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Friday, September 27, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Sherlock Holmes on the Dangers of Criminal Investigation

I think that you know me well enough, Watson, to understand that I am by no means a nervous man. At the same time, it is stupidity rather than courage not to recognize danger when it is close upon you.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem." 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Whackadamia Quote: University of Kansas Professor Shoots Mouth Off in Class

The blood is on the hands of the National Rifle Association. Next time, let it be your sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.

Journalism Professor David Guth in a tweet sent in wake of the Navy Yard shooting spree. [Guth's teaching duties were "reassigned," whatever that means. He remains on the payroll. Although the First Amendment gives the professor the right to say things like this, it would not be inappropriate for the university to fire him on the grounds of aggravated looniness. That, of course, won't happen. Colleges and Universities are hotbeds of looniness, lunacy, and loud-mouth idiocy. If they started firing professors like David Guth, half the classes would have to be cancelled.]    

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Sherlock Holmes on The Power of Observation

The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hounds of the Baskervilles" 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Secret Hooded Executioner

     Florida...takes the executioner's secrecy to extremes. One of the last states to use a civilian executioner, the Sunshine State is also one of the last that hoods the man. Hired through classified ads, his name is known by only two people in the state whose identities are also secret. At five on the morning of sentence, the executioner is picked up and hooded at a designated spot by an administrative assistant of the Department of Corrections (DOC). The hood stays on for the drive to the prison farm at Starke where the executioner is shown to a small room off the death chamber. He sits there until sunrise when he's summoned to another small room called the "executioner's alcove" which is visible to the execution participants but not the witnesses....

     How strange this hooded man must look to the condemned, who in Florida has full view of his executioner before his head is pinioned to the electric chair....

     After the condemned man is strapped in, two electricians engage the circuits and a third man throws a switch activating the "executioner control panel." When the moment comes, the warden nods to the hooded man who hits a switch that begins an automated sequence of voltages. For reasons no one in the DOC can explain, this hooded man is the last to leave after sentence is carried out. Driven to the spot where he was picked up, he's paid $150 in cash. 

Ivan Solotaroff, The Last Face You'll Ever See, 2002

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Occidental College President Jonathan Veitch's Culture of Campus Rape

     In February 2012, Occidental College professors Caroline Heldman and Danielle Dirks publicly accused President Jonathan Veitch and his administration of discouraging campus rape victims from reporting the assaults to the police. The professors and students who supported their cause asserted that Veitch and his people not only suppressed crime reporting on the Los Angeles campus, they handed down weak sanctions against the students responsible for rapes and other sexual offenses. The activist professors and those who backed them also accused college administrators of retaliating against professors and students who publicly criticized the school's handling of sex crimes. According to the complainants, this malfeasance had been going on since 2009.

     As part of their effort to reform Occidental's campus sex crime policy, Professors Heldman and Dirks helped concerned students file federal complaints against the school that accused the administration of civil rights violations as well as violations of the Clery Act.

     Because colleges and university administrations across the country have a long history of under-reporting campus crime, congress passed the Clery Act. Under this law, colleges and universities that receive federal money are required to maintain and fully disclose campus and near-campus crime statistics. Institutions that do not comply with the Clery Act can be fined up to $35,000 per violation.

     College and university administrators hate the Clery Act and do whatever they can to get around it. Since crime is bad for business, it's still grossly under-reported on most campuses. Given the high cost of higher education and the fierce competition for students, a campus that is not perceived as an oasis of safety and luxury will lose out in the market place. Colleges and universities no longer sell education, they sell lifestyle.

     Following the filing of the federal complaints, President Veitch agreed to tighten the school's policy regarding the handling of campus rape. But in the summer of 2013, a student who said she had been raped on campus in February of that year, complained on television that the college had not honored its agreement to report these crimes and take aggressive action against perpetrators.

     Infuriated by this public accusation, President Veitch accused the complaining student and Professor Dirks of maliciously embarrassing him and the college on the evening news. The president's thin-skinned response drew public criticism. As a result, he was forced to apologize for taking out his anger on the wrong people. (College and University presidents, the kings and queens of academia, have huge egos and suffer from degrees of self-love that is borderline pathological. They therefore have no tolerance for people who criticize them.)

     On September 19, 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported that Occidental College had reached a confidential monetary settlement with at least ten students who had been raped on campus. In all of these cases, the college had either squelched or downplayed the crimes.

