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Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Internet: One-Stop Shopping For Sickos

From anonymous bullying to anonymous murder for hire, the Internet has something for every sick taste.

Kenneth Eade, Attorney, Author of legal thrillers

Dystopian Science Fiction

Dystopia has appeared in science fiction from the genre's inception, but the past decade has observed an unprecedented rise in its authorship. Once a literary niche within a niche, mankind is now destroyed with clockwork regularity by nuclear weapons, computers gone rogue, nanotechnology, and man-made viruses…We have plagues and we have zombies and we have zombie plagues.

Michael Solana, wired.com, August 24, 2014 

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Power of the State

 Even a competent lawyer may not be able to mount an adequate defense against the state, with all its resources, if he has next to nothing for investigation and works for starvation wages.

Anthony Lewis (1927-2013) legal journalist 

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Master Plot

There are stories that we tell over and over in myriad forms and that connect vitally with our deepest values, wishes, and fears. Cinderella is one of them. Its variants can be found frequently in European and American cultures. Its constituent events elaborate a thread of neglect, injustice, rebirth, and reward that responds to deeply held anxieties and desires. As such, the Cinderella master plot has an enormous emotional capital that can be drawn on in constructing a narrative. But it is only one of many master plots. We seem to connect our thinking about life, and particularly our own lives, to a number of master plots that we may or may not be fully aware of. To the extent that our values and identity are linked to a master plot, that master plot can have strong rhetorical impact. We tend to give credibility to narratives that are structured by it. [True crime narratives often incorporate master plots.]

H. Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, 2002

Thursday, October 22, 2020

John Cheever on Academic Literary Criticism

The vast academic world exists like everything else, on what it can produce that will secure income. So we have papers on fiction, but they come out of what is largely an industry. In no way does it help those who write fiction or those who love to read fiction.

John Cheever in Writers at Work, Fifth Series, edited by George Plimpton, 1981 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Jeffrey Toobin: A Journalist Exposed

      Jeffrey Toobin, a 60-year-old journalist with a bachelor and a law degree from Harvard University, began writing about crime, politics and law for New Yorker magazine in 1993. In 2003, he became the chief legal analyst for CNN. His seven books include one about the O.J. Simpson murder case, and one about the Patty Hearst kidnapping. He also wrote a book favorable to President Obama and one critical of President Trump. In addition to a book on the U.S, Supreme Court, Toobin wrote about the sexual accusations against Michael Jackson. On CNN, he was a regular commentator and panelist. 

     On October 13, 2020, Toobin and three of his colleagues were participating in a ten-minute Zoom call "strategy session" in anticipation of CNN's upcoming election night coverage. During that call, Toobin's colleagues were shocked to see him masturbating. 

     Shortly after the bizarre incident, Mr. Toobin was suspended by New Yorker magazine and placed on leave by CNN. 

     On October 19, 2020, in a statement published on his computer Motherboard, Toobin, in a bit of an understatement, wrote that he had made an "embarrassingly stupid mistake. I believe," he said, "that I was not visible on Zoom, I thought I had muted the Zoom video." Mr. Toobin apologized to his wife, his family and friends, and to his co-workers at New Yorker and CNN.

     Brian Stelter, one of the talking heads at CNN, referred to Mr. Toobin's unintentional exposure of an intentional act as an "accident." In so doing, Mr. Stelter was also exposed--as a journalistic hack.

     There was a time when someone of Mr. Toobin's status and fame would never be able to live something like this down. In modern America, however, with President Bill Clinton as a good example, politicians and media types can shrug off huge embarrassments and move on with their careers. Perhaps this is because the public now realizes that the hypocrites in public life are no better than they are, and in most cases, worse.

     On November 11, 2020, New Yorker fired Mr. Toobin. 

The Fanatic Versus The Martyr

A martyr is someone willing to die for what he believes in. A fanatic is someone willing for you to die for what he believes.

Marsha Hinds, journalist

Leonard Woolf On Serious Versus Commercial Novels

Novels by serious writers of genius often eventually become bestsellers, but most contemporary bestsellers are written by second-class writers whose psychological brew contains a touch of naivety, a touch of sentimentality, the story-telling gift, and a mysterious sympathy with the day dreams of ordinary people. [What a literary snob.]

