward. 

The Attica Prison Riots

     In the 1970s, the Attica Prison riots drew national attention to horrible prison abuses. The takeover of Attica by inmates allowed the country to learn about cruel practices within prisons such as solitary confinement, where inmates were isolated in a small confined space for weeks or months. Prisoners in some facilities would be placed in a "sweatbox," a casket-sized hole or a box situated where the inmate would be forced to endure extreme heat for days or weeks. Some prisoners were tortured with electric cattle prods as punishment for violations of the prison's rules. Inmates at some facilities would be chained to "hitching posts," their arms fastened above their heads in a painful position where where they'd be forced to stand for hours. The practice, which wasn't declared unconstitutional until 2012, was one of many degrading and dangerous punishments imposed on incarcerated people. Terrible food and living conditions were widespread.

     The death of forty-two people at the end of the Attica standoff exposed the danger of prison abuse and inhumane conditions. The increased attention also led to several Supreme Court rulings that provided basic due process protections for imprisoned people. Wary of potential violence, several states implemented reforms to eliminate the most abusive practices.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, 2014

Unequal Law Enforcement

You may not like what I'm saying, but the cops have sort of a code. So long as the rich and powerful don't go overboard, cops give them the slack that people who live in the barrios or Third Ward [Houston] or the trailer parks don't get.

Marc Grossberg, The Best People: A Tale of Trial and Error, 2019

Writing Your Life Story? A Discouraging Word

Dad always said a person must have a magnificent reason for writing out his or her life and expecting anyone to read it. Unless your name is something along the lines of Mozart, Matisse, Churchill or Bond--James Bond--you best spend your time finger painting or playing shuffleboard, for no one, with the exception of your mother, will want to hear the particulars of your pitiable existence, which will end as it began--with a wheeze. 

Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, 2006

Nelson Algren On F. Scott Fitzgerald

The struggle to write with profundity of emotion and at the same time to live like a millionaire so exhausted F. Scott Fitzgerald that he was at last brought down to the point where he could no longer be both a good writer and a decent person.

Nelson Algren (1909-1981) His 1949 novel The Man With the Golden Arm won the National Book Award

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Serial Killer Paul Dennis Reid

     In 1988, a judge in Texas sent a drifter named Paul Dennis Reid to prison for twenty years. Seven years later a parole board set the 27-year-old serial armed robber free. Reid left the state in 1995 for Nashville, Tennessee in hopes of becoming a country western star. Instead of performing at the Grand Ole Opry, Reid ended up washing dishes at a number of Shoney's restaurants in and around Nashville.

     On February 16, 1997, the day after the manager of a Shoney's fired him, Reid walked into Captain D's restaurant in Nashville and shot, execution style, two employees. On March 23, 1997, Reid murdered three McDonald's workers in Hermitage, Tennessee. A month later, he killed two Baskin-Robbins employees in nearby Clarksville.

     Police officers arrested Reid in June 1997 in Cheatham County, Tennessee. He was taken into custody while trying to kidnap one of his former Shoney's restaurant bosses.

     Convicted of seven first-degree murders in 1999, Paul Dennis Reid landed on death row at the Riverbend Maximum prison in Nashville. He claimed that the "military government" had him under constant surveillance and was the force behind his murder convictions. Reid said his trials had been "scripted" by the government.

     Immediately after the serial killer's convictions, his team of lawyers began appealing his seven death sentences on the grounds he was too mentally ill to execute. By 2002, several execution dates had come and gone. It was around this time that Reid informed his attorneys to stop appealing his case. Arguing that the death row prisoner was not mentally competent, and therefore couldn't determine his own fate, his attorneys ignored his request.

     In 2003, to a newspaper reporter with Clarksville's Leaf-Chronicle, Reid said he had "sincere, profound empathy" for his victims' families. (I'm sure that made them feel better.) "I would say to them that if I have violated you or offended you in any manner, I plead for your forgiveness." (If?)

     A pair of Tennessee courts in 2008 ruled that Reid was mentally sound enough to be executed. Four years later, the state supreme court declared that Reid's attorneys could not continue to appeal against the condemned man's wishes. By now, Reid had been on death fourteen years.

     At six o'clock on the evening of Friday, November 1, 2013, after being treated two weeks at a Nashville hospital for an undisclosed illness, Paul Dennis Reid died on his own. He was fifty-five years old.

     Doyle Brown, the father of one of Reid's victims at the McDonald's in Hermitage, said this to an Associated Press reporter who asked him how he felt about the death of the man who had murdered his daughter: "I'm glad he's dead. I wish it happened through the criminal justice system several years ago rather than him just getting sick and dying."

     Members of Reid's family, people who fought for years to keep him from being executed, mourned his death. They didn't view their relative as an evil, cold-blooded serial killer but as a victim of severe mental illness.