     On the day following the Times article, President Veitch, in an attempt to garner faculty support for his reappointment as president (his 5-year contract was up for renewal), gave a 20-minute, emotional speech at an all-faculty meeting. Now that the scandal was supposedly behind them, the president called for intra-campus civility. (In academia, "civility" is a codeword for speech suppression. There is more free speech in Russian than on an American college campus.)

     In his faculty address, rather than focus on how his administration had let down crime victims and misled the public, President Veitch talked about himself. He said he had been "shell-shocked" by the accusations, and that the "controversy" had taken a toll "on my health and my soul." (Outside of academia, who talks like that?) While the president admitted that mistakes had been made, he assured faculty members that Occidental College now had some of the strongest sexual assault policies in the country. (That might be true, but no thanks to him.)

     Occidental College is currently under federal investigation.

     In my opinion, President Veitch, when his 5-year contract runs out, should be shown the door. And he should be sent packing without one of those typically over-generaous severance packages. No golden parachute for this man. If he is one-tenth as great as I'm sure he thinks he is, getting a new job should be no problem. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Janet Napolitano and The Kings and Queens of Academia

     On average, presidents of private and public institutions of higher learning make, in annual salaries, benefits, and perks, more than $450,000 a year. Even the heads of small, private liberal arts colleges make five or six times more than the highest paid professors in their institutions.

     Presidents of at least twenty public universities earn well over $1 million a year. For example, the president of Ohio State University pulls in $2 million a year in benefits and salary. Graham Spanier, before he was fired as president of Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal, took in $3 million a year. Spanier "earned" $600,000 a year as a tenured professor even though he didn't teach. (This is even better than getting paid not to grow corn.) $1.2 of Spanier's compensation was deferred, presumably for tax purposes. He received $700,000 for a one-year sabbatical. (Why would a college president need a sabbatical? What would he do? Talk about having both hands in the candy jar.)

     In my view, at a time when higher education costs are rising along with student debt (now at $1 trillion), these ridiculously excessive compensation packages amount to white-collar crime against students, parents, and taxpayers. Being head of a college or university should be a relatively low-paying job. A college president shouldn't be paid more than a full professor. And why do these administrators need free housing? How did the compensation of these kings and queens of academia get so far out of whack? This is lunacy.

     Janet Napolitano, after bungling the job of Homeland Security chief, was recently chosen (out of 300 candidates) to head the University of California's 13-campus system. (How did that happen? Didn't anybody check on her past job performance?) Napolitano will receive a relative modest annual salary of $570,000. In addition to $8,916 a year in car expenses (you'd think she could afford her own car), she was paid $142,500 to cover her "relocation" expenses. (Most people would be happy to have their new employers pick up their U-Haul bills.) Napolitano will, of course, be given free housing.

     Eventually, the 55-year-old chancellor will take up residence in the Blake Mansion, a 3,500-square foot monstrosity built in the 1920s for movie stars like Fatty Arbuckle. Located in a community called Kensington four miles north of the University of California at Berkeley, the estate has been vacant since 2008. As a result, Blake Mansion is in a state of disrepair.

     The chancellor's future home will be rehabilitated at a cost of $6 million. The renovation project will take at least two years. During this period, the state will pay $10,000 a month to rent a suitable palace for this newly crowned academic queen.

     I'm sure residents of bankrupt, looney California are sleeping well tonight knowing that Ms. Napolitano will be living like royalty. University of California students, realizing how Queen Napolitano's reign will significantly improve the quality of their educations, must be jumping for joy. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Joey The Hit Man

     I've dabbled in just about every area of crime, but my specialty, the thing I do best, is kill people. I am to mob rubouts what Leonard Bernstein is to music. I am one of the most feared killers in the United States today. I'm proud of the reputation; I've worked long hours and in dangerous places to earn it.

     I don't make that claim braggingly, but truthfully. I have sent 38 deserving men to their early graves. [Joey didn't murder these men because they deserved it, he killed them for the money. What a load of crap. After a fair trial and guilty verdict, it's the hit man who deserves to be killed.] I can remember each man that I hit. I can give you the order. The details. Even the weather on the day I made the hit. Number 18, for example, was a gambler who was discovered informing on the mob. [So this guy deserved to die?]

Joey in Joey the Hitman (with David Fisher) 2002 [This book is an easy, entertaining read, but I'm not sure how much of it is fiction.]



   

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Did Emily Creno Fake Her Son's Cancer?

