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Tuesday, September 29, 2020


Lazy academics and bureaucrats, excessive users of jargon, are the enemies of good writing. Lawrence Langer explained what jargon does to language: "The language of simplicity and spontaneity is forced to retreat behind the barricades of an official prose developed by a few experts who believe that jargon is the most precise means of communication." Jargon is a form of pretentious writing intended to make the writer, at the expense of clarity, seem intelligent, erudite, and profound. In reality, it masks banality and shallow thinking. These "jargonauts" are a blight on the written word.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Literary Crime Buff

I'm a crime dog. I read crime novels and true-crime books, almost exclusively. I don't dig comedy, sci-fi, current-event exposes or tales of domestic woe.

James Ellroy, 1985

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Charles Bukowski The Romantic

I never really found a friend. With women, there was hope with each new one but that was in the beginning. Even early on, I got it, I stopped looking for the Dream Girl; I just wanted one that wasn't a nightmare.

Charles Bukowski

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Charles Bukowski On Being A Professional Writer

I have to drink and gamble to get away from this typewriter. Not that I don't love this old machine when it's working right. But knowing when to go to it and knowing to stay away from it, that's the trick. I really don't want to be a professional writer, I wanna write what I wanna write. Else, it's all been wasted...So did Hemingway, until he started talking about "discipline"; Pound also talked about doing one's "work".  But I've been luckier than both of them because I've worked the factories and slaughterhouses and I know that work and discipline are dirty words. I know what they meant, but for me, it has to be a different game.

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

Monday, September 14, 2020

Students of Distant Learning: Big Brother Is Watching

      Twelve-year-old Isaiah Elliott lived with his mother Dani and his father Curtis in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The seventh grade student at Grand Mountain School, on August 27, 2020, was in his house in front of his computer taking an on-line art class pursuant to his school's COVID-19 distant learning program. Isaiah and his parents didn't know that teachers and administrators at the Grand Mountain School were video recording home learning students as they sat in front of their computers. School officials were conducting home video surveillances without the knowledge or consent of students or their parents. 

     At one point during Isaiah Elliott's art class, he picked up a neon-green colored gun--an obvious toy-- from the couch and laid it next to his computer. This act of moving a toy in his own own home, observed by a teacher essentially spying on him, led to a series of events no reasonable person could have predicted.

     Shortly after the conclusion of the virtual art class, Isaiah Elliott's mother Dani received an e-mail from the Grand Mountain School art teacher who had seen Isaiah handle the toy gun. The teacher, obviously thinking that peeping into a student's home was part of her job, informed Isaiah's mother that her son had been "extremely distracted" during the lesson, and there was a "serious issue with the waving of a toy gun." This serious matter, according to the art teacher, had been reported to the vice principal. This teacher, besides being a spy and a snitch, must have also seen herself as some kind of family services social worker. 

     In Dani Elliott's e-mail response, she informed the concerned art teacher that her son had trouble concentrating due to his Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Moreover, her son had not waved a gun. He had fussed with what was obviously a toy. (The mother might have added that in Colorado, unregistered toy guns were legal, and posed no threat to the teacher nor Isaiah's fellow distant learning students who were safe in their homes)

     The art teacher's e-mail to Dani Elliott was followed that day by a phone call from Grand Mountain School Vice Principal, Keri Lindaman. Because the boy had been seen in his home "waving" a gun, the vice principal had taken the liberty of requesting an Elliott family home health and wellness check by El Paso County school resource officers. (Perhaps the vice principal thought she was exercising restraint by not sending a SWAT team. Who knows, gun in question may have been capable of firing pingpong balls.)

     The understandably stunned and confused mother tried to explain to the vice principal, like she had the distraught art teacher, that the gun everyone was so concerned about was a harmless toy. The vice principal's response to that was mind boggling: She said she was aware it was a toy, but had called in the troops anyway.

     When the El Paso County school resource officers arrived at the Elliott home, the officers showed the boy's father, Curtis, the incriminating footage of his son handling the toy weapon.

     The next day, Mr. and Mrs. Elliott received official notice that their son, for "waving" a toy gun in his home during a virtual art class, an act that had disturbed no one but the art teacher and the vice principal, had been suspended from the school for five days.