     Since sane people can fake mental illness and crazy people can on occasion act perfectly normal, Reid's true nature is a mystery. However, that since most mentally ill people are not violent, the fact that some are suggests crazy people can also be evil. Mentally ill or not, Dennis Reid was evil. Therefore the legal effort to save his life was a waste of time and money. Attorneys should have better things to do. 

The Timothy E. Francis Murder-Suicide Case

     In 2020, 50-year-old Timothy Eugene Francis and his wife Christina Lynn Francis resided in an upscale suburban neighborhood in Waldorf, Maryland, an unincorporated bedroom community of 67,000, 23 miles southeast of Washington, D.C. Mr. Francis was a homicide detective with the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. Having followed his father into law enforcement, Mr. Francis had been on the job 20 years.

     Timothy and Christina, the 41-year-old mother of two teenage children from a previous marriage, had been together for six years. They were married in 2017.

     On Friday November 27, 2020, Christina Francis' father was unable to get in touch with his daughter and son-in-law by phone. At six o'clock that evening, he knocked on the door to their house in Waldorf, and when no one answered, entered the dwelling. A few minutes later the father called 911.

     When deputies with the Charles County Sheriff's Office entered the Francis home, they found two bodies identified as Timothy Francis and his wife. They had both been shot to death with a handgun. Based upon the nature of the death scene, the officers concluded that Timothy Francis had been shot by his wife who had turned the gun on herself. 

     On November 26, 2020, the day before she and her husband were found dead in their home, Christina Francis, on her Facebook page, had posted a video of the couple's wedding. She had written: "This day meant everything to me...We had 6 years of experience and memories that should have taken precedence over everything in everything we did got lost in petty shit. My children are my pride and joy."

     As of this writing, investigators have not disclosed a specific motive behind the murder-suicide.

The Waltham Baseball Bat Assailant

     In Waltham, Massachusetts, a city of 62,000 11 miles west of Boston, an unidentified black male between five-foot-six and five-foot-nine, weighing 160 to 190 pounds and wearing blue jeans, sneakers, and a dark hooded coat, used a baseball bat to bludgeon ten men over a period of ten days. The unprovoked assaults, committed in the evening between 5:30 and 8:30, took place from November 10 to November 20, 2020

     Five of the men were struck from behind while walking in downtown Waltham. The other five victims were attacked outside an apartment complex north of the downtown district. The attacker hit David Cameros in the head as he smoked a cigarette outside his apartment. The baseball bat fracture Mr. Cameros' skull. Another victim was attacked nearby while taking out the trash. He was also severely injured and hospitalized.
     As of December 1, 2020, the Waltham Police have not identified the baseball bat wielding man. The best lead they have is a surveillance camera video of the assailant running down the street.

Sadomasochism In The Ancient Church Of Rome

     The submission to discipline as a punishment for various misdemeanors in monasteries and convents, and by members of the Church as an atonement, led, not unnaturally, to priests prescribing flagellation as a penance for those confessing their sins. The penitents were told to strip, and to allow themselves to be beaten. Rarely did anyone, rich or poor, refuse the priest's command.

     The practice was no means restricted to male penitents. Females similarly were ordered to strip themselves and prepare for the discipline.

     As was to be expected, the flogging of female penitents, especially if they were young  and not without charm, led to abuses. The priests were eager and ready to prescribe whipping for the remission of all sins and of every sin, and they were even more eager and even more willing to wield the rod themselves upon the naked bodies of the penitents. So much so was this the case, and so keen were priests of the confessional to use the whip, that again and again was it found necessary for the Church to issue regulations designed to curb these appetites and to provide some sort of safeguard. As early in the history of the Church as the time of Pope Adrian I [Pope 772-795 AD], bishops, priests and deacons were actually forbidden to beat their penitents.

George Ryley Scott, The History of Corporal Punishment, 1968

Getting Out Of Jury Duty

Some people try to get out of jury duty by lying. You don't have to lie. Tell the judge the truth. Tell him you'd make a terrific juror because you can spot guilty people.

George Carlin (1937-2008) comedian 

Words Matter

There is no swifter route to the corruption of thought than through the corruption of language.

George Orwell (1903-1950)

Monday, November 30, 2020

Turning Tragedy into Humor

     Unlike tragedy, a sense of humor is determined by many factors: our age, our socioeconomic backgrounds, our culture. What most of us consider tragic is fairly static, though something tragic can be made funny by comic techniques such as repetition. In Nathanael West's A Cool Million, the hero keeps losing limbs and other parts of himself as he makes his way in the world until there is very little that's left of him. You lose one limb or all your limbs at once, that's tragic. But if you lose them little by little, as well as an eye, your teeth, your hair, you start defying logic, and once you've transcended logic, most people will laugh in spite of themselves, even if they find something a little horrifying at the same time.

