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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

The Li Hang Bin Shaken Baby Syndrome Case

     In 2007,  Li Hang Bin and his common-law wife Li Yang, immigrants from the Fujian Providence in China, resided in the Flushing section of Queens, New York. Just after midnight on October 22, 2007, Mr. Li called 911 to report that his two-month-old daughter Annie had become unresponsive, and had turned blue. The infant arrived at the emergency room thirty minutes later with a fractured skull, brain and eye injuries, two broken legs, and a fractured rib.

     According to the baby's 23-year-old father, the unhealthy infant had been ill with a fever. On the night in question, Mr. Li said he found Annie pale and unconscious. In his attempt to revive his daughter, he accidentally bumped her head against a table. It wasn't until after the baby had turned blue that Mr. Li called 911. Five days after the infant's hospitalization, Annie died.

     The forensic pathologist with the New York City Medical Examiner's Office who performed the autopsy ruled the baby's death a homicide by violent shaking and blunt force trauma. According to the forensic pathologist, the victim had all the signs associated with a shaken baby syndrome (SBS) death. The indicators included bleeding between the brain and the skull, brain swelling, and bleeding in the retina. Pathologists call this the triad of SBS symptoms.

     In March 2008, five months after the baby's death, a Queens prosecutor charged Li Hang Bin with second-degree murder, and as a backup charge, second-degree manslaughter. The prosecutor also charged Li Yang with a lesser criminal offense related to the baby's death. Both suspects were incarcerated in the city jail on Riker's Island. Fearing that they might flee to China, the magistrate denied them bail.

     Mr. Li and his 22-year-old companion insisted that the infant had not been violently shaken and bludgeoned to death. The case dragged on for five years during which time prosecutors offered the defendants plea deals involving lesser crimes and immediate release from jail. Li Hang Bin and Li Yang rejected the plea offers on the grounds they were innocent of any wrongdoing in the baby's death. Mr. Li demanded the opportunity to be exonerated at his trial. He said he was not going to admit to something he didn't do just to get out of jail.

     In January 2013, prosecutor Leigh Bishop, after dropping the charges against Li Yang, made her opening statement to the jury at Mr. Li's Queens murder trial. Prosecutor Bishop told jurors that the defendant had "violently, repeatedly, and with depraved indifference," slammed the baby's head into a hard object causing "abusive head trauma."

     Cedric Ashley, Mr. Li's defense attorney, blamed the baby's death on poor health. The lawyer said he would produce medical evidence that would explain the infant's fractured skull, broken rib, and broken legs. Ashley said these injuries had been caused by a rare disease called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease.

     Over the next two weeks, jurors heard testimony from a battery of medical witnesses on both sides of the issue. As is often the case involving dueling experts, the confused jurors settled for a compromise verdict. In February 2013, the jury acquitted the defendant of second degree murder, a crime that carries a sentence of 25 years to life. However, perhaps because of the severity of the victim's injuries, the jurors did not acquit the defendant of criminal homicide. They found Li Hang Bin guilty of second-degree manslaughter, the lessor offense.

     Mr. Li, who had been in jail almost five years, faced a maximum 15 year sentence. He expressed shock at his conviction, and promised to fight to clear his name. 

     On March 4, 2013, Justice Richard L. Buchter of the State Superior Court in Queens sentenced the defendant to 5 to 15 years in prison. The Chinese immigrant continued to maintain his innocence.

     Infant death cases are problematic because of the difficulty of ruling out the possibility of nonviolent, natural sources of the SBS symptoms. There are several forensic pathologists around the country who regularly testify for the defense in SBS homicide trials. A forensic pathologist who commented publicly on the Li trial, said he was between 80 and 90 percent certain that this case involved a SBS caused death. 