Leonard Woolf (1880-1969), husband of Virginia Woolf

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Locard Exchange Principle in Forensic Science

The theory that a criminal perpetrator leaves part of himself at the scene of a crime, and takes a piece of the crime site with him, was postulated in 1911 by Dr. Edmund Locard in Lyon, France. Referred to as the Locard Exchange Principle, this concept, along with the idea of interpreting physical evidence to reconstruct what took place at the site of a criminal act, is the basic rationale behind crime scene investigation. The term "associative evidence" describes items that, pursuant to the Locard Principle, can connect a suspect to the scene of a crime.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

A Literary World Outsider

     Like most writers, my principal connection with the literary world has been through books and magazines. I've read hundreds of books and articles about writing, publishing, and the writing life by well-known writers, how-to authors, editors, literary agents, critics, journalists, and writing teachers.

     Besides literary biographies and autobiographies, as well as the published letters and journals of literary figures, I enjoy reading memoir/how-to books by celebrated writers. Examples of this genre include The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer, On Writing by Stephen King, On Writing by George V. Higgins, The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham, On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, None But a Blockhead by Larry L. King, and Chandler Speaking by Raymond Chandler.

     My library is also stocked with collections of author interviews such as the Writers at Work series featuring the Paris Review interviews conducted by George Plimpton and his colleagues. Interviewees in this eight-book series, which ran from 1958 to 1981, include Ernest Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, John O'Hara, John Cheever, and James Jones.

     I also like to read so-called "conversation with" books, collections of interviews featuring a single writer such as Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Graham Green, Tom Wolfe, and Eudora Welty.

      In 2019, I read Cast of Characters, a book by Thomas Vinciguerra about the golden years of The New Yorker and Another Life, a biography by Michael Korda about his years as a book editor and writer. In 2020 I enjoyed The Way of the Writer by Charles Johnson.

     While I've corresponded over the years with a handful of well-known authors, I've only had one literary friend. That person was the mystery writer Ross H. Spencer who died in 1998. He was a literary outsider as well,

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Child Rapists Jerry Sandusky and Earl B. Bradley: Men Who Don't Deserve to Live

     Once they have been tried and convicted, and have exhausted their appeals, pedophiles should be executed. They don't deserve to live. We shouldn't have to feed them, dress them, provide them with health care, protect them from other inmates, or hear what they have to say about anything.

     These controlling, narcissistic, remorseless, and sadistic child abusers can not be rehabilitated. While they have learned to impersonate decent human beings, except for indignation and rage, these heartless criminals are as emotionally cold as machines. They are relentless in their obsession with child sex, and no pill or shot can stop them.

     Because many child rapists are intelligent, hardworking, successful, and superficially charming, we have to constantly remind ourselves of what is going on behind the pedophile's facade of respectability and decency. The fact that some of these perverts are excellent teachers, pediatricians, priests, or football coaches, is irrelevant. Moreover, our attention should not be diverted because a pedophile has friends in high places. Children most vulnerable to these sexual predators belong to parents who are either too naive, busy, stupid, or indifferent to keep an eye on adults who pay too much attention to their children. Pedophiles also take advantage of co-workers who either protect them, or are afraid to stick their necks out and report their suspicions. Pedophiles also benefit from prosecutors who shy away from cases like this.

Jerry Sandusky

      Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State football coach convicted in 2011 of raping several boys, told a reporter with the Associated Press that he was "distraught" over the penalties the NCAA has issued to Penn State's football program. I have three questions about this: Why was a journalist even talking to this child molester? What relevance did Sandusky's opinion have to with anything? And who cared what he thought? If Jerry Sandusky were a real human being--one with empathy, self-awareness, and a conscience--he would not have made such an outrageous statement because he'd realize how most people would react to it. If the former football coach was "distraught" about anything, it should have been what he had done to all those children. Sandusky didn't care about the lives he had ruined. 