     Simply put, tragedy has serious and logical consequences. Cause and effect. Comedy usually doesn't. You throw a person off a tall building in a comedy, he bounces. You throw someone off a building in a tragedy, don't wait for the bounce.

Robin Hemley in How to Write Funny, John B. Kachuba, editor, 2001 

Quash or Squash?

To quash is to suppress or extinguish summarily and completely as in to quash a rebellion or a criminal indictment.

To squash is to squeeze something with force so that it becomes flat, soft, or out of shape as in to squash a grape.

One does not, therefore, squash a criminal indictment.

Straightforward, Unpretentious Writing

There are authors who write plainly and directly: "Tom walked out of his house, climbed into his car, and drove to West Virginia." Other writers give us this: "Tom emerged from his abode, eased into his vehicle, and embarked upon a journey to West Virginia." 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Keeping Ghislaine Maxwell Alive

       Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein's former girlfriend, is incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York. Epstein, with Maxwell's help, provided teenage girls for the sexual pleasure of themselves and their rich and powerful friends.  Following his arrest, Epstein ended up dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center. While officially his death was listed as suicide, many believe he was murdered. Prison officials, worried that Maxwell will likewise perish in her cell, have her under round-the-clock camera surveillance. She is also strip searched every 24 hours. According to Maxwell's attorney, Bobbi Sternheim, when her client is asleep, she is awaken every fifteen minutes to make sure she is alive. Attorney Sternheim has petitioned a U.S. District Court Judge to intervene on Maxwell's behalf.

     Because the general public has little sympathy for Ghislaine Maxwell, not many people will rise to her defense. However, the federal prison authorities in Brooklyn, by refusing her sleep, are at risk of driving this woman insane to the point she may not be mentally competent to stand trial. 

     In Epstein's case, gross negligence, or even wrongdoing, led to his death. In Ghislaine Maxwell's case, excessive protective measures may drive her nuts. Who's running that jail?

Karl Marx: History's Miserable Loser and Hater

Karl Marx was the foremost hater and most incessant whiner in the history of Western Civilization. He was a spoiled, overeducated brat who never grew up; he just grew more shrill as he grew older. His lifelong hatred and whining led to the deaths of perhaps a hundred million people, depending on how many people died under Mao's tyranny. We will probably never know.

Gary North, author, historian

Donald Westlake on His Writing Schedule

My work schedule has changed over the years. The one constant is, when at work on a novel, I try to work seven days a week, so as not to lose touch with that world. Within that, I'm flexible on hours and output.

Donald Westlake, author of 100 crime novels

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The "Mean World Syndrome"

Professor George Gerbner (1919-2005) taught communications at Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Southern California. In the 1970s, he came up with what he called the "Mean World Syndrome." According to Professor Gerbner, the more media people consumed, the more likely they were to believe the world was a dangerous place. Gerbner also believed that: "Fearful people are more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures. They may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities."

Friday, November 27, 2020

Women on Death Row

Women account for five percent of death sentences in the United States. Less than one percent of death row inmates who are actually executed are female. The last woman executed by the federal government was Bonnie Heady who was put to death in 1953 for kidnapping and murder. The last woman to be executed by a state was 47-year-old Kelly Renee Gissendaner who died by lethal injection in Georgia in September 2015. Gissendaner was convicted of orchestrating the murder of her husband.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Screenwriters: What's With The Toothbrushing Scenes?

It seems that every movie featuring a couple incorporates a scene with the man and woman standing side-by-side in the bathroom brushing their teeth. And the exaggerated way they do it suggests training in theatrical tooth brushing. And like everything else theatrical, it comes off phony. In real life, people don't brush their teeth that way. These scenes are not only phony and annoying, they do nothing to move the story forward. So, screenwriters: enough with the tooth brushing. Break new ground by not doing it. Please.  

Monday, November 23, 2020

Pick Your Facebook Friends Carefully

Do not accept a Facebook friend request from Lizzie Borden. You will get hacked.

pinterest.com

How a Writer's Life Influences His Writing

I've been drinking too much lately and have made plans to cut it down somewhat. Also there have been some rough seas on the home front. Everything seems to get in the way of the writing but maybe it creates it too.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1971-1986, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Porch Piracy

Nearly eight in ten U.S. adults are regular online shoppers. In 2019, Americans spent about $605 billon online. According to a survey conducted by Security.org, 38 percent of respondents said they had packages stolen from their homes after the packages were delivered. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, reports of package theft in that city has increased 600 percent since 2010. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Guiltless Sociopath

Guilt? It's this mechanism we use to control people. It's an illusion. It's a kind of social control mechanism--and it's very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our bodies. And there are much better ways to control our behavior than that rather extraordinary use of guilt. [Yes, prison, and in some cases, the death penalty.]