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 High School Teachers' Sex With Students Sentencing Double Standard

     Meredith Powell began teaching math at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington in September 2012. In January 2014, the unmarried 25-year-old started sending sexually explicit text messages and erotic videos to one of her 15-year-old male students. She followed this up with sexual encounters (oral sex) with this boy and another 15-year-old student. The sexual activity took place in her classroom.

     In February 2014, the police got involved after Powell wrote a letter to the girlfriend of one of the boys. In that letter she apologized for her "unprofessional" and "drunken" text messages.

     Following a brief investigation, Tacoma police officers arrested Meredith Powell for having sex with two of her students. A Pierce County prosecutor charged the teacher with two counts of child rape and several lesser offenses. After her release from the county jail on bond, the superintendent of the Tacoma School District placed the accused teacher on unpaid leave pending the outcome of her case.

     In July 2014, Powell pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree child rape and one count of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.

     At Powell's sentencing hearing on August 29, 2014 before Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson, Shannon McMinimee, the attorney for the school district, urged the judge to impose a tough sentence. McMinimee reminded the judge that this teacher had committed child rape. (No doubt the school district wanted the judge to send a message to other teachers in the system that having sex with a student was a serious crime.)

     The defendant's attorney, Wayne Fricke, in arguing for a light sentence, called his client "an upstanding individual who went through a rough patch last fall. She didn't handle the situation well and got herself into this situation," he said. (Had the defense attorney said this in reference to a male client who'd had sex with a female student, he would have been laughed out of court.)

     The defendant rose to her feet, and speaking to the judge, said, "I feel like words can't even express how sorry I am. I wish I could take back what happened to the students I failed. Sorry doesn't take away anything that happened, but I hope they [her victims] can move forward with as little impact as possible. I pray every day for the two boys. I'm heartbroken over the suffering I caused them and their families."

     When it came time to hand down his sentence, Judge Cuthbertson said, "This is difficult, this is different, this is not what we usually see. Everything suggests this is out of character for you. But again, you need to understand the severe impact this case has had not only on the victims but on their families."

     The judge sentenced the former teacher to five years. However, he suspended all but six months of that penalty. As part of the sentence the judge ordered Powell to enroll in a program for first-time sex offenders.

     Upon hearing the sentence, the victims' parents could be heard cursing as they stormed out of the courtroom. The attorney for the school district told reporters that she had hoped for a longer period of incarceration. She said the state had revoked Powell's license to teach.

     When a male teacher has consensual sex with a 15-year-old female student, he will almost always be sentenced to at least two years in prison, often longer. This sentencing double standard suggests that some judges, in cases where the defendant is a woman and the student is male, believe that boys are crime victims in name only. Girls, on the other hand, are victims of adult male dominance.

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

Looking Back at England's Child Sex Exploitation Scandal

     In Rotherham, a city of 250,000 in northern England, five men from the Pakistani community were convicted in 2010 of grooming teenage girls for rape. The victims were trafficked across northern England by crews made up of Asian men. The high-profile trials brought to light other child sex exploitation rings run by Pakistani men in the cities of Rochdale, Derby, and Oxford.

     English authorities, responding to public pressure in the wake of the trials and accusations, asked Alexis Jay, the former chief social worker for the Scottish government, to investigate the scandal and publish a report on the depth and scope of the criminal operation. She released her report on August 25, 2014.

     Ms. Jay and her investigators determined that from 1997 to 2013, 1,400 girls, some as young as eleven, were sexually assaulted in the massive criminal enterprise. They were gang-raped, beaten, and threatened. The author of the report wrote: "There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told someone."

     How could so many girls be exploited, by so many men, for so long? According to Alexis Jay, "Police regarded these child victims with contempt." Moreover, a good number of these children were known to child protection agencies. Police chiefs, detectives, and council members chose to believe the sex was either consensual or the allegations of rape were false. These crime were, according to the report, "effectively suppressed."