     On the surface there was nothing exceptional about Emily J. Creno. In 2012, the mother of an 8-year-old girl and a boy who was four lived in Utica, a central Ohio town not far from Columbus. After the 31-year-old's marriage had gone sour, her husband John moved out of the house.

     In December 2012, Emily took her son J. J. to a hospital emergency room in Columbus. She told medical personnel that he had suffered a series of seizures. Following blood tests, X-rays, and EEG monitoring, the physical told Emily that her son was in good health.

     Notwithstanding her son's clean bill of health, confirmed by subsequent hospital visits and various screening tests, Emily Creno told friends and family that J. J. had been diagnosed with cancer. She said J. J.  didn't have long to live. The child, thinking that he was terminally ill, basically shut down. When John Creno visited his son, the boy couldn't speak or get off the couch. (Emily regularly shaved J. J.'s head to give him the appearance of someone being treated with chemotherapy.) Her estranged husband had no idea his son's illness was a hoax orchestrated by his wife. (The couple has since divorced.)

     One of Emily's sympathetic friends created a Facebook page for the purpose of soliciting donations for the distraught mother and her dying son. About twenty people sent the family clothes, toys, and money. One Facebook reader drove 500 miles to console Emily and the stricken boy.

     In May 2013, a Columbus woman with a daughter suffering from leukemia visited the Creno Facebook page where she read postings about J. J.'s illness and symptoms that didn't make sense. Thinking that Emily Creno was possibly soliciting money and goods on a false pretense, this woman reported her suspicion to an officer with the Utica Police Department.

     Utica detective Damian Smith, in response to the tipster's call, got in touch with the Columbus oncologist who was supposedly treating the Creno boy. The physician said he did not know Emily or her son. Further investigation, which presumably included Creno's interrogation and perhaps a polygraph test, established the fact that her son's terminal illness was nothing more that a product of her imagination and deception.

     Licking County prosecutor Tracy Van Winkle, in September 2013, charged Emily Creno with one count of third-degree child endangerment. Shortly thereafter, police officers took the suspect into custody on the felony charge. A local magistrate set her bail at $50,000. According to the prosecutor, she will present the case to a grand jury which could result in additional charges related to fraud and theft by deception.

     As the criminal case moves forward, J. J. Creno and his sister are residing with a distant relative. It's not clear if the boy's physical incapacity was entirely psychological, or the result of being poisoned by his mother. In either case, the effects of his ordeal will probably be long-lasting.

     In terms of motive, this could be a Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP) case. Mothers with this disorder make their children ill to gain sympathy and attention from friends, family, and hospital personnel. Quite often the MSBP subject is trying to attract the attention of an indifferent or estranged spouse. Even if Emily Creno didn't poison her son to make him ill, her cancer hoax could be explained in the context of this disorder. In other words, the motive behind this dreadful case may have been pathological rather than theft by deception. It should be noted, however, that Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy does not constitute a recognized legal defense. It is not the same as legal insanity because MSBP mothers are fully aware of what they are doing, and that it's wrong. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Writing Quote: Shelby Foote on Using Historical Figures in Novels

No historical character in a novel should do or say anything that you don't know he said and did. You can't displace him in time, and you can't move him geographically. And you've got to be true to him. If I wrote a novel that included Billy The Kid, it would be the Billy The Kid out of history; in other words, he couldn't be the main character....I would never quote Billy if I didn't have a valid quote. I wouldn't put him in any part of New Mexico that he wasn't in at that date; I believe you owe that to historical characters. Nothing distressed me more than to see an historical character in one of those historical, romance novels take the hero aside and give him a little advice on his love life or something. I don't think you have a right to do that with historical characters.

Shelby Foote (1916-2005), Conversations with Shelby Foote, 1989

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Criminal Atrocity in China

     On August 24, 2013, outside the Shanxi Province town of Linfen in rural northeast China, a woman grabbed 6-year-old Guo Bin as he walked along a path not far from his home. This woman lured the boy into a field where, in a shocking act of brutality, she used a sharp instrument to gouge out his eyes. Several hours later, a member of Guo Bin's family found the boy, his face covered in blood, wandering in a field on the family farm.

     In China, due to a donor shortage, corneas are worth thousands of dollars on the black market. As a result, investigators considered the possibility that the boy had been victimized by an organ trafficker. The authorities abandoned this theory when at the site of the attack, crime scene investigators recovered the boy's eyeballs with the corneas in tact. Police officers also recovered a bloody purple shirt presumably worn by the assailant.