Ted Bundy, serial killer executed in 1989

Good Children's Books Are Not Dumbed-Down Adult Literature

Most people think writing for children is easier than writing for adults. Just take a good story, simplify the plot, round the sharp edges, throw in a moral and use plain language. Thousands of writers turn out stories using this recipe. But these writers don't sell their stories to publishers. Children are sophisticated, savvy readers. They reject sermons. They avoid condescension. And they resent a dumbed-down attitude.

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories For Children, 2001 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Judicial Interpretation

There is no surer way to misread any document then to read it literally...As nearly as we can, we must put ourselves [as judges] in the place of those who uttered the words, and try to divine how they would have dealt with the unforeseen situation. Interpretation is necessarily an act of creative imagination. [In my view, this form of activism from the bench, if abused, can go from judicial interpretation to judicial interference.]

Judge Learned Hand (1872-1961)  

Charles Bukowski On Literary Prizes And Grants

Guggenheim, all those prizes and grants--you know how they go--more money is given to people who already have money. I know a professor who can't write. He wins a prize every year--usually the same one--and he goes off to some island and works on some project, meanwhile still getting paid half-salary for doing nothing at the university he's supposed to be teaching at. On one of his island trips he put together an anthology, even put me in it, but didn't have the decency to send me a copy of the book.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1965-1970, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Drinking and Dying in Russia

     A disturbing study in the Lancet looking at the causes of Russian mortality tracked 151,000 men over 10 years, during which time 8,000 of them died. They found that the "risk of dying before age 55 for those who said they drank three or more half-liter bottles of vodka a week was a shocking 35 percent. The average Russian adult drinks about 13 liters [a liter is about four 8-ounce glasses of water] of pure alcohol per year, of which 8 liters is hard alcohol, mainly vodka. For men, it's closer to 20 liters. (Americans, by contrast, consume an average of about 9 liters of alcohol per year, half of which is beer.)

     Overall a quarter of Russian men die before reaching 55, compared with 7 percent of men in the United Kingdom and fewer than one percent in the United States. The life expectance for men in Russia is 64 years, placing it among the lowest 50 countries in the world in that category.

Joshua Keating, "Vodka's Death Toll," Slate, January 30, 2014

Truth Versus Belief

Truth does not become true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, no less so even if the world disagrees with it.

Maimonides (1135-1204) philosopher 

A Good Story Is Gold

In the far west there is one thing which is more valuable than gold, even. And that is a story, whether it be true or good true-sounding fiction. Stories.

Max Brand (1892-1944) bestselling western fiction writer

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Fate of Scientists in TV Crime Dramas

On prime time entertainment television, scientists are most at risk. Ten percent of scientists featured in prime time entertainment programing get killed, and five percent kill someone. No other occupational group is more likely to kill or be killed. [Scientists are often portrayed in crime fiction as evil and dangerous. Business executives tend to be villains as well.]

George Gerbner (1919-2005), professor of communications, author 

Feeding Students Junk History

The present educational establishment, to cite just one group, has been obscuring the past so that our children have no way of comparing the facts of history with the distorted version promoted by biased secular historians.

Gary DeMar, author, 2019

Psychologically Unhinged Novelists

Writing seems to attract a lot of psychologically unhinged people, so I'm always impressed with authors who are able to view their careers accurately, who are able to reconcile the inherent dissonance between commercial and critical success, and who seem to enjoy the process of writing without cannibalizing every other aspect of their existence in order to get it done. [As the compiler of two literary quote books, I believe the writers who are most honest about their work tend to be the genre novelists. The so-called literary authors tend to be the most dishonest and psychologically unbalanced.]

Chuck Klosterman, The New York Times Book Review, July 21, 2019

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Lucy Letby: Nurse or Angel of Death?

     In 2008, 18-year-old Lucy Letby began working as a student nurse in the neonatal unit of Countess of Chester Hospital in Cheshire, a town in northeastern England not far from Liverpool. Letby qualified as a children's nurse in 2011, and following her graduation from nursing school, stayed on to work at Countess of Chester Hospital in the neonatal unit. By all accounts, she was a competent and caring healthcare worker.

     In May 2017, after the deaths of 17 premature infants in Countess of Chester Hospital's neonatal unit during the period March 2015 to July 2016, deaths physicians were unable to attribute to illness or any specific medical cause, hospital administrators requested a police investigation.  

     In addition to the mysterious deaths in the neonatal unit within the relatively short time span, 16 neonatal babies suffered what medical personnel called "non-fatal collapses," a term pertaining to infants whose health suddenly and severely declined but did not die.

     In May 2017, detectives with the Cheshire Police Department launched an investigation to determine if the infant deaths and near deaths had been intentionally and criminally caused.

     Cheshire detectives, in July 2018, arrested neonatal nurse Lucy Letby on suspicion of murder and attempted murder of the infants who died and had gotten suddenly ill under her watch. The 28-year-old suspect denied any criminal wrongdoing in connection with her care of these babies. Without evidence, physical or otherwise, connecting nurse Letby to the infant deaths and illnesses, the authorities chose not to formally charge her with murder or attempted murder. Lucy Letby was released from custody pending further investigation. The hospital, taking no chances, fired her.