     The Elliotts did what any family would do to remove their son from the control of idiots, they pulled Isaiah out of the Grand Mountain School. Perhaps they would find an institution that respected the privacy of students studying in their homes. Perhaps not. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Mohammed Afzal: No Reason to Kill

      In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at six o'clock on the evening of Monday, August 31, 2020, 65-year-old Mohammed Afzal knocked on his neighbor's door and complained about grass clippings that had gotten onto his lawn. A surveillance camera captured 35-year-old Naeem Sarosh and Mr. Afzal discussing the matter. The two men were standing on Mr. Sarosh's driveway. Suddenly, Mr. Afzal pulled out a handgun and shot his neighbor. When the wounded Mr. Sarosh ran toward his house, Mohammed Afzal shot him in the back. Mr. Sarosh died on the front stoop of his house.

     After killing his neighbor, Mr. Afzal returned to his house, changed his clothes, and waited for the police.

     When questioned by detectives, the murder suspect claimed he shot his neighbor under the belief that he was armed. He said he thought this because Mr. Sarosh was a Milwaukee County Community Police Service Officer. 

     According to a resident of the neighborhood, Mr. Afzal and his family kept to themselves. Moreover, the suspect and Mr. Sarosh, a well-liked man with two daughters, had a history of not getting along.

     A Milwaukee County Prosecutor, on September 1, 2020, charged Mohammed Afzal with first-degree reckless homicide and use of a dangerous weapon. 

     This case reveals the disturbing fact that people are commonly murdered over trivial matters. Marvin Wolfgang, in his classic 1958 text, Patterns of Homicide, called this "simplicity of motive."

Students: If You Want to Party, Attend Community College

      Imagine being a freshman at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. You either borrowed or your parents coughed up the tuition, and it isn't cheap. Then, less than a month into your first semester, you are kicked out. If that's not bad enough, the institution is keeping the tuition you paid for the honor of being a Northeastern student.

     For you to have been treated so harshly, you must have committed some horrible, unspeakable act. At the risk of shocking the reader, that act was this: you violated the university's social distancing policy by attending a party. 

     Before you leave the University and your tuition money behind, you must take a COVID-19 test. If you test positive, you will be detained on campus for 14 days--then thrown out.

     But wait, there is hope. After sitting out a semester contemplating your wrongdoing, you will be permitted to re-enroll as a freshman at the beginning of the next semester. 

     In September 2020, eleven Northeastern University students were kicked out for attending a party. The school did not return their tuition money.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

What To Do With the Mentally Ill

      In the 1950's, more than half million people lived in U.S. mental institutions--one in 300 Americans. By the late 1970s, only 160,000 did, due to efforts by psychiatrists, philanthropists, and politicians to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill.

     Today there's one public psychiatric care bed for 7,100 Americans--the same ratio as in 1850. The motives behind this trend were varied. Emptying the asylums was going to save money. And who needed hospitals with all the antipsychotic drugs on the market? Deinstitutionalization was going to restore citizens' rights and protect them from deplorable conditions like those portrayed in movies like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," conditions in which an insane person was unlikely to be cured. Wouldn't it be better if the mentally ill were treated at home, given support, therapy, and medication via community clinics? It sounded good, but the reality was quite different.

     In 1961, a joint commission of the American Medical and American Psychiatric Associations recommended integrating the mentally ill into society. This plan depended on the establishment of local facilities where mentally ill people could receive outpatient care. In 1963,Congress passed a law providing funding for these "community mental health centers". States, under pressure from the patients' rights movement, downsized their psychiatric hospitals faster than anyone had anticipated…

     As of 2006, 1.3 million of America's mentally ill were housed where they used to be until the late 1800s: in prisons. Between 1998 and 2006, the number of mentally ill people behind bars more than quadrupled. In some county jails, rates of inmates with mental illness have increased by nearly 50 percent in the past five years. It's not uncommon for individual jails to report that 25 to 30 percent of their inmates are mentally ill or that their mentally ill populations rises year after year…[Today, because politicians don't want the mentally ill in jail, tens of thousands of them live in squalor on the streets.]

Mac McClelland, "Schizophrenic Killer My Cousin," Reader's Digest, February 2014 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Libertarian Radley Balko On Traffic Enforcement

     [George Mason economist Alex Tabarrok recently wrote] that there's no reason why our traffic laws have to be enforced by armed government agents.

