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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.


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


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?

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.

The Modern Crime Novel

 Now that books compete with Netflix and other binge-watching streaming services, tangled plots, flawed characters and unreliable narrators have become essential ingredients of the modern crime novel.

Megan Goldin, The New York Times Book Review, July 26, 2020

Believable Fiction Versus Unbelievable Nonfiction

 Although Mark Twain apparently didn't coin the phrase "truth is stranger than fiction," he offered perhaps the best explanation for why it is so. "It is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities," he wrote. "Truth isn't." History is replete with proof; try, for instance, plotting a novel that faithfully replicates the events of September 11 or John F. Kennedy's assassination and watch it be dismissed as absurd.

Scott Anderson, The New York Times Book Review, August 30, 2020

George Orwell's "Endless Present"

Every statue, street, and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except for the endless present in which the Party is always right.

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four, 1949

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Screenwriting: There's No Market for The Good Stuff

 If you are one of the possessed writers whose life's dream is to write movies, then, yes, you should be writing screenplays…But most of what Hollywood is producing these days is not very impressive; in fact, it seems as if the occasional well-written Hollywood film is more of a fluke that a commonplace occurrence. However, we must never forget that Hollywood's purpose is not and never will be to produce edifying pieces of art. Hence, it is called show business, not show art. If you want beauty, go to cosmetology school.

Richard Krevolin, Screenwriting in the Land of Oz, 2011 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Tarnished Reputations and Ruined Careers of Celebrities, Business Leaders, Influencers, and People With Authority and Power

      Who knows how many ordinary people end their careers in some kind of disgrace. If the number of entertainers, business executives, television news people, print journalists, athletes, legal practitioners, medical professionals, educators, and politicians who have fallen from grace is any indication, a lot of ordinary people must end up with ruined careers and damaged reputations. Scandal seems to be a part of American life. What follows is an annotated list, just a sampling, of high profile scandals and crimes involving influencers and people with authority and power. A complete list would produce a document the size of a big city phonebook. 


     Harvey Weinstein (movie and TV producer: sexual abuse of women); Lori Loughlin (actor: bribed college admission personnel to get daughters into UCLA); Felicity Huffman (actor: college admission bribery); Kevin Spacey (actor: male sex abuse allegations); Jessie Smollett (TV actor: false report of being victim of hate crime); Woody Allen (actor, screenwriter, director: married his adopted daughter); Bill Cosby (comedian: rapes of women he'd drugged); Jeffrey Tambor (TV actor: sexual abuse of women); Phil Spector (music producer: murder of female house guest); Jason James Murphy (child casting director: sexually molested child actors); Martin Weiss (child casting director: sexually molested child actors); Robert Blake (actor: shot his wife to death); Steve Collins (TV actor: admitted to 40-year-old inappropriate sexual contact with three teenage girls); Ricardo Medina (TV actor: stabbed and wounded male roommate with a sword); James Brown (soul singer: aggravated assault and vehicular police chase); Randy Quaid (actor: he and wife arrested for not paying $10,000 hotel bill, couple also arrested for squatting in house they didn't own); Wesley Snipes (actor: failure to pay federal income tax); Kathy Griffin (comedian: posted photograph of herself holding blood-soaked head of President Trump); Lindsay Lohan (actor: alcohol/drug abuse, stole $2,5000 necklace from jewelry store); Michael Jackson (singer/dancer: credible and persistent accusations of molesting boys who lived with him); Mel Gibson (actor: slapped ex-wife Oksana Grigoreva); Roman Polanski (movie director: fled to France to avoid U.S. trial for drugging and raping 13-year-old girl); Charlie Sheen (actor: domestic abuse, drug possession); Tom Sizemore (actor: domestic violence, heroin possession); Courtney Love (singer: assaulted musician Kristin King); Christian Slater (actor: punched girlfriend and assaulted police officer); Johnny Depp (actor: domestic abuse); Ricky Schroder (TV actor: accused of domestic violence)