     A witness reported seeing the boy that afternoon with an unidentified woman wearing a purple shirt. According to Guo Bin, the woman who attacked him spoke with an accent from outside the region. She also had dyed blond hair. The victim told investigators that this woman had used a sharp stick to cut out his eyeballs. Based on the nature of the boy's wounds, doctors believed he had been attacked with a knife.

     According to physicians, Guo Bin, with a visual prosthesis, might someday regain partial vision. Following the attack, the boy's family received $160,000 in donations from members of the public.

     Six days after the gruesome assault, 41-year-old Zhang Huiyang, the victim's aunt, killed herself by jumping into a well. While Guo Bin did not identify his aunt as the assailant, and she did not match his description of the attacker, the authorities, through DNA, linked her to the purple shirt found at the crime scene.

     The boy's mother, in speaking to an Associated Press reporter, pointed out that following the assault her obviously traumatized son had been disoriented. "It is easy to understand why he wasn't clear about the situation," she said.

     Since there was no rational motive behind a senseless assault like this, the Chinese authorities assume the boy's aunt suffered from some kind of mental illness. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Sherlock Holmes and the Power of Deduction

You mentioned your name, as if I should recognize it, but I assure you that, beyond the obvious facts that you are a bachelor, a solicitor, a Freemason, and an asthmatic, I know nothing whatever about you.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder" 

Writing Quote: The Fantasy Genre

What does fantasy ask of us? It asks us to pay something extra. It compels us to an adjustment that is different to an adjustment required by a work of art....The other novelists say "Here is something that might occur in our lives," the fantasist says "Here's something that could not occur. I must ask you to first accept my book as a whole, and secondly to accept certain things in my book." Many readers can grant the first request, but refuse the second. "One knows a book isn't real," they say, "still one does expect it to be natural."

E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel, 1927

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Writing Quote: Narrative Nonfiction Book Writing

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

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

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

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Stray Bullet in Brooklyn: A Cripts Gang Member Shoots a Toddler to Death

     Anthony Hennis, a member of the notorious Cripts street gang with 25 arrests for drug and gun possession as well as car theft and assault, lived in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York. The Brownsville neighborhood, with a high concentration of public housing and violent crime, is one of the most dangerous places in America.

     At seven in the evening of Sunday, September 1, 2013, Anthony had picked up his 16-month-old son Antiq from the boy's mother's apartment. The father told Cherise Miller that he and the toddler would be visiting his grandmother that evening.

     As Anthony Hennis pushed his son's stroller across the street about a block from the mother's place of residence, the 21-year-old father was approached by two men. One of these men pulled out a handgun and fired four shots at Anthony. Three bullets missed their target. The fourth slug struck Antiq in the head. The shooter, as he fled from the scene on foot, yelled, "I shot the motherf--er!" (The assailant apparently didn't realize he'd missed Anthony and hit the boy.)

     An hour after the stray bullet entered the left side of Antiq's head, he died at a nearby hospital. He became the 16th murder victim this year in New York City who was under the age of sixteen.

     It didn't take New York City detectives very long to identify the child killer as a 23-year-old Cripts gangster named De Quan Breland. Breland had been accompanied by 19-year-old De Quan Wright, another member of the gang. Investigators traced the two fugitives to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania where Breland was visiting his girlfriend who happened to be Wright's sister.

     De Quan Breland, on parole from a 2011 armed robbery conviction in upstate New York, had an extensive criminal record that included robbery, assault, drug dealing, and weapons possession. (Why was this man out on parole?)

     On Friday, September 6, police officers arrested Breland and Wright at an apartment in Wilkes-Barre rented by De Quan Wright's cousin. When Breland learned he had shot and killed a boy in a stroller instead of the fellow gangster with whom he had a beef, he reportedly broke down and cried.

     Two days following their arrests in Pennsylvania, Breland and Wright were arraigned in New York City. After pleading not guilty to the homicide charges, the judge denied the prisoners bail.   

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lower Education in America: Teacher Dress Codes

     At one time in America, doctors, lawyers, business people, members of the clergy, and school teachers adhered to the unwritten rule that practitioners in these and other fields should at least look professional. Today, in the general population at large, people are less inclined to dress for anything including restaurants, church, weddings, funerals, or their white-collar jobs. At one time people got dressed up when they traveled by air, or went to the supermarket. We have become, by comparison, a nation of slobs. What is the reason behind this trend, and what does it say generally about our culture? Beats me.