     In some instances, parents who tried to rescue their children from the exploitation operators were themselves arrested. (Police bribery must have been rampant.) In the report, Alexis Jay wrote: "The collective failures of political and police leadership were blatant. From the beginning, there was growing evidence that child sexual abuse exploitation was a serious problem in Rotherham."

     Following the publication of Ms. Jay's shocking report, Roger Stone, the head of the Rotherham City Council resigned. Outraged parents and others called for the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire to step down as well. The commissioner told reporters he had no intention of resigning. No one else in the public sector took responsibility for the scandal.

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

The Gilbert Collar Police-Involved Shooting Case

     Gilbert Thomas Collar grew up in Wetumpka, Alabama, a town of 6,000 within the Montgomery metropolitan area in the central part of the state. The 135-pound, 5-foot-7 high school wrestling star was enrolled at the University of South Alabama, a 15,000-student university located in Mobile, Alabama. Collar, a social sciences major, wanted to become a high school teacher and a wrestling coach.

     A university police officer named Trevis Austin, at 1:23 in the morning of Saturday, October 6, 2012, heard someone banging loudly on one of the campus police station's windows. Upon investigation of this noise, the officer encountered Gilbert Collar, nude and crouched into a fighting stance. The muscular young man, who challenged the officer to a fight, obviously appeared to be out of his mind. When Collar made an aggressive move toward Trevis Austin, the officer drew his weapon, backed-off, and warned the threatening 18-year-old to settle down. Collar rushed toward the campus cop several times, and each time the retreating officer ordered the man to stop and desist. Collar took a knee, rose, and charged the officer again. This time officer Austin shot Collar once in the chest. The attacking freshman stumbled, regained his footing, rushed toward the officer again, then collapsed and died.

     University police officer Austin was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation to be conducted by the Mobile County District Attorney's Office and the local sheriff's department. An important aspect of the inquiry involved reviewing the surveillance camera footage of the bizarre confrontation. Some of the questions that had to be answered included whether or not the student and the officer who shot him knew each other. Investigators also wanted to determine if Collar had a  history of mental illness and/or drug use. The autopsy and toxicological would answer the question of drugs and or alcohol.

     Jeff Glass, Collar's high school wrestling coach, told a reporter that "He [Collar] was a kind soul. He was never aggressive to anyone off the mat. He was a 'yes sir, no sir' kind of guy." Chis Estes, an 18-year-old who grew up with Collar, reportedly said, "Gil was a very 'chill' guy, mellow and easy-going. That's why I don't understand the story that he attacked the cop."

     According to the toxicology report, Gilbert Collar had gotten high on a laboratory drug that mimics the effects of LSD. He had taken the drug at the BayFest music concert on the night of the deadly encounter. Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran, at a press conference, announced that the student had assaulted others prior to his death.

     In 2013, a grand jury sitting in Mobile County cleared Trevis Austin of criminal wrongdoing in the shooting.

     In the wake of the grand jury no bill, members of Gilbert Collar's family brought a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against former officer Austin and the university. In 2015, pursuant to that suit, former Tallahassee police chief Melvin Tucker, on behalf of the plaintiff, rendered an expert opinion regarding whether the officer's use of deadly force in the case was appropriate.

     In his report, made public in May 2015, Mr. Tucker concluded that officer Austin had used excessive force in violation of his department's deadly force policy. Melvin Tucker wrote that the officer should either have retreated or used non-lethal means to subdue the student.

     Mr. Tucker noted in his report that over the past 131 years only three police officers in the state of Alabama had been killed by an unarmed assailant. The use of force expert wrote that in 2012, not a single police officer in the United States had died as a result of being disarmed by an arrestee.

     This is one of those difficult cases that no matter how it was resolved, won't satisfy anyone. From the campus police officer's point of view, he was confronted by an aggressive, muscular young man who was apparently out of his mind and intent on engaging him in a wrestling match. For all the officer knew, he was dealing with a drug-crazed man with supernatural strength. (The officer was 5-foot-eleven and the student 5-foot-seven.) Had these two people gotten into hand-to-hand combat, there was a possibility that the attacker could have ended up with the officer's gun. Even if the officer had been equipped with a taser device, there was no guarantee it would have subdued this aggressive, out-of-control subject, particularly with the LSD type drug in his system.