     In 2019, Cheshire police homicide took Lucy Letby into custody for further questioning. She continued to maintain her innocence, and was again released.

     On November 11, 2020, a Crown prosecutor charged Lucy Letby with eight counts of murder in the deaths of the eight premature infants. She was also charged with ten accounts of attempted murder in connection the infant non-fatal collapse cases. The magistrate denied the suspect bail.

     According to the pathologist who had examined the victims, the babies had suffered heart and lung failures. 

     As of this writing, the authorities have not disclosed how they believe the nurse caused the deaths and near deaths of these infants, nor what evidence they had linking her to the crimes.

A Mafia Hit Man's Self-Analysis

I didn't want to go straight. No boring sessions with do-gooder social workers for this cookie. No BS therapy from a shrink who would say I hated my uncle. Forget denial and struggling to make ends meet on some begged-for, dead-end job. "You're a criminal pure and simple," I told myself, "so go for it whole hog."

Donald "Tony the Greek" Frankos in The Book of Criminal Quotations, J. P. Bean, editor, 2003 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Good Riddance to the Yorkshire Ripper

      From 1975 through 1980, the British serial killer Peter Sutcliffe murdered 13 women by bludgeoning them with a ball peen hammer then mutilating their bodies with a knife. He attacked another seven women who managed to survive.

     Dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper by England's tabloid press, Sutcliffe went on trial in May 1981 and was found guilty of 13 counts of murder and 7 counts of attempted murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison.

     On November 13, 2020, while incarcerated at Her Majesty's Prison in Brasside, England, Sutcliffe died from COVID-19. He was 74. Chalk up one for the virus.

How a Liar Tells a Story

 People who want to deceive you will often use a single technique which has a simple name: too many details. When people are telling the truth, they don't feel doubted, so they don't feel the need for additional support in the form of details. When people lie, however, even if what they say sounds credible to you, it doesn't sound credible to them, so they keep talking. 

Gavin De Baker, The Gift of Fear: And Other Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence, 1997

Cracking Down on Gambling

In Arkansas, in order to discourage gambling, the maximum number of free games a pinball machine can award a player is 25.

Charles Duff's Satiric Take on Execution

I am not greatly concerned with the condemned man, but rather with the system, for it is the system that can be improved. The death of an individual is a trifle when we think of war and the general slaughter and butchery that is synonymous...What is the death of even the most important individual? And cannot death itself, even death by execution, be made, and frequently is made, into an admirable thing? Christianity itself might not have taken its great hold upon the imagination of the world if Christ had not been executed. Out of evil good can come; and the end justifies the means.

Charles Duff, A Handbook on Hanging, 1961 (1894-1966) Northern Irish author

On Writing the Novel

There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) British playwright, novelist 

Plotting the Novel

     The writer works out plot in one of three ways: by borrowing some traditional plot or an action from real life...by working his way back from his story's climax; or by groping his way forward from an initial situation...

     The writer who begins with a traditional story or some action drawn from life has part of his work done for him already. He knows what happened and, in general, why. The main work left to him is that of figuring out what part of the story (if not the whole) he wants to tell, what the most efficient way of telling it is, and why it interests him.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, 1983

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Mass Murderer: From Invisible to Instant Infamy

If you were an average maladjusted young person, no one would care much about you, but as soon as you magnified your awkwardness into monstrousness--as soon as you started shooting--then you'd have people poring over your diaries and trying to understand your innermost thoughts.

Rachel Monroe, Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession, 2019

The First Novel as Fiction Light

The first novel is a good place to put in things that would be awkward to use elsewhere. No one requires much fiction from a first novel.

Peter S. Prescott, Never in Doubt, 1986

A Mystery Novelist's Work Habits

I write from 10 AM to 6 PM, Monday to Friday. I try to write eight pages a day. When I had a 9-to-5 job, I used to write at night and on weekends, but not anymore.

Ed McBain, bookreporter.com, January 21, 2000

The Sports Writer

Newspaper people speak of journalists who cover the news as police reporters, city hall men, and Washington correspondents. Print journalists on the sports beat are usually referred to as sports writers. The sports writer is not expected merely to tell us what happened. Upon small, coiled springs of fact, he builds up a great padded mattress of words. His readers escape into a dream where most of the characters are titanic heroes, devouring monsters, or gargantuan buffoons.

A. J. Liebling in Wayward Reporter by Raymond A. Sokolov, 1980 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Problems in Adjudicating The Insanity Defense

Insanity defense cases should be tried not by juries but by specially trained and credentialed judges. I have seen firsthand the debacle of naive and inexperienced judges struggling with complicated psychological testimony, ineptly charging juries, and generally remaining clueless throughout the proceedings. These judges should be given on-the-job training and assistance to become proficient in the application of psychological principles.