     Many public school students, perhaps inspired by their parents, go to class, the prom, and other school events inappropriately attired. Fine. A lot of kids are idiots who need to be told how to dress for school. Since many parents can't or won't supervise this aspect of their children's lives, school authorities have been forced to impose strict dress codes. The fact we have student dress codes is not a good reflection on modern parenting or society.

     Having solved the problem of how kids dress for school, what about their teachers? Apparently many public school educators don't know how to dress for school either. In Little Rock, Arkansas, the district superintendent recently had to establish a dress code for teachers. These rules will be enforced starting in the fall of 2014.

     Based upon the letter sent to all of the employees in the Little Rock School District, classes are being taught by teachers who are either dressed for Walmart, an afternoon on the couch watching TV, or ladies' night at the local bar.

     Female teachers in Little Rock have to be told to wear panties and bras, and to avoid "see-through or shear clothing." It has also become necessary to remind these women that the showing of skin between pants and skirts and blouses is inappropriate for work. Also verboten are "cut-off jeans with ragged edges, cut-out dresses, and spaghetti-straps." Oh--and no spandex. Good heavens.

     Male teachers in Little Rock had to be told not to wear "t-shirts, patches and other clothing containing slogans for beer, alcohol, drugs, gangs or sex." (I guess they can still wear t-shirts to work as long as they are otherwise appropriate. I can't imagine being taught by a guy in a t-shirt.) All Little Rock educators will also have to cover their tattoos, and refrain from wearing jogging suits or flip-flops.

     If a school teacher in spandex, no underwear, and flip-flops refuses to go home and change into clothing more suitable for a quasi-professinal, this employee could be labelled insubordinate, and as such, risk losing their job. Although everyone knows how difficult it is to fire a public school teacher, the teacher's union in Little Rock is up in arms over the superintendent's dress code. What right does the superintendent have to tell teachers how to dress for school? Outrageous.

     Even at Walmart and McDonalds employees conform to dress codes. The fact that a dress code is even needed for school teachers reflects how far the teaching vocation has sunk. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Failure of Parole

     The huge gap between the nominal sentence given and the real time served is dishonest, and is bad policy. It is dishonest because the public--especially victims of crime--is often under the impression that the sentence will be served in full, when in fact no such thing happens. It is bad policy because it puts the public at risk.

     There are several reasons why states should restrict parole practices. First, parole is based on the mistaken idea that the primary reason for incarceration is rehabilitation (prisoners can be released as soon as they are rehabilitated, so the argument goes), and ignores the deterrent, incapacitative, and retributive reasons for imprisonment. A clear and truthful sentence increases the certainty of punishment, and both its deterrent and incapacitative effects.

     Second, in too many cases parole simply does not work. Studies of the continuing failure of parole obscure the terrible human cost to law-abiding citizens.

Mary Kay Cary, in Crime and Criminals, 1995 edited by David Bender and Bruno Leone [I believe this is true today.] 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

SWAT Police Kill Monroe Isadore, One of America's Oldest Citizens

     Police officers in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a town of 48,000 forty-five miles south of Little Rock, responded to a call on September 7, 2013 regarding an elderly man who had pointed a gun at two people in his house. Shortly after arriving at the scene at 4:30 that Saturday afternoon, officers managed to get the endangered people safely out of the dwelling. The man with the gun, 107-year-old Monroe Isadore, locked himself into his bedroom and refused to come out.

     Police officers who surrounded the house had the legally blind, dementia-confused old man contained. Although Mr. Isadore wasn't holding hostages or posing a threat to the general public, the officer in charge of the situation called for a SWAT team, law enforcement's heavy artillery.

     By inserting a camera into Monroe's room, SWAT team officers were able to confirm that he still possessed the handgun. After a couple of hours of trying to talk the old man out of the house, a SWAT officer tossed a teargas canister through a bedroom window in an effort to flush the subject out of the dwelling. When the teargas didn't work, SWAT officers entered the home and destroyed the bedroom door with a battering ram. The second the door went down, a SWAT officer rolled in a concussion grenade that produced a loud noise and a disorienting flash of light.

     As SWAT officers charged into the bedroom, Monroe fired his handgun. Several officers shot back, killing Monroe Isadore on the spot. The county coroner pronounced the bullet-ridden old man dead at 7:30 that evening. Just three hours had passed since the initial police call. In Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the cops don't mess around. You can come out of the house now or be shot to death a couple of hours later.