     Looking at this case through the eyes of Gilbert Collar's friends and relatives, it's easy to understand why they have questions regarding this student's sudden and violent death. His mother Bonnie said this to a reporter: "Freshmen kids do stupid things, and campus police should be equipped to handle activity like that without having to use lethal force." Although Gilbert Collar was not a kid, college freshmen are known to do stupid things. But taking off your clothes in the middle of the night, and without provocation or notice, attacking a police officer, goes beyond youthful stupidity. 
     In my opinion, Officer Austin, while he caused Gilbert Collar's death, was not responsible for it.

The Petra Pazsitka Lost And Found Case

     In 1984, when 24-year-old Petra Pazsitka, a computer science student attending college in Braunschweig, Germany, failed to show up at her brother's birthday party, her parents reported her missing. The police in this northern German city launched a massive hunt.

     About a year after the student's disappearance, the missing persons case was featured on a popular German television crime show. The public exposure did not create any tips that led to Pazsitka's recovery.

     Not long after the airing of the TV segment, a man named Gunter confessed to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl from the neighborhood where Pazsitka had disappeared. This man also confessed to kidnapping and murdering the missing college student. But after Gunter was unable to lead homicide investigators to Pazsitka's body, the suspect took back his confession and that case was closed.

     In 1989, five years after Pazsitka's disappearance, she was officially declared dead even though her body had not been recovered.

     In September 2015, police in Dusseldorf, Germany were called to an apartment to investigate a burglary. At the scene they spoke to the victim tenant, a 54-year-old woman who identified herself as Mrs. Schneider. Investigators, when they learned that Mrs. Schneider didn't possess a driver's license, social security card, passport, or bank account, or any other form of personal identification, turned their attention on her.

     As it turned out, Mrs. Schneider was Petra Pazsitka. After staging her disappearance 30 years ago, Pazsitka lived in several German cities under numerous assumed names. She paid all of her bills with cash and didn't drive a car.

     When detectives asked Pazsitka the obvious question of why she had voluntarily disappeared, causing a massive police hunt as well as pain and suffering for her family, she said she had wanted to start a new life. She offered no explanation beyond that. Her father had since died. When asked if she wanted to reunite with her mother and brother, she said she did not.

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

Not All Is Fair In Divorce War

     On August 11, 2014, a jury in Indiana, Pennsylvania found 43-year-old Meri Jane Woods guilty of trying to frame her estranged husband of a crime. According to the district attorney, in August 2013, the  Clymer, Pennsylvania defendant downloaded 40 images of child pornography onto the family computer and took the photographs to the police. She accused her estranged husband, Matthew Woods, of downloading the pornographic contraband.

     When investigators examined the time stamps on the images, they determined they had been downloaded more than two weeks after Meri Woods had kicked her husband out of the house pursuant to a protection from abuse order. Since he didn't have access to the dwelling or the computer, he couldn't have downloaded the incriminating material.

     In December 2014, the Indiana County judge sentenced Woods to six months to two years in prison. 

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.

The Stiletto Heel Murder Case

     At four in the morning on Sunday, June 9, 2013, a resident of the Parkline condominium  high rise in Houston's upscale Museum District, called 911 to report a possible domestic disturbance in an adjacent apartment. When police officers knocked on the door of the 18th floor residence, they were met by a woman covered in someone else's blood.

     The woman who answered the door that morning was 44-year-old Ana Lila Trujillo, a former message therapist who was visiting the home of a University of Houston research professor employed in the school's  biology and biochemistry department. The officers found Professor Alf Stefan lying face-up in a pool of his own blood. The 59-year-old researcher in the field of women's reproductive health, lay sprawled on the floor in the hall between the entranceway and the kitchen. The dead man had ten puncture wounds in his head, and fifteen to twenty such wounds to his neck and chest. The death scene had all the markings of an overkill murder committed by someone who was enraged and out of control.