Earl B. Bradley

     In June 2011, a 58-year-old pediatrician from Lewes, Delaware named Earl B. Bradley was found guilty of raping, over a ten year period, 85 girls and one boy. All of his victims were between two and five-years old. Not only did the physician molest these toddlers, he video-taped himself doing it. When investigators, in December 2009, searched his pediatrics office, the officers found dozens of these tapes.

     At his trial, presented before a judge instead of a jury, Bradley's attorneys did not argue that he was innocent. Instead, they raised a procedural defense questioning the constitutionality of the police search of his office. The judge ruled the search constitutional, found the defendant guilty, and sentenced him to 14 life sentences plus 164 years.

    In August 2012, after spending a year in the prison library, Bradley sent a 15-page letter to the Delaware Supreme Court in which he asked the justices to take up the issue of the constitutionality of the office search that uncovered his child molestation sex tapes. In his appeal, Bradley did not deny raping 86 of his patients.

     A normal person, under these circumstances, wouldn't be capable of mustering up outrage over a supposedly unconstitutional search. This doctor, a pedophile who raped his patients, then billed their parents, referred to the police search of his office as an "assault" on his "basic and core privacy rights." 

    Every breath Earl B. Bradley takes in his cell at the state prison near Smyrna, Delaware is an affront to humanity. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

A Comedian's Take on the IRS

The IRS! They're like the Mafia, they can take anything they want!

Jerry Seinfeld 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Short Story Market

I suspect that things were much easier back when I was starting out. Editors were actually writing to young short story writers asking if they had manuscripts! It's occurred to me that if I were an unpublished young writer right now, I might very well have to stay unpublished.

Anne Tyler in The Best American Short Stories, edited by Anne Tyler, 1983 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Decline Of Newspaper Circulation

In 1984, in a country of 235 million, U.S. daily newspaper circulation reached its peak at 63 million. Daily newspaper circulation in 2018, with a U.S. population of 350 million, dropped to 30 million. Since 2004, 1,810 newspapers have gone out of business. Today, there are only about 40,000 editors and reporters working for daily newspapers. It is an industry that is dying, and dying quickly.

Monday, October 5, 2020

The Loss of Employee Accountability

     Discussing the virtues of accountability is a little like talking about the joy of taking exams. It's not exactly what we look forward to in life. Accountability is scary--someone else judging how we're doing….But accountability is an essential part of a healthy life and a healthy society. We all know this. In this age of legal insecurity, however, we are no longer free to act on the obvious--as with our obsession with safety and with rights. We want a perfect world, without failures or disagreements.

     In striving for this utopia we don't notice all the vital benefits that we lose. The freedom of people to make accountability judgments is vital to just about everything important and joyful in work life…

     To see ourselves as we really are, we need the mirror of other people's views. Scientists tell us that most people are incapable of accurately judging themselves, because humans are hard-wired by nature to be self-centered. Our founders believed this as well--that a human being was an atom of self-interest. By protecting against the judgment of others, modern personnel law [employer-employee relations] fosters these worst tendencies in humans, starting a downward spiral…

     One federal judge told me about presiding over a discrimination trial in which the facts of the worker's incompetence were overwhelming. As the trial progressed, it was clear to everyone in the courtroom that the worker had no claim. When the verdict came in dismissing his claim, however, the employee still couldn't see it. He sat in the courtroom in disbelief, crying in frustration at the injustice that had been done to him. Inside a legal cocoon, people let their imaginations replace reality.

Philip K. Howard, Life Without Lawyers, 2009 

The First Women In American Law Enforcement

Women found a place in early-twentieth-century police departments in part because the idea of what police were for was in flux. A hundred years later, we're accustomed to images of police as militarized soldiers in the never-ending war on crime. But in the early decades of the last century, policing was as much about promoting social welfare as preserving law and order. Female officers tended to runaways, enforced child labor laws, and searched for missing children.

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

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Lucious Smith Murder Case: The Dangerous Job of Helping Dangerous People

     Stephanie Ross, after graduating in 2009 from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degree in psychology, landed a job as a counselor at a central Florida high school. In September 2012, the 25-year-old began working for a firm that according to its corporate literature, provided a "...comprehensive approach to managing the health needs [for insurance companies'] most costly and complex members." Ross' employer, Integra Health Management Company, arranged health care for clients diagnosed with chronic illnesses. Ross had been hired as a service coordinator which involved visits to the homes of disabled people.