     Al Franken (U.S. Senator: inappropriate sexual behavior against women); Eric Schneiderman (NY Attorney General: accused of nonconsensual violence by four women);  John Brennan (CIA Director: abuse of power); Anthony Weiner (NYC mayoral candidate: sexual exposure to girl); Hillary Clinton (presidential candidate: as secretary of state, held classified information on private email server); Gary Hart (presidential candidate: affair with woman not his wife); Jim Trafficant (U.S. House of Representatives: public corruption, removed from office); David H. Petraeus (Army general, CIA Director: extramarital affair); Robert Rizzo (city manager, Bell California: theft of public funds); Loretta Lynch (U.S. Attorney General: met secretly with Bill Clinton, then dismissed email server case against Hillary Clinton); Lois Lerner (IRS: retired under accusations of denying tax exempt status to conservative organizations); William Jefferson (U.S. House of Representatives: accepted $500,000 in bribes); Chaka Fattah (U.S. House of Representatives: federal racketeering); Chris Collins (U.S. House of Representatives: indicted for insider trading and lying to FBI); Bob Menendez (U.S. Senate: charged with accepting $1 million in gifts, trial ended in hung jury); George H. Ryan (governor, Illinois: racketeering and fraud); Steven Brooks (Nevada state assemblyman: threatened to kill political rival, resisted arrest); Eric Holder (U.S. Attorney General: oversaw ATF gun-running scandal that led to death of border patrol officer); James Clapper (Director of National Intelligence: lied to congress in denying the agency collected data on millions of Americans); Andrew Cuomo (New York Governor accused of sexual harassment and a COVID-19 policy that killed thousands of elderly residents of retirement homes); Eric Swalwell (U.S. Congressman accused of having sex with a Chinese spy)

Television News

     Roger Ailes (Fox News head: inappropriate sexual behavior involving female employees); Jeffrey Toobin (CNN legal analyst and New Yorker writer: indecent exposure); Brian Williams (NBC new anchor: falsely claimed to be on helicopter hit by missle); Dan Rather (CBS News anchor: false reporting regarding President George Bush's draft dodging; Matt Lauer (NBC "Today Show": inappropriate workplace sexual behavior); Mark Halperin (NBC News: inappropriate workplace sexual behavior); Travis Smiley (PBS late-night host: inappropriate sexual behavior involving women; Ed Henry (Fox News: inappropriate workplace sexual behavior); Bill O'Reiley (Fox News: inappropriate workplace sexual behavior) 


     Lance Armstrong (cyclist: performance enhancement drugs); Floyd Landis (cyclist: performance enhancement drugs);  Aaron Hernandez (NFL star: gangland involved murders); O.J. Simpson (NFL: acquitted, double murder, later convicted of robbery); Pete Rose (MLB: gambling on baseball); Joe Paterno (Penn State football coach: pedophile cover-up in Sandusky case); Mark McGuire (MLB: performance enhancement drugs); Philip Foglietta (high school football coach: sexually molesting boys); Bobby Knight (college basketball coach: verbally and physically abused players); Jerry Sandusky (assistant coach, Penn State: molested several boys); Joseph Randle (NFL running back: arrested for shoplifting); Ray Rice (NFL running back: caught on hotel video camera cold-cocking his wife); Megan Mahoney (high school girls basketball coach: sexual relationship with 16-year-old male student); Maurice Clarett (Ohio State football star: filed false report regarding items and cash stolen from borrowed dealership car); Pete Carroll (football coach, arranged house and money for recruit Reggie Bush's parents); Brandon Gregory (high school football coach: in state championship game, played suspended player under alias); Antonio Margarito (professional boxer: caught with plaster in his gloves); Luis Resto (professional boxer: with handwraps soaked in plaster-of-Paris, seriously injured opponent Billy Collins); Mike Tyson (heavyweight boxing champion: raped 18-year-old Desiree Washington, bit off piece of Evander Holyfield's ear)


     Jeffrey Epstein (rapist found dead in his cell); Bernie Madoff (prolonged bilking of hundreds of investors); Robert F. Smith (Equifax CEO: massive data breach); Dennis Kozlowski (TYCO CEO: stole $100 million from company); Martin L. Grass (Rite-Aid CEO: illegal accounting practices to cover company debt); Joseph Machio (Qwest Communications CEO: insider trading); Jeffrey Skilling (Enron CEO: fraud, insider stock trading); John Rigas (Adelphia CEO: fraud, misappropriation of company funds)