     The blood-covered Trujillo told the Houston police officers that the professor, her boyfriend, had physically attacked her. In defending herself, she had struck him with the stiletto heel of one of her pumps. When questioned by detectives at police headquarters, Trujillo asked for a lawyer then clammed-up.

     Later that Sunday, Trujillo was booked into the Harris County Jail on the charge of murder. The next day, she walked free after posting her $100,000 bond.

     Since Trujillo and Professor Stefan were alone in his apartment, the prosecution would have to make a circumstantial case of murder based upon the physical evidence and the character of the defendant and the history of her relationship with the professor.

     On April 10, 2014, a jury in Houston, Texas found Ana Trujillo guilty of capital murder. The prosecutor had successfully portrayed her as a self-serving, violent woman who lived in her own world. The Trujillo defense failed to make the case that she had killed an abusive lover in self-defense.

     Based on the advice of her attorney, the defendant did not take the stand on her own behalf.

     The judge sentenced Trujillo to life in prison.  

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.

Leonard Moses: Fifty Years a Fugitive

     On April 6, 1968, in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination, a riot broke out in Homewood, Pennsylvania, a community in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. During that civil unrest, 16-year-old Leonard Rayne Moses and two of his friends threw molotov cocktails into 72-year-old Mary Amplo's house in Homewood. With third-degree burns over 55 percent of her body, she was rushed to a nearby hospital where, three months later, she died of pneumonia. 

     In July 1969, Leonard Moses went on trial in Pittsburgh for Mary Amplo's death. The jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced Moses to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

     In July 1970, the authorities granted Leonard Moses permission to attend his mother's funeral at the Nazarene Baptist Church in Homewood. At some point during the service, the 18-year-old managed to escape from two Allegheny County sheriff's deputies. Normally escapees of this nature are quickly apprehended and returned to prison. But in this case, Leonard Moses avoided capture and disappeared into the wind.

     In January 1999, Leonard Moses, under the name Paul Dickson, became a licensed traveling pharmacist for the CVS pharmacy chain in Michigan. Twenty years later, in January 2020, while living in Grand Blanc, Michigan, a suburb of Flint, a CVS loss prevention officer in St. Clair, Shores, Michigan, caught Moses, aka Dickson, taking 80 hydrocodene pills from the pharmacy. A Genesee County prosecutor charged Dickson/Moses with theft. Following his arrest, Dickson/Moses made bail and returned to his home in Grand Blanc.

     In October 2020, the fingerprints of a man the local authorities believed to be Paul Dickson were entered into a national fingerprint databank. The submission of these prints resulted in a match to the fingerprints of a Leonard Moses taken in connection with the Mary Amplo firebombing in April 1968. 

     FBI agents, on November 12, 2020, arrested the escaped prisoner at his home in Grand Blanc, Michigan. The 67-year-old fugitive was booked into the Genesee County Jail pending his extradition to Pennsylvania. 

     The story of how Leonard Moses escaped and avoided capture for so long, and transformed himself from an eighteen-year-old convicted murderer into a licensed pharmacist, is a tale yet to be told. But when it is, it is sure to be fascinating.

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 Anders Behring Breivik Mass Murder Case: The Insanity Defense in Norway Versus the United States

      The Anders Behring Breivik Mass Murder Case
     On July 21, 2011, 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo, Norway that killed eight. Breivik, later that day, opened fire at a summer camp on Utoya Island, killing sixty-nine people, most of whom were children. Breivik's bombing and shooting spree also injured 151 in the city and on the island. The mass murderer surrendered without incident to a SWAT team that showed incredible restraint.