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, the Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

The Journalistic Blindside

I don't even like interviewing people, because I feel once I've interviewed someone, it's much harder to write critically about them unless you bring up every critical feeling you have in the course of the interview.

Norman Mailer in Conversations With Norman Mailer, edited by J. Michael Lennon, 1988 

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Romance Novel's Central Theme

In romance novels, the general theme is the taming of a man.

Nicholas Sparks in Writer's Digest, October 2002 

Western International University

Western International University, founded in 1978, is a public university located in Tempe, Arizona. With an enrollment of about 1,300, the school has no admissions policy, and makes a point of welcoming international students. According to statistics published by the school, the student body represents 117 countries. Twenty-two percent of the students in the graduate program are from outside the United States. Twelve percent of the undergraduate student body are from foreign countries. Only eighteen percent of the school's students are from Arizona. Nationally, 61 percent of college and university students graduate. At Western International University, the graduation rate is 3 percent. The school also has a high rate of student loan default. 

The Limits of a Poorly Written Book

    Poorly written books can be fun, they can be entertaining and they can be the perfect way to pass the time on a long flight or a rainy day. But a poorly written book will always have a ceiling, and that ceiling is levels below great. Nothing can overcome bad prose.

    Luckily, bad prose can usually be sniffed out within the first few sentences of a book. And at that point, readers can choose to enter at their own risk. [Well-written books that are boring are often passed off--wrongly--as great.]

Andre Aciman, The New York Times Book Review, November 3, 2019

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Crime Scene Cigarette Butts

Cigarette butts seem to be the most common item found at crime scenes. There are no scientific studies that corroborate this, but it seems that the stress of committing a crime incites people to puff away. Cigarette butts can provide a lot of information for the investigator in the form of DNA evidence collected from the saliva. It has been estimated, however, that as much as 30 percent of all cigarette butts found at crime scenes are not left by the perpetrator, as one might assume, but by someone who actually processed the crime scene. It's a little disconcerting to think that so much time and money is wasted on a potential suspect, only to find that the "suspect" is the chief officer.

Jarrett Hallcox and Amy Welch, Bodies We've Buried, 2006

The Golden Age of Journalism

I am a survivor from the golden age of journalism, when reporters for daily newspapers did not have to compete with the twenty-four-hour cable news cycle, when newspapers were flush with cash from display advertisements and want ads, and when I was free to travel anywhere, anytime, for any reason, with company credit cards. There was sufficient time for reporting on a breaking news story without having to constantly relay what was being learned on the newspaper's web page.

Seymour M. Hersh, Reporter, 2018

What is Creative Nonfiction?

[The term] "creative nonfiction" precisely describes what the form is all about. The word "creative" refers simply to the use of literary craft in presenting nonfiction--that is, factually accurate prose about real people and events--in a compelling, vivid manner. To put it another way, creative nonfiction writers do not make things up; they make ideas and information that already exist more interesting and often more accessible.

Lee Gutkind, Keep It Real, 2009

Unfit for Public Office

In the present case it is a little inaccurate to say I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for any public office.

H.L. Mencken, columnist, essayist, satirist (1880-1956)

Anybody Can Become President

 When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become president; I'm beginning to believe it.

Clarence Darrow, famed defense attorney (1857-1938)

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

A Dingbat On Gun Control

All vets are mentally ill in some way and government should prevent them from owning firearms. [How about: All politicians are crooks, liars, and hacks and should be prevented from passing stupid legislation and enriching themselves at public expense.]

Senator Dianne Feinstein testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 3, 2014 

Difficult People: Unmasking the Narcissist

We have all felt abandoned or rejected at times, and most of us get over it with a little time and processing of our feelings: We move on. But the narcissist does not. Narcissists are not enough in touch with their own feelings to move on. The issues remain in their mind as "it's all your fault," or "How could you do this to me?" They want to strike back and seek revenge. While they may not act arrogant and haughty and put on a show that nothing bothers them, this facade makes it difficult for others to see their inward self-loathing. They do not have a solid, developed sense of self so we see them swing from depression to grandiosity with little in-between. Their presentation deceives most people until they get to know the narcissist. When the narcissists' facade of charm and deception gets cracked, their whole world bursts apart. They will blame others for their feelings of inadequacy, lack of happiness or success, and lack of love.

Karyl McBride Ph.D., "Understanding Narcissistic Injury," Psychology Today, October 25, 2020

Trust and Act on Fear

 Can you imagine an animal reacting to the gift of fear the way people do, with annoyance and disdain instead of attention? No animal in the wild suddenly overcome with fear would spend any of its mental energy thinking, "It's probably nothing."

Gavin de Baker, The Gift of Fear: And Other Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence, 1997

Good Political Advice

Instead of giving a politician the key to the city, it might be better to change the locks.