Print Journalism 

     Michael Finkel (freelance journalist: story of  West African boy sold into slavery a composite of several boys); Michael Gallagher  ( Cincinnati Enquirer: voicemail hacked company he investigated for story); Jayson Blair (The New York Times: plagiarism, fabricated information); Stephen Glass (The New Republic: fictitious stories presented as nonfiction); Jack Kelly (USA Today: fabricated facts); Janet Cooke (Washington Post: inflated her academic credentials); Anne Blythe (freelance journalist: plagiarism); Lloyd Brown Florida Times-Union: plagiarism); Nada Behziz (The Bakersfield Californian: plagiarism); Rick Bragg (The New York Times: took credit for stories written by stringers)


     Jim Bakker (PTL Ministries: sex scandal involving women); Ted Haggard (evangelical preacher: sexual relationship with a man); Bill Gothard (Gothard Institute of Basic Life Principles: sexual abuse of female followers); Jimmy Swaggart (TV preacher: patronizing prostitutes); Rabbi Barry Freundel: criminal voyeurism of female members of synagogue); Father Jerold Lindner (Catholic priest: sexually molested boys); Father William Clouter (Catholic priest: sexually molested boys); Monsignor William Lynn (orchestrated pedophilia cover-up); Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (sexually molested boys); Cardinal Bernard Law (oversaw pedophilia cover-up); Catholic Bishop Donald Wuerl (sexually molested boys); Rabbi Marc Gafni (sexual abused girls); Heather Cook (Bishop, Episcopal Church: convicted of manslaughter in hit and run death); Dr. William B. Guthrie (Presbyterian minister: murdered wife in bath tub, staged suicide); Edward Belczak (Catholic priest: Embezzled $500,000 from parish); Jarod Mills (Alliance Church pastor: arrested for unlawful sexual contact with a minor); John Douglas White (pastor, Christ Fellowship Church: murdered woman, had sex with her body, then hanged himself in cell); Arthur Burton Schirmer (Methodist Minister: murdered two wives); Juan D. McFarland (Baptist pastor: adulterous encounters with female congregants, drug abuse, and misappropriation of church funds); Daniel Montgomery (Franciscan friar: murdered priest who caught him sexually molesting boys); Robert Van Handel (Franciscan priest, seminary school rector: molested boys); Elder Ulysses Woodard (pastor: in church parking lot, shot and wounded his wife then killed himself)


     F. Lee Bailey (defense attorney: disbarred in Florida and Massachusetts for taking millions in trial compensation not due him); Mark Fuller (federal district court judge: arrested for battery of wife, resigned after threat of impeachment); Kenneth Markman (defense attorney: disbarred for smuggling drugs to jailed clients); Douglas B. Barbour (prosecutor, Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office: imprisoned with wife for abusing their children); Mike Nifong (prosecutor: disbarred for overzealous prosecution of innocent students in Duke lacrosse rape case); M. Marc Kelly (Orange County, California judge: sentenced man who sodomized 3-year-old girl to just 10 years); Ken Anderson (prosecutor, Austin, TX: withheld evidence that exonerated man imprisoned 25 years); Michael Thornsbury: judge, Mingo County, WVa.: framed a man whose wife he coveted); John F. Russo (administrative law judge: removed from bench after insulting rape victims in court); David McDade (Douglas County, Georgia prosecutor: used seized drug money for  jobs for friends); Bill Peterson (Pontotoc County, Oklahoma prosecutor: mishandled DNA evidence that sent two innocent men to prison for eleven years)


   Dr. Thomas Dixon (plastic surgeon: hired hit man to murder hospital pathologist in love triangle); Dr. Robert Ferrante (ALS research physician: cyanide poisoned his physician wife to death); Dr. Marian Antoinette (family medicine: lost medical license for threatening physical harm to employees); Dr. Ana Maria Gonzales-Angulo (oncologist: poisoned to death fellow doctor who was her lover); Dr. Hsiu-Ying Tseng (pain specialist: second-degree murder when three patients overdosed on pain pills); Genene Jones (pediatric nurse: murdered four children under her care); Dr. Conrad Murry (Michael Jackson's physician: involuntary manslaughter for for prescribing him Propofol, powerful anesthetic); Dr. Melvin Morse (pediatrician and bestselling author: water boarded 11-year-old daughter); Dr. Larry Nassar (olympic female gymnastics osteopath: raped members of gymnastics team); Dr. Kermit Gosnell (Philadelphia abortionist: murdered three infants born alive, killed patient during abortion); Dr. Timothy Jorden: trauma surgeon: killed himself after live-in girlfriend left him); Dr. Jackson Dempsey (psychiatrist: strung nylon rope across walking path injuring cyclists); Dr. Ulrich Klopper (abortion doctor: failed to document abortions, provide patients with pre-abortion counseling)