     After confessing to the bombing and shooting spree, Breivik told his interrogators that he was a commander of a resistance movement aiming to overthrow European governments and replace them with "patriotic" regimes that would deport Muslim immigrants.

     A pair of psychiatrists, on thirteen visits, spent 36 hours talking with Breivik. The doctors concluded that because Breivik was a paranoid schizophrenic, he was not a proper candidate for conviction and imprisonment as a criminal. As a result, prosecutors decided not to try Breivik for mass murder. Instead, he would be adjudicated insane and sent to a mental institution for an indeterminate period.

      Under Norway's insanity defense doctrine, defendants who "lost touch with reality" are not considered criminals because their "crimes" are symptoms of the killer's mental illness. Breivik's victims, in other words, were killed by paranoid schizophrenia, not an evil, cold-blooded murderer.

     Norwegian critics of the decision not to try Breivik as a criminal defendant called attention to Breivik's extensive planning and gruesome efficiency in the slaughter of his helpless victims. In the opinion of the Swedish forensic psychiatrist Anders Forsman, Breivik carried out his murderous mission in a rational way. He was, in Forsman's words, an "efficient killing machine."

      In January 2012, under intense public pressure, the Oslo District Court ordered a second expert panel to evaluate Breivik's mental state at the time of the killings. In April 2012, the second psychiatric evaluation determined that Breivik possessed an antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. He was, in other words, not a psychotic who had lost touch with reality. 
     In August 2012, following Breivik's mass murder conviction, the judge sentenced him to 10 to 21 years in prison, Norway's maximum sentence. Had he been adjudicated insane, the mass murderer could have been shut away in a mental institution for life.

     The Insanity Defense in the U.S.
    Had Anders Breivik embarked on his murderous rampage in the United States, he'd have almost no chance of successfully raising the insanity defense. This is because in America, most states operate under the M'Naghten Rule. Under this doctrine of legal insanity, a criminal defendant is not insane unless: "At the time of the commission of the act, the defendant was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong." Popularly referred to as the "right/wrong test," a defense attorney has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence, that his client did not realize the act in question was wrong. Regardless of how mentally ill defendants are, almost all of them know that what they are doing is wrong. In other words, in most states, merely because a criminal defendant has been diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic is not enough to support the insanity defense. For this reason, very few defendants succeed in being found not guilty by reason of insanity. In the United States, the law requires a degree of mental impairment that in medical reality doesn't exist. 

     Serial killers like Ted Bundy are rarely found not guilty by reason of insanity. The Unabomber Ted Kaczinsky, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, was convicted of murder in 1996 and sent to prison. 

     In the United States, jurors are not comfortable with finding mentally ill serial killers and mass murderers not guilty for any reason. They don't completely trust the social scientific findings of psychiatrists who testify for the defense. And jurors don't want to replace the concept of good and evil with sane and insane. Serial killers and mass murderers, to jurors, while obviously mentally unbalanced, are still evil and dangerous people. In America, evil people who murder are going to be punished criminally. That doesn't mean, however, that they don't receive some psychiatric treatment (drugs) in prison. But it does mean, whether medically "rehabilitated" or not, they are never going to be free.

     John Hinckley, Jr. the man who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. This is because he was tried in federal court which applies a less difficult standard of legal insanity. In 2016, Hinckley's was released permanently from the mental institution so he could live with or near his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia. 

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

The Gary Melius Attempted Murder Case

     Born in 1945 in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, New York, Gary Melius began his career as a plumber, became a builder, and eventually made his fortune in real estate. In 1984, he bought a decaying 1919 French-style chateau on Long Island's Gold Coast. The Huntington, Long Island property, called Oheka Castle, was featured in the classic film "Citizen Kane." Melius turned the 109,000-square foot chateau into a luxury hotel, catering facility, and wedding venue. He also resided there.