Doug Larson, columnist, newspaper editor, 2015 

The Insider Memoir

 I love all insider memoirs. It doesn't matter whether it's truck drivers or doctors. I think everybody likes to go backstage, find out what people think and what they talk about and what specialized job they have.

David Mamet, 2002

Mastering the Short Story

It is sometimes fashionable to dismiss the short story and to attribute its apparent decline to the greater versatility of the novel and to the rise of nonfiction. But the trouble does not lie with the form but with the practitioners. A really good short story writer will always find an audience. J.D. Salinger, John Cheever and John Updike have been remarkably successful, and the reason is that they are all masters of the form. They all have a good ear and eye for detail.

Frank McShane, The Life of John O'Hara, 1980 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

A Life of Crime

I don't know if I'd say [that some people are born bad]. But there are children who start showing signs of criminality as early as 2. They don't respond to their parents' attempts to guide them, restrain them or give them affection. At 3, 4, and 5, some children start sneaking around taking money from their mothers' purses. At 7 and 8, a kid may start getting into trouble in the neighborhood, shaking down other kids for their milk money, that kind of thing. By age 13 or 14, he's committed dozens of crimes--illegal drugs, shoplifting, assaultive patterns at school. By high school graduation, he's knee-deep in crime.

Dr. Stanton E. Sanenow, author of Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984. The quote is from a May 14, 1984 interview by David Van Biema in People Magazine.

Biographies are Superficial Accounts

The letters and journals we leave behind and the impressions we have made on our contemporaries are the mere husk of the kernel of our essential life. When we die, the kernel is buried with us. This is the horror and pity of death and the reason for the inescapable triviality of biography.

Janet Malcolm, journalist, nonfiction book author, 1992

The Journalistic Tradition of Objectivity

There's a longstanding tradition that journalists don't cheer in the press box. They have opinions, like everyone else, but they are expected to keep their opinions out of their work. 

Bill Dedman, Investigative Journalist 

Monday, November 9, 2020

2020

This year will be remembered by millions of Americans as a year of heavy-handed government, riots, political corruption, fractured higher and lower education, fake news, biased journalism, news censorship, economic uncertainty, social isolation, diminished law enforcement, thought policing, wild fires, drug addiction, and fear of getting sick. It's a good year for cable TV talking heads, angry misfits posing as anarchists, police haters, authoritarian politicians, socialists, propagandists masquerading as journalists, and criminals. The question is, will 2021 be any better, or far worse?

The Psychology of Rioting

      It usually takes an incident to get a riot started, such as the police attacking or killing an innocent person. But once it has begun, a raging mob has a life of its own. Deep-seated resentments, repetitive frustrations, and long-standing disappointments galvanize people into action. And the mob provides cover, an anonymity that makes it easier to overcome one's usual reticence or moral scruples. One is immersed, engulfed. And it can become an exuberant experience, a joyful release for long-suppressed emotions. It can also become manic, driven, a means of restlessly seeking new outlets. Leadership emerges spontaneously and changes rapidly.

     [Rioting] offers a kind of intense belonging, not dissimilar to what spectators feel at a sports event or fans at a rock concert. But because it isn't focused on a game or performance, it easily gets out of hand. Freud described such "mass psychology" in 1924, in the tumultuous aftermath of World War I. Others have studied it since as a recurrent form of group behavior. 

Ken Eisold Ph.D., "Understanding Why People Riot," Psychology Today, August 18, 2011

Narcissists Manipulate to Maintain Control

      Narcissists cannot accept the fact that another person does not want to be with them or even goes as far as rejecting the narcissist. Remember that a key trait of narcissists is an overblown, undeserved ego and inner belief that people are jealous of them. To them, it is simply not possible that their partner doesn't love them and can live happily without them. If the narcissist loses the attention and affirmations of just one individual that was previously well-controlled, they will go to extreme lengths to regain that control though manipulation.

     Some methods of manipulation are direct, brash, and used to incite empathy from the victim. These individuals will not think twice about threatening suicide or even claiming to have a plan for their suicide. The purpose of this is to awaken the caretaker trait in the abused partner and keep them close.

Kristy Lee Hochenberger, "Micromanipulations: A Narcissist's Method of Control," Psychology Today, November 2, 2020


Lost Trust in Mainstream News Media

     It is no secret that over the course of the last couple of decades, issues related to fake news, substandard fact-checking and rampant censorship have resulted in many mainstream media outlets losing the trust of their viewers and listeners. 

     In this regard, the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer--a digital tool that serves as an indicator of how people view the media industry in general--shows that 57 percent of people all over the world believe that they cannot fully trust their news media sources, while 76 percent believe that false information is purposefully being disseminated by various prominent media houses as a means of polarizing their viewers. 