     A police officer pulls you over and gives you a ticket, which you take home and decide whether you're going to pay, and you send it in via mail. Why can't you have some sort of civilian traffic cops who, instead of pulling you over, sees you speeding, writes down your license plate, calls it in, and you get a ticket in the mail. The end result is the same. You get a ticket in the mail that you can pay, or choose not to pay and face the consequences of that. The difference is you're not having this armed interaction or confrontation with a police officer, which is completely unnecessary.

     Our traffic laws need to be about road safety, not generating revenue. There are many studies done in Europe about using roundabouts instead of stop signs. There have been some really interesting studies about speed limits and how arbitrary they are. Our roads are actually built imagining people driving much faster than speed limits allow, which means cities and towns can place speed limits arbitrarily in a way that maximizes revenue in the city. I mean, there are small towns that 40 or 50 percent of their budgets are reliant on traffic revenue...

     Nobody's saying there should be anarchy on the highways, but we could have speed limits that are more organic, calculated based on how people actually drive. There's a study showing the safest speed limit is the one that's what the 90th percentile of people drive at. Right now the real speed limits are far lower than that. That just creates unnecessary police interactions.

     Think about all the police abuse cases that originated with a traffic stop...Think about all the animus and anger in motorized communities that come from the regular harassment from traffic cops. You take those out of the picture and it could go a long way toward rehabilitating the image of the police.

[American police reformer August Vollmer, in the 1930s and 40s, wrote extensively about the negative effects of traffic enforcement on police-community relations.]

Radley Balko interview by Nick Gillespie entitled, "Washington Post Journalist Radley Balko on Civil Rights, Militarized Policing, and the Power of Video," Reason Magazine, October, 2020

Monday, September 7, 2020

The Gentleman Thief

     Apollo Robbins, a 46-year-old from Las Vegas, is known in the trade as a theatrical pickpocket. Known as "The Gentleman Thief," Robins is considered the best in the world at lifting wallets from people's pockets and purses. He also snatches rings, watches, and even neck jewelry from his "victims."

     Mr. Robins gained national notoriety when entertaining former president Jimmy Carter. During the performance, he acquired the keys to the presidential motorcade by picking the pocket of a Secret Service Agent. The publicity resulted in requests from law enforcement agencies for training in how to catch fraudsters, thieves, and con artists. In 2006, Robbins formed his law enforcement and security consulting firm, Whizmob, Inc. Over the years, he has appeared regularly on television.

Ambulance Chasers

To become a successful ambulance chaser, one doesn't need a prestigious legal education, a high law class ranking, or family connections in the profession. To flourish as a personal injury hustler, one must possess an aggressive, sociopathic personality, and a narrow but well refined set of legal skills. It also helps if you look good on TV.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Professor Norma Esparza and the Cold-Case Murder of Gonzalo Ramirez

     Norma Patricia Esparza grew up in southern California's Orange County. On March 25, 1995, the 20-year-old Pomona College student, while in Santa Ana visiting her sister, went to a bar where she met Gonzalo Ramirez. The next morning, accompanied by her sister and a friend, Esparza met Ramirez at a restaurant. Following breakfast, Ramirez drove her back to her dormitory in Claremont.

     On April 15, 1995, during a meeting in Costa Mesa with her boyfriend Gianni Anthony Van at a transmission shop owned by his friend Kody Tran, Norma Esparza revealed that Ramirez had raped her in her Pomona College dorm room after she met him that morning for breakfast.

     The day following the meeting in the transmission shop, a police officer in Irvine, California found Ramirez's body along side of a back road. It looked as though someone had hacked him to death and chopped off several of his fingers. Detectives questioned Norma Esparza who repeated her rape allegation. She said she had no idea who had killed Ramirez.

     In 1996, Esparza and Gianni Van were married. That year, without promising leads in the Ramirez murder case, Irvine detectives shelved the homicide investigation.