     A close associate of former U.S. Senator Alphonse D'Amato and contributor of hundreds of thousands of dollars to republican and democrat politicians, Melius was a force in Long Island politics. In 2010, the Oheka Castle hosted the wedding of the disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin, a top Hillary Clinton aide.

     Like most rich and powerful men in politics, Gary Melius cultivated enemies. In February 2014, he conferred with law enforcement officials regarding evidence he had acquired involving political bribery and witness tampering. Melius claimed to have proof of corruption that would send several high ranking government officials to prison.

     In 2013, Melius was at the heart of a political scandal that led to the resignation of Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale.

     Mr. Melius had also made enemies in the business world. He was caught up in a legal battle over control of a company called Interceptor that manufactured ignition locks designed to curb drunken driving. On February 21, 2014, at a company shareholder's meeting, Melius announced that he planned to name a new board of directors.

     Melius accused the company's founder, John Ruocco, of mismanagement and financial improprieties. Ruocco responded by calling Melius a "political fixer." In December 2013, a judge, siding with Melius, stripped Ruocco of much of his ownership of the company.

     At half past noon on Monday, February 24, 2014, just after Mr. Melius sat down behind the wheel of his Mercedes in the valet parking lot at Oheka Castle, a masked gunman approached the front driver's side window of the vehicle. The assailant fired a shot that hit Melius in the forehead. As the gunman fled the scene in a get-away car, the wounded 69-year-old climbed out of the Mercedes and stumbled  back into his house.

     The injured man's daughter drove her father to Syosset Hospital. From Syosset, he was transferred to the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Manhasset. It was there he underwent emergency surgery. Mr. Melius survived the shooting.

     In speaking to reporters shortly after the assault, Deputy Inspector Matthew C. Lewis, the Commander of the Suffolk County Police Department's Major Crimes Bureau, said, "This looks to be a targeted crime." In other words, Mr. Melius may have been the victim of an attempted assassination, and perhaps the target in a murder-for-hire plot.

     In August 2014, Mr. Melius told a reporter that the police had investigated his adopted son as a possible suspect in the shooting. Thirty-four-year-old Thomas Melius, just days before his father was shot, had gotten out of prison after several months of incarceration related to a drug case. The father pointed out the lack of physical evidence connecting his son to the assault. Mr. Melius said he believed that one of his political enemies was behind the shooting.

     In February 2015, on the one year anniversary of the case, the Suffolk County Police Department raised its reward for tips leading to the arrest of the assailant to $100,000.

     On the second anniversary of the unsolved attempted murder, February 24, 2016, the Suffolk County Police released portions of a surveillance video the day Mr. Melius was shot. The video depicts the victim walking to his car in the parking lot of the castle when the gunman exits his vehicle and fires through his target's driver's side window. The Suffolk Police also announced that the FBI had entered the case.

     Regarding the release of the surveillance video, Mr. Melius told reporters that it was about time, and that he hoped the publicity would cause someone to come forward with the shooter's identity.

     As of this writing, the Gary Melius case remains unsolved.

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?

The Psychology of Rioting

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

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

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

Narcissists Manipulate to Maintain Control

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

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

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

Lost Trust in Mainstream News Media

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

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

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

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

Getting a Novel Published

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

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

Meg Schneider and Barbar Doyen, Get Published, 2008

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Psychology of Looting

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

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

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

Glenn Greenwald, investigative journalist, 2012

The Presidential Biography

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

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

The Thrill of Surprise

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

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

The Reality of Horror Fiction

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

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

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Death of Political Satire

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

Glenn Greenwald, investigative journalist, 2012

William Kunstler On Fighting The Government

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

William Kunstler, activist lawyer (1919-1995)

Self-Deluding Criminals

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

Patricia Pearson, When She Was Bad, 1997

Careful Diction Produces Clarity

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

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

Friday, November 6, 2020

Dr. Ann Burgess On the Probability of Female Sexual Assault

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

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

SWAT Drug Raid Precautions

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

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