Higher Education 

     Cecilia Chang (Dean, St. John's University: committed suicide after fraud and embezzlement indictment); Dr. H. Gilbert Welsh, Dartmouth: resigned after plagiarizing graph in scholarly journal); Chika Nwankpa (head of Drexel University Engineering Department: spent $96,000 grant money on strip clubs, sports bars, and restaurants); Irena Kristy (professor of calculus, Suffolk University and Boston University: cooked meth with her son); Donald Marvin Jones (constitutional law professor, University of Miami: offered two undercover cops $20 for oral sex); Dr. Hugo Schwzer (history and gender studies professor, Pasadena City College: invited porn actor to class, had sex with female students); Rainer Reinscheid (professor, University of California Irvine: set fires in a park, at high school and the principal's home in revenge for his son's suicide); Dr. James Aune (professor, Texas A&M: committed suicide when blackmailer threatened to expose exchange of sexually explicit photos with underage girl); Dr. Kirk Nesset (literature professor, Allegheny College: possession of child pornography); Dr. Samuel R. See (professor, Yale University: after arrested for assaulting boyfriend, committed suicide in cell); Dr. Jessica A. Krug (professor, George Washington University: white woman who masqueraded as black)

Lower Education 

     Brittni Colleps (high school English teacher: sex with male students); Marc Berndt (elementary school teacher: sexually molested male students); Lee Riddle (high school German teacher: convicted 18 counts of sexual assault of boys); Michael Luecke (high school teacher: caught masturbating in school hallway); Jennifer Lynn Rich (kindergarten teacher: alcohol intoxication in class); Neal Erickson (eighth grade science teacher: sex with male student); Ethel Anderson (elementary school teacher: exchanged sexually explicit text messages with 12-year-old male student); Anthony Giancola (teacher, special needs school: crackhead who stabbed three people to death in group home); Dr Jay Smith: (high school principal: murdered female teacher); Eric Toth (elementary school teacher: sexually molested hundreds of boys at numerous schools); Symone Greene (high school English teacher: sex with male student behind classroom desk); Rita Baci (kindergarten teacher: video-taped boy beating up other kids); Cynthia Ambrose (kindergarten teacher: encouraged students to punch an unruly kid); Stacie Halas (high school teacher: appeared in porn films under name Tiffany Six); James J. Pepe (high school history teacher: solicited murder of fellow teacher); William James Vahey (high school teacher: pedophile, killed himself to avoid arrest); Dr. Thomas Woodrow Price: headmaster, private prep school: drug abuse); Gregory Eldred (elementary school music teacher: shot wife to death in church); Dr. George Kenney (high school principal: hypnotized troubled students without therapy license); Lauren Harrington: high school English teacher: sex with male students); Kingsley Wentzky (high school English teacher: sex with two male students); Craig Chandler (elementary school teacher: lewd and lascivious acts on student); Lyn Vijayendron (elementary school principal: failed to report pedophile teacher); Edgar Friedrichs elementary school teacher and principal: he murdered one of the students he sexually molested)