     Norma Esparza graduated from Pomona College with a degree in psychology. In 2004, she divorced Gianni Van and moved to France. Five years after moving to Europe, Esparza moved to Geneva, Switzerland where she taught psychology and counseling at Webster University, an American accredited school with campuses in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

     As Esparza pushed ahead with her academic career, the authorities in California, after re-activating the Ramirez case in 2010, were making progress. Using advanced DNA science, a crime lab analyst was able to identify traces of Gonzalo Ramirez's blood recovered from Kody Tran's transmission shop in Costa Mesa. Because Esparza had admitted being at the transmission shop on the night before the discovery of Ramirez's body, homicide investigators considered her a suspect in the 15-year-old murder.

     Ramirez case detectives believed that on April 15, 1995, after Esparza informed her boyfriend and Kody Tran that she had been raped three weeks earlier by Ramirez, she and the two men drove to a bar where Esparza pointed out Ramirez. As Ramirez drove home from the bar, Gianni Van intentionally rear-ended Ramirez's pickup truck at a red light. When the murder target climbed out of his truck to inspect the damage, Kody Tran and Gianni Van started punching him. Ramirez fled on foot but his attackers caught up to him and forced him into their van.

     After arriving at Tran's Costa Mesa transmission shop, Tran and Van hacked Ramirez to death with a meat cleaver. While detectives didn't think that Esparza had participated in the actual killing, they believed that she had been the chief motivating force behind the murder.

     An Orange County prosecutor, in February 2012, eighteen years after the Ramirez murder, charged Esparza, her ex-husband Gianni Van, and Kody Tran with murder. A short time later, during a stand-off with SWAT team officers, Kody Tran committed suicide.

     In October 2012, police in Boston, Massachusetts arrested Professor Esparza at Logan Airport where she had a layover on her way from Geneva, Switzerland to a Webster University related meeting in St. Louis. After her extradition to California, Esparza gained release from the Orange County Jail by posting her $300,000 bond.

    Two months after her arrest, Esparza signed a plea agreement with Special Prosecutor Scott Simmons in which she would remain free on bail as long as she, as a future trial witness, cooperated with the state. As part of the deal, Esparza agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Otherwise, she would be prosecuted for murder, a crime that could bring a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

    In November 2013 the Ramirez case took a sudden turn when the 39-year-old college professor told reporters that she had decided not to plead guilty. At that point, Orange County Judge Gerald Johnson revoked her bail and sent her back to the Orange County Jail.

     Esparza's current husband, Jorge Mancillas, called the bond revocation "an injustice." To reporters he said, "I guess in Orange County it doesn't count to be innocent."

     On September 15, 2014, Norma Esparza, having changed her mind again, entered a guilty plea in Orange County Superior Court in exchange for a six-year prison sentence and the promise to testify against Gianni Van. Her attorney, Jack Earley, told reporters that "there is inherent risk in going to trial. The question is, do you take that risk.  Esparza and her husband Jorge Mancillos have a 4-year-old daughter." According to attorney Earley, his client's decision to plead had a lot to do with the child.

     On July 10, 2015, following a short trial, the jury found 43-year-old Gianni Anthony Van guilty of special circumstances murder. Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett sentenced Van to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Worldwide Violence Against Women

According to a United Nations's Office on Drugs and Crime study published in November 2018, 87,000 women worldwide were killed in their homes. Some 50,000 of them were killed by partners or family members. The study revealed that women are far more likely than men to be killed by someone they know. Globally, Asia was the region with the highest number of women killed by partners or family members.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Shoplifting As a Cultural Phenomenon

What's new about shoplifting [as opposed to riotous looting] today is that it has become a cultural phenomenon--a silent epidemic, driven by pretty much everything in our era. Some scholars connect it to traditional families' disintegration, the American love of shopping, the downshifting of the middle class, global capitalism, immigration, the replacement of independent stores with big chains, and the lessening of faith's hold on conduct. Shoplifting gets tangled up in American cycles of spending and saving, and boom and bust, and enacts the tension between the rage to consume conspicuously and the intention to live thriftily. 

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

Death By Gaming

     A 32-year-old man was found dead in an Internet cafe in Taiwan after a marathon three-day gaming binge. This was the island's second death of an online gamer that year. The man, surnamed Hsieh, entered the cafe in Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second largest city, on January 6, 2015. An employee found him motionless and sprawled on a table at ten in the morning of January 8. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where doctors pronounced him dead from cardiac arrest.