     While the police-involved killing of Monroe Isadore was legally justified, was it absolutely necessary? Were innocent lives at risk? Of course not. The police had the 107-year-old trapped in the house. Had the half-blind, confused old man stumbled out the front door holding the gun, a healthy 80-year-old woman could have disarmed him.

     With the police camera in the bedroom, officers could have watched and waited until Monroe either passed out, fell asleep, or set the handgun aside. At the opportune moment,  SWAT officers could have stormed the house and taken this man into custody. But in an era where police officer safety trumps civilian safety, this is not how they do it. It's kill the armed son-of-a-bitch, then go home to your family.

     The Monroe Isadore shooting reflects, perhaps in the extreme, the effects of a highly militarized style of law enforcement where citizens are either treated like enemy combatants or potential enemy combatants. The armed public servant has been replaced by the crime-fighting warrior.

     What is truly concerning here is the stupendous lack of good judgement and police discretion. Also, where is the public outrage over the unnecessary killing of a confused, legally blind 107-year-old man? People demonstrate and wring their hands over the execution of a cold-blooded serial killer, but shrug their shoulders when the police use unnecessary deadly force. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Exhumations of Historic Figures

     I've seen some exhumations that are irresponsible attempts to disturb the dead for the sake of providing a harebrained theory, and I've seen others that are scientifically worthy. Some notable people die surrounded by legends and half-truths, making it legitimate to exhume their remains in an age where science can supply answers to the cause and manner of death, especially if the person in question has historical significance.

     Without being conspiracy theorists, we can say that the questions raised on the death of an individual can be many and varied. For example, why did three medical doctors decide not to autopsy the remains of J. Edgar Hoover, a man with many enemies and no history of medical ailments? Shouldn't we find out more through an exhumation? [Hoover was director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972. He did have a lot of enemies. Many of the agents who worked under him were glad to see him dead. There was no evidence then or now that he was murdered. That is a harebrained theory.]

James E. Starrs (with Katherine Ramsland), A Voice for the Dead, 2005

Writing Quote: The Death of the Short Story Genre

     If you want to write fiction, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.

     If it persists, you probably ought to write a novel. Interestingly, most embryonic fiction writers accept the notion they ought to write a novel sooner or later. It's not terribly difficult to see that the world of short fiction is a world of limited opportunity. Both commercially and artistically, the short-story writer is quite strictly circumscribed.

     This has not always been the case. Half a century ago, the magazine story was important in a way it has never been since. During the twenties, a prominent writer typically earned several thousand dollars for the sale of a short story to a top slick [non-pulp] magazine. These stories were apt to be talked about at parties and social gatherings, and the reputation a writer might establish in this fashion helped gain attention for any novel he might ultimately publish.

     The change since those days has been remarkable. In virtually all areas, the short fiction market has shrunk in size and significance. Fewer magazines publish fiction, and every year they publish less of it. The handful of top markets pay less in today's dollars than they did in the much harder currency of fifty or sixty years ago. Pulp magazines have virtually disappeared as a market.

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1979

Monday, September 9, 2013

Writing Quote: The Mystery of Novel Writing

After twenty years and a hundred books, I...realize that I don't know how to write a novel, that nobody does, that is no right way to do it. Whatever method works--for you, for me, for whoever's sitting in the chair and poking away at the typewriter [now computer] keys--is the right way to do it.

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1979 [Most mystery writers, including Mr. Block, know that there is a wrong way to write a novel. That would include not understanding the craft of plotting, character development, dialogue, and point of view.] 

Criminal Justice Quote: A Criminal Profiler on Mass Murderers and Serial Killers

     There are two kinds of mass murderers. There are the kind who go to a public or semipublic place (like a business or a school) and open fire, for example. These types are making a statement, a statement that is so important to them, has taken on such significance in their lives to get the point across....

     If the crime is committed in private, or away from witnesses, on the other hand, there is more chance the killer is thinking about getting away....

     With a serial killer, we generally don't know the UNSUB's [unknown subject's] identify until or unless he's captured....

John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, The Anatomy of Motive, 1999

      

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Are Murderers Born or Made?

     [Psychologist Adrian Raine] makes a good case that certain genetic, neurological and physiological factors do predict violent behavior. Some of these findings might be obvious. Few will be shocked to hear that being born a man is linked to later bad behavior--indeed, almost all of the horrific crimes Raine describes [in his new book] are committed by men. Anyone familiar with research in behavioral genetics will be unsurprised to learn that the propensity for violent crime is partly heritable. And it makes sense that certain forms of brain damage, particularly to the parts of the brain that govern impulse control, make people more likely to commit violent acts later in life.