Forensic Science

     Michael P. Malone (hair and fiber identification, FBI Crime Lab: sent people to prison on junk science); Fred Salem Zain (DNA analyst, West Virginia Crime Lab: incompetence and perjury); Sonja Farak (drug analyst, Massachusetts Crime Lab: malpractice); Annie Dookham (drug analyst, Massachusetts Crime Lab: malpractice); Dr. Ralph Erdman (freelance forensic pathologist: malpractice and perjury); Joyce Gilchrist (DNA analyst, Oklahoma City Crime Lab: malpractice); Dr. Louise Robbins (freelance shoe print identification: helped send dozens to prison on junk science); Dr. Michael West (freelance bite mark identification: junk science testimony); Dr. Pamela Fish (DNA analyst, Chicago Crime Lab: malpractice); Shawn Parcells (freelance forensic pathologist assistant, practicing without a license); Charles Peters  (bullet identification, FBI Crime Lab: junk science that sent many to prison); Dr. Charles Harlan (forensic pathologist: false reports and erroneous cause and manner of death rulings); Dr. Charles F. Siebert (forensic pathologist: incompetence and credibility); Dr. John Kenney (bite mark examiner: caved to prosecutorial pressure); Dr. Raymond Rawson (bite mark examiner: retired after misidentification); Dr. Michael Kenny (forensic pathologist: incorrect cause and manner of death rulings); Dr. Richard O. Eicher (forensic pathologist: ruled suicide in obvious death by homicide); Cina L. Wong (graphologist: questionable findings as forensic document examiner); David Liebman (graphologist: questionable findings as forensic document examiner); Arnold Melikoff (hair and fiber examiner, Montana State Crime Lab: incompetence and malpractice); Jon Creighton (fingerprint examiner: misidentified latent fingerprint that convicted innocent man); Marco Palacio (fingerprint examiner: suspended for fingerprint misidentification); Dr. Michael Berkland (forensic pathologist: fired for failure to write autopsy reports and improper storage of body parts); Dr. Angelo Ozoa (forensic pathologist: license suspended for incomplete autopsies and incorrect findings); Dr. Michael McGee (forensic pathologist: incorrect cause and manner of death rulings); Dr. Joan E. Wood (medical examiner: caved to Scientologists in manner of death ruling)

Law Enforcement

     Matthew Lowry (FBI Agent: abused drugs); John Connolly (FBI Agent: complicit in murder on behalf of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger); James B. Comey (FBI Director: abuse of power); Peter Strzok (FBI Assistant Director: abuse of power); Andrew Mc Cabe (FBI Assistant Director: abuse of power); Raimundo Atesiaro (police chief: framed innocent black men); Eddie Johnson (Superintendent, Chicago Police Department: domestic battery); Ralph Godbee, chief, Detroit Police Department: affair with subordinate); Michael A. Dotro (police officer: firebombed police captain's house); Ray Schultz (Albuquerque police chief: Resigned after his officers, within a three year period, shot 35 people, killing 18); Michael Mitchell (high school police officer: slapped and dumped boy out of wheelchair); Darin McAllister (FBI agent: mortgage fraud); Patrick Quinn (school district patrol officer: offered not to ticket female arrestees in exchange for acts involving his foot fetish); Charles Locke (police officer: sex with 15-year-old girl); Timothy Brehmen (police officer: manslaughter for killing his lover, a married woman); William Douglas (police detective: created fake fingerprint report that incriminated suspect); Courtney Brown and Kristee Wilson (patrol officers: fired for flipping coin to determine if traffic offender taken into custody); Joe Burge (police detective: beat confessions out of suspects); Stephanie Lazarus (police officer: first-degree murder of woman married to her former boyfriend); Randall Price (wrongful shooting led to $10 million civil judgement against city); Mary O'Callahan (police officer: police brutality); Adam Skweres (police officer: asked five women for oral sex in return for favors he could do them); Randy Adams (police chief, Bell, California: fired for $457,000 annual salary in town of 40,000); Brian Fanelli (police chief, Mount Pleasant, NY: possession of child pornography); Robert Lustyik (FBI agent: bribery and wire fraud); James Peters (police officer: in ten years, shot at seven people, killing one); Nicholas Tankersley (jail guard: favors to female inmates when they sexually exposed themselves)

The Law Is Not Blind

I say the law should be blind to race, gender, and sexual orientation, just as it claims to be blind to wealth and power. There should be no protected groups of any kind, except for children, the severely disabled, and the elderly whose physical frailty demands society's care.

Camille Paglia, Author, Social Critic, 1992 

Biographers As Messengers From the Dead

I like to think that biographers can sometimes be messengers between past people and the present. What are all these letters and journals there for? Is it possible that when we're dead we have different priorities, that we no longer wish to be silent as it were? I believe there is a case to be made for bringing the dead to life, for a bit, in a way. To be a messenger going backwards and forwards is worthwhile.

Michael Holroyd, "On Writing: Authors Reveal the Secrets of Their Craft," theguardian.com, March 25, 2011

Novels Are Defined by Their Characters

If you can't create characters that are vivid in the reader's imagination, you can't create a good novel. Characters are to a novelist what lumber is to a carpenter and what bricks are to a bricklayer. Characters are the stuff out of which a novel is constructed.