     Hsieh had been unemployed for some time and Internet cafes were the places he spent most of his time. According to his family, he would disappear for two to three days at a time.

     It was not known exactly how long Hsieh lay dead in the Internet cafe, but police officers said his body had begun to stiffen, so he must have been dead for several hours before they arrived. Gamers in the cafe continued playing as if nothing had happened.

     Surveillance camera footage showed that before he collapsed, Hsieh was involved in a minor struggle. According to the pathologist, cold temperatures and over-exhaustion from the long hours playing games likely contributed to his death.

      The Taipei Times reported that Hsieh had been a regular customer who often played online games for consecutive days. When tired, he would sleep face down on the table or doze off slumped in his chair. That is why employees were not immediately aware he was dead.

     Taiwan was no stranger to deaths from marathon sessions of online gaming. Hsieh's death came after a 38-year-old man was found dead at an Internet cafe in Taipei on January 1, 2015 after playing video games for five days straight. And in 2012, the corpse of a man who died playing online games went unnoticed for ten hours by other gamers and staff.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

College Students Pay for the Costly Diversity Bureaucracy

College and university administrators are even more left wing than the faculty, and they are part of this massive bureaucracy. If students are wondering "why is my college tuition so expensive," look no further than the diversity bureaucracy. At the University of California Los Angeles, the Vice Chancellor For Equity, Diversity and Inclusion makes more than $400,000.00 a year. This is mind boggling. This is multiples more than your average faculty member makes. It could pay for four years for 12 undergraduate students, and that Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has nothing to do, because there isn't a single bigot on campus.

Heather MacDonald on Fox TV's "Life Liberty & Levin," December 2, 2018

Cyber Crooks Love the Pandemic

     Where real markets go, shadow markets often follow. In crime--as in legitimate economic activity--the pandemic has fostered an online boom. The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center reports that by June 2020, daily digital crime has risen by 75 percent since the start of stay-at-home restrictions, and that the number of complaints received in 2020 had all but surpassed the total for 2019...

     Criminals main method of attack on individuals has been COVID-19 related email phishing--impersonating legitimate companies, often banks or credit card companies, to dupe people into handing over log-ins, passwords or financial information. In recent months emails purporting to be from government and health care authorities have proliferated, claiming to provide information and offer recommendations about the pandemic...

The Economist, August 17, 2020

Campus COVID-19

As of late August 2020, colleges and universities in 36 states reported 8,700 cases of COVID-19. This should not be shocking, or even surprising. Young people are not about social distancing--just the opposite.

Active Shooter Drills

The American Academy of Pediatrics announced recently that active shooter drills in elementary and middle schools seriously traumatize children and should be terminated. It's amazing it took the so-called experts this long to realize what anyone with common sense already knew--these stupid, needless exercises scared the hell out of kids.

Why History Repeats Itself

The lack of sense of history is the damnation of the modern world.

Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) American poet and novelist

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Angry American

     On October 27, 2018, Mayra Bernice Gallo, after purchasing food at a Santa Ana, California McDonald's drive-through window, got out of her car and entered the back door to the restaurant and asked an employee for more ketchup. The fast-food worker said they would gladly do that if Gallo re-entered the restaurant through the front door and made her request there. Enraged by this response, Gallo attacked the fast-food worker by punching, choking, and bashing the victim's head against a drink machine. While fellow workers tried to intervene, the assault ended when a man entered the back door of the restaurant and pulled Gallo off her victim. A McDonald's surveillance camera recorded the entire incident.

     A month after the unprovoked attack, officers with the Santa Ana Police Department took the 24-year-old into custody. The officers booked her into the Orange County Jail on the charge of assault.

     The Gallo case illustrates what has become a common phenomena in American life: criminal assaults sparked by trivial slights. We are living in a hair-trigger society where violence resides just beneath a veneer of civility and order.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Why People Are in Jail

I read in some newspaper that hundreds of thousands of Americans are sitting in jail "simply because they couldn't pay their bail." No, they are in custody because they've either been arrested while in the commission of a crime or as criminal suspects. Is the bail system fair? Maybe not. But that's no excuse for misrepresenting the problem. The problem is crime and America has a lot of it. Still, we are not a police state. There's also no excuse for crime journalists who don't know what they are talking about.