     One of Ross' mentally deranged clients, 53-year-old Lucious Smith, lived in a one-story, cement-block apartment complex in Dade City, a town thirty miles north of Tampa. Smith, an anti-social person who was seriously mentally disturbed, paranoid, and violent, embodied the kind of man nobody wants as a neighbor, co-worker, relative, customer, or mental health patient. Residents of the neighborhood perceived Smith as more than just a bellicose pain-in-the-neck, they considered him physically dangerous. Because association with this man brought trouble, he was a person to avoid.

     Since 1981, Lucious Smith had served four separate stints in Florida's prison system for committing various crimes of violence. In 2005, after doing seven years for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, Smith moved into the small apartment in Dade City. (Since he didn't have a job, he must have been on the public dole). Over the next six years, police were called to investigate 60 criminal complaints against Smith that included assault, trespassing, public intoxication, and disorderly conduct. Smith constantly fought and threatened his neighbors, and as a result of his bad behavior, had been banned from the local convenience store.

     As part of her job, Stephanie Ross had to visit Lucious Smith in his apartment. After three house visitations, Ross placed a notation in Smith's file that this man had made her "very uncomfortable."

     On the morning of December 10, 2012, Stephanie Ross was in Dade City delivering insurance paperwork to Mr. Smith. Shortly after entering Smith's apartment, neighbors and other witnesses saw Lucious Smith chasing a young woman down the street. Stephanie Ross was yelling, "Help me! Help me!" As she ran, Smith stabbed her in the back with a butcher's knife. Smith grabbed the fleeing victim by her pony-tail and threw her to the ground. He climbed on top of his bleeding victim and plunged the knife several more times into her body.

     As people ran to Stephanie Ross' aid, Smith got up and casually strolled back to his apartment. A motorist pulled up to the bloody scene and drove Ross to a nearby hospital where she died a few hours later.

     Not long after the fatal knife attack, police officers found Smith waiting for them outside his apartment. They arrested him without incident and took him to the Pasco County Jail where he was held without bond. A local prosecutor charged Smith with first-degree murder. Shortly thereafter, a grand jury indicted him on that charge.

     In February 2013, two psychologists hired by Smith's defense attorney testified at a preliminary hearing that Mr. Smith was still mentally ill and therefore not competent to stand trial. A psychiatrist hired by the state disagreed. As a result, the judge ruled the defendant mentally competent. However, in May 2013, after further examinations of Mr. Smith, the state mental health expert changed his evaluation. This led the judge to change his mind and rule the defendant incompetent for trial. Judge Pat Siracusa ordered that Mr. Smith be treated at a state mental hospital until doctors there determined he was competent to stand trial.

     On June 11, 2013, the U. S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Integra Health Management with two workplace safety violations. According the the agency's news release, "A serious violation has been cited for exposing employees to incidents of violent behavior that resulted in death." The second violation involved the company's failure to report the workplace fatality.

     In February 2014, Stephanie Ross' family filed a wrongful death negligence suit against her former employer, Integra Health Management and several other firms including the owner of Smith's apartment complex and his insurer. According to the plaintiffs, Ross' Integra Health Management supervisor, aware of her documented concerns about Mr. Smith, "took no action whatsoever." The plaintiffs' attorney, Bradley Stewart, argued that the employer violated its duty to protect Ross from violence.

     Who knows how many ticking time-bombs like Lucious Smith live among us. Social workers like Stephanie Ross whose work puts them in touch with people like Smith are more vulnerable than the police who are armed and wear bullet-proof vests. Violent, out of control mental cases should not be living in open society and social workers and others who try to help them do so at great risk to themselves.

     As of October 2020, Lucious Smith had not been tried for Stephanie Ross' murder. If the Ross lawsuits had been resolved with either verdicts or settlements, there is no record of these outcomes on the Internet.

The First "Selfies"

The first selfies involved politicians: Self-centered, self-righteous, self-deluded, and self-serving.