     Similarly, according to a survey conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe that the mainstream media is actively trying to get them to adopt a certain political stance or opinion. Lastly, according to another study by data intelligence company Morning Consult, an increasing share of adults in the United States are losing trust in news affiliated with nine of America's leading media outlets, such as CBS and The New York Times.

Shiraz Jagati, "Blockchain in Journalism: Winds of Change Carrying Media to New Frontiers," Cointelegraph, November 5, 2020

Getting a Novel Published

     Even if you've published short stories or a nonfiction book or two, you'll have to have a complete manuscript before you try to market your novel. Agents and editors generally insist on this, sometimes even for your second and third novel. This is because too many of them have signed contracts with new novelists, only to discover that the writer can't finish the work. In your query, remember to include an exact word count for your manuscript; a phrase like "approximately 125,000 words" will make an agent or editor think that you haven't finished the novel.

     When you get a request for more material, many agents and editors won't ask for the full manuscript. Instead, they'll ask for a synopsis and perhaps the first fifty pages or the first two or three chapters. Only when they've had a chance to review these will they ask to see the entire manuscript. [To me, the idea of a novelist, after completing a novel, being asked to write a synopsis of it, is infuriating. It's no wonder so many novelists self publish.]

Meg Schneider and Barbar Doyen, Get Published, 2008

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Psychology of Looting

According to John Pitts, a Vauxhall Professor of social-legal studies at the University of Bedfordshire, England, the act of looting makes "powerless people suddenly feel powerful." The experience of looting a store, according to the criminologist, is for the thieves, "intoxicating." Unfortunately, it is no longer dangerous.

"Public Servants" Aren't Servants and "Private Individuals" Have No Privacy

 The way things are supposed to work is that we're supposed to know virtually everything about what they [politicians and bureaucrats] do. That's why they're called public servants. They're supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do, that's why we're called private individuals.

Glenn Greenwald, investigative journalist, 2012

The Presidential Biography

The reception of presidential biographies usually centers on how to rank the chief executive in question--a perennial parlor game. Was the president overrated or underrated? Does he merit new appreciation or a thorough debunking? But these evaluative questions are the least interesting ones to ask. More meaningful are analyses that locate a politician in context--that explain how an individual, with unique character and set of ideas, fared in tackling the nation's problems at a turning point in history.

David Greenberg, The New York Times Book Review, October 11, 2020

The Thrill of Surprise

 The thriller genre is premised less on subject matter than on the direct promise of a sensational response. Unlike, say, crime or western or romance, with a thriller there's no hint what will happen, or where it will happen or whom it will happen to. There's only the pledge that once it happens, you will be--or should be--thrilled.

Adam Sternbergh, The New York Times Book Review, July 26, 2020

The Reality of Horror Fiction

 If art imitates life, horror fiction is a great mimic, predicting and exploring the frightening and surreal realities of the contemporary world.

Danielle Trussoni, The New York Times Book Review, July 26, 2020

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Death of Political Satire

 American political culture quickly and always outpaces any attempts to satirize it.

Glenn Greenwald, investigative journalist, 2012

William Kunstler On Fighting The Government

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

William Kunstler, activist lawyer (1919-1995)

Self-Deluding Criminals

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

Patricia Pearson, When She Was Bad, 1997

Careful Diction Produces Clarity

In writing, diction relates to the choice of words and phrasing. In nonfiction, precision and clarity are the goals to aim for. In fiction, the writer's capacity to choose words carefully for their effect as well as their accuracy is a measure of the writer's literary ability. The opposite of careful diction is "top-of-the-head" writing , words put down as fast as they come to mind, without revision for accuracy and effect. It is found most often in hurried popular writing in which communication of content or story dominates the precise and fresh use of words and expressions.

Sol Stein, Sol Stein's Reference Book For Writers, 2010

Friday, November 6, 2020

Dr. Ann Burgess On the Probability of Female Sexual Assault

      Ann Burgess, an 80-year-old board certified psychiatric nurse with a Ph.D, has been teaching at Boston College's Connell School of Nursing since 1980. The professor of psychiatric health training and author of several books and articles on sexual crimes, is considered one of the creators of the FBI's criminal profiling unit. The professor and her research inspired the character Dr. Wendy Carr in the Netflix series "Mindhunter." 

     By defining sexual assault as forcible rape, attempted rape, victims pressured into sex due to inability to consent, and stressful encounters with initial consent that progressed beyond their control, Dr. Burgess believes that 25 to 30 percent of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

SWAT Drug Raid Precautions

Before a SWAT team employs the tactic of breaking into someone's home in the middle of the night or just before dawn, police administrators should be certain of the following: the objects of the raid are dangerous people; there was no other, less violent way of executing the arrest and/or search warrant; children and other innocent people will not be traumatized or endangered; the target or targets of the raid are inside the dwelling, and are solid suspects; and the officers will be entering the correct dwelling, the one described in the warrant or warrants.