     Other [physiological] predictors [of a violent personality] are more surprising. A low resting heart rate correlates with antisocial behavior. Certain insults to the developing brain, like smoking and drinking by pregnant mothers, have pernicious effects on behavior. And there is evidence that eating a lot of fish leads to a decline in violence, possibly because of the positive neurological effects of the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.

Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology at Yale in reviewing Adrian Raine's 2013 book, The Anatomy of Violence for The New York Times Book Review  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Witnessing Electric Chair and Gas Chamber Executions

     When Robert Wayne Williams was put to death in Angola [prison's] electric chair in 1983, Louisiana's first execution in nineteen years, wardens were amazed that the chair literally cooked William's scalp and legs, which smoked and sizzled for several minutes. Twenty-four hours later, the corpse reeked so strongly that mourners [there were mourners?] found it difficult to remain in the funeral parlor where Williams was laid out. Angola's warden, Ross Maggio, had to call sources outside the prison simply to learn if this was the way it was supposed to happen.

     The gas chamber was harder still for many to watch in action. The apparent violence of asphyxiation grievously offended [execution] witnesses in state after state, from the 1983 execution of Jimmy Lee Gray in Mississippi to the gassing of Donald Eugene Harding on April 11, 1992, Arizona's first execution in thirty years. A Tucson television reporter sobbed uncontrollably during Harding's ten-minute execution; two other reporters "were rendered walking vegetables for days"; the attorney general vomited halfway through; a prison staff member who ran the execution likened it to watching a man suffer a series of heart attacks; and the prison's pro-death penalty warden said he'd resign if the state told him to run another asphyxiation. But Harding's death was probably no different from those suffered in Arizona's gas chamber since it was installed as "a humane measure" in 1933, replacing a gallows that had decapitated a condemned woman.

Ivan Solotaroff, The Last Face You'll Ever See, 2001

Friday, September 6, 2013

Joseph Naso: How Many Women and Girls Did He Really Kill?

     On April 11, 2011, police officers in Reno, Nevada arrested 77-year-old Joseph Naso on four first-degree murder charges filed against him in Marin County California. The former commercial photographer stood accused of raping and murdering four Bay Area prostitutes between 1977 and 1994. The victims, Roxene Roggasch, Carmen Colen, Pamela Parsons, and Tracy Tafoya ranged in age from 18 to 38, and each had first and last names that began with the same letter.

     Forensic scientists had connected Naso to two of the victims through DNA. A search of his house produced several nude photographs of women who appeared unconscious or dead. Police officers also found a so-called "rape diary" containing narrative accounts of women and girls who had been picked up and raped. The murder suspect's house was also littered with female mannequin parts and women's lingerie. In Naso's safety deposit box, searchers found a passport bearing the name Sara Dylan. (A skull, found years earlier in Nevada, matched Dylan's mother's DNA.) Naso's safety deposit box also contained $152,400 in cash.

     The Joseph Naso serial murder trial got underway in San Rafael California in June 2013. The prosecutor, in her opening statement to the jury, said the state would prove that Naso had drugged, raped, and photographed the four victims. He strangled them to death, then dumped their nude bodies in remote areas in northern California.

     Naso, who represented himself at the trial, told the jury that he was not the monster the prosecution was trying to make him out to be. The defendant said the nude women he had photographed had been willing models. "I don't kill people, and there's no evidence of that in my writings and photography."

     Following two months of evidence that featured the defendant's rape diary, the nude photographs, and the DNA evidence linking Naso to two of the murder victims, the case went to the jury. During the trial, Naso, as his own attorney, made a courtroom fool of himself and tried the patience of the judge. On August 19, 2013, after deliberating seven hours over a period of two days, the jury found the defendant guilty of the four counts of first-degree murder. The verdict also included a finding of special circumstances that made Naso eligible for the death penalty.

     While the jury recommended the death penalty in the Naso case, there was no chance the state would put him to death. In 2006 a federal judge had put California's executions on hold until the state modified its execution protocols. That has not been done. Naso will join 725 inmates already on California's death row. While some politicians and judges threw roadblocks in the path of the state's death penalty procedure, juries in California continued to imposed the death sentence.