James N. Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II, 1994 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The Deadly "Wedgie"

     Police in Oklahoma say that a 33-year-old man allegedly killed his stepfather after a fight last month [December 2013] by yanking the older man's underwear up his back and over his head so that the waistband was around his neck. Brad Davis, of McLoud, was arrested [on January 7, 2014] and booked into the Pottawatomie County Jail on a first-degree murder complaint…

     An argument that escalated into a fight that broke out on the evening of December 21, 2013 between Davis and Denver St. Clair. St. Clair had made disparaging comments about the younger man's mother related to the couple's pending divorce… Davis tackled St. Clair in the kitchen then punched him in the face several times before he could make it back to his feet…Davis told police that he pulled St. Clair's underwear up over St. Clair's head, and later noticed that St. Clair was unconscious and called the police…When detectives arrived, Davis was standing over St. Clair smoking a cigarette.

     The state's medical examiner said that St. Clair's cause of death was either blunt force trauma to the head or asphyxia. [Both men had been drinking that night. Davis was a former Marine. In July 2015, a judge sentenced Brad Davis to 30 years in prison.]

Fox News and the Associated Press, January 9, 2014 

Benjamin Franklin on Autobiography

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing. [Franklin, in his autobiography, one of the best ever written, did both.]

Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, 1791 

What Children and Young Adults Want in a Novel

Novels for children and young adults are soothing and reaffirm the young reader's sense of worthiness. The child, who may have few friends, gathers around himself or herself an array of characters who are entertaining and forgiving and enlightening.

Jane Smiley, 13 Ways of Looking at The Novel, 2005

Alien Societies in Science Fiction

Stephen H. Doyle, in Habitable Planets for Man, attempted to estimate the abundance of planets in which human beings could live without life-support systems such as domes or spacesuits. He estimated that there were something like 600 million human-habitable planets in our galaxy alone. Other galaxies should have comparable numbers.

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Factors Affecting The Accuracy Of An Eyewitness Account

When a witness sees a serious event such as a crime or traffic accident and then must recall it later, three major stages can be identified: the acquisition state, the retention stage, and the retrieval stage. In the acquisition stage, there are numerous factors that will affect the accuracy of the initial perception. Some of these factors, such as the amount of time the witness had to look at whatever is going to be remembered, are inherent in the situation itself. Other factors, such as the amount of stress a witness is experiencing, are inherent in the witness. Both event factors and witness factors can dramatically affect a witness's ability to perceive accurately.

Elizabeth Loftus, Eyewitness Testimony, 1979 

The Privacy of Murder

I had never before thought about the terrible privacy of murder--how something so awful could be done to you and the only person who would ever know what had happened was the person who did it. How you couldn't tell anyone what you'd been through because you'd be dead...How it was a kind of evil intimacy. It seemed unbearable.

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

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Smiling Liar

A liar often smiles subtly while telling a lie; it's an unconscious expression of his delight in getting away with a whopper.

Pamela Meyer, Liespotting, 2010

Kleptomania: Illness Or Theft?

Shoplifting is…misunderstood because the line between crime and disease has blurred. Although most estimates put the number of kleptomaniacs among shoplifters at between 0 and 8 percent, some experts believe that the disease is far more prevalent. Others contend that so-called shopping addiction has replaced kleptomania altogether.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

The Redundant Writer

For some writers, once is not enough. They don't beat a dead horse; they beat a totally dead horse. They use modifiers that say the same thing as the words they modify. For them, every fact is a true fact. They don't expedite; they speedily expedite. They don't smell a stench; they smell a malodorous stench. In other words, they're redundant. Or as they might put it, superfluously redundant. [This is a meaningfully profound quote.]

Patricia T. O'Conner, Words Fail Me, 1999

E.B. White's Journals

My journals date from about 1917 to about 1930, with a few entries of more recent date. They occupy two-thirds of a whiskey carton. How many words that would be I have no idea, but it would be an awful lot. The journals are callow, sententious, moralistic, and full of rubbish. They are also hard to ignore. They were written sometimes in longhand, sometimes typed (single typed). They contain many clippings. Extensive is the word for them. I do not hope to publish them, but I would like to get a little mileage out of them. After so many years, they tend to hold my attention even though they do not excite my admiration. I have already dipped into them on a couple of occasions, to help out on a couple of pieces.

E. B. White, The Second Tree From the Corner, 1954