     Homicide investigators believed that Naso had raped and murdered three 11-year-old girls between 1971 and 1973 in Rochester, New York. Naso had been living in the city when these murders occurred. These victims also had first and last names that began with the same letter. One of the girls, Carmen Colon, had the same name of one of the women Naso killed in California. Detectives also believed that Joseph Naso had murdered at least ten other women. Naso, following the verdict, insisted that he had not raped or killed anyone.

Criminal Justice Quote: Prison as a Lifestyle Choice

Often I meet prisoners who have committed the most terrible crimes, but repentance is rare, except in front of the parole board where it is quite common. Of course, the majority of prisoners have committed only petty offenses, small (but repeated) crimes against property, or rather against the people who own the property. They are often pathetic and inadequate individuals, thoroughly accustomed to prison life; the warmth and three square meals a day provided unconditionally in prison are for them an incitement for further crime. As for the loss of freedom, they welcome it: being told what to do all their waking hours obviates the need for thought and decision, processes which are infinitely painful for them.

Theodore Dalrymple in Crime and Criminals, 1995 edited by David Bender and Bruno Leone

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Why Cops Are So Hard to Fire

      [Police officers accused of serious misconduct including physical abuse are] able to keep their jobs and benefits--sometimes only temporarily, but always longer than they should have--thanks to legislation written and lobbied for by well-funded police unions. That legislation is called the "Law Enforcement Bill of Rights," and its sole purpose is to shield cops from the laws they are paid to enforce....

     The rights created by these bills differ from state to state, but here's how a typical police misconduct investigation works in states that have a law enforcement bill of rights in place:

     A complaint is filed against an officer by a member of the pubic or fellow officer. Police department leadership reviews the complaint and decides whether to investigate. If the department decides to pursue the complaint, it must inform the officer and his union. That's where the special treatment begins, but it doesn't end there.

     Unlike a member of the pubic, the officer gets a "cooling off" period before he has to respond to any questions. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is privy to the names of his complainants and their testimony against him before he is ever interrogated. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is to be interrogated "at a reasonable hour," with a union member present. Unlike a member of the pubic, the officer can only be questioned by one person during his interrogation. Unlike a member of the public, the officer can be interrogated for only "reasonable periods," which "shall be timed to allow for such personal necessities and rest periods as are reasonably necessary." Unlike a member of the pubic, the officer under investigation cannot be "threatened with disciplinary action" at any point during his interrogation. If he is threatened with punishment, whatever he says following the threat cannot be used against him.

     What happens after the interrogation again varies from state to state. But under nearly every law enforcement bill of rights, the following additional privileges are granted to officers: Their departments cannot publicly acknowledge that the officer is under investigation; if the officer is cleared of wrongdoing or the charges are dropped, the department may not publicly acknowledge that the investigation ever took place, or reveal the nature of the complaint. The officer cannot be questioned or investigated by "non-goverment agents," which means no civilian review boards. If the officer is suspended as a result of the investigation, he must continue to receive full pay and benefits until his case is resolved. In most states, the charging department must subsidize the accused officer's legal defense....

Mike Riggs, "Why Firing a Bad Cop is Damn Near Impossible," reason.com, October 19, 2002

Writing Quote: Internet Journalism

The question is not whether Internet journalism will be dominant, but whether it will maintain the quality of the best print journalism. In the end it is not the delivery system that counts. It is what it delivers. There has never been such access to knowledge in all its forms. What we have to find is a way to sustain truth seeking. If we evolve the right financial model, we will enter a golden age of journalism.

Harold Evans, My Paper Chase, 2009

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

North Korea's Kim Jong-um Executes His Ex-Girlfriend and Eleven Other Entertainers

     What a nightmare it must be to live in a country without a criminal justice system. In North Korea there is no constitution that protects citizens against the power of the state. There is no free press, independent judicial branch, or any form of procedural due process such as the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. In nations without criminal justice systems, leaders eliminate political opponents by criminalizing dissent, or manufacturing crimes against people they fear or don't like.

     In North Korea, citizens accused of breaking the law have the burden of proving their innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. Guilt is a forgone conclusion for the criminally accused, and punishment is swift, cruel, and often brutal.

     In October 2012, North Korea's young Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un ordered the execution of Kim Chol, the vice minister of the army. Chol was put to death for drinking and carousing around during the official mourning period following the death of the boy leader's father, Kim Jong-il. The once high-ranking military leader who allegedly disrespected Kim Jong-il's death, was not hanged, electrocuted, beheaded, or gunned down by a firing squad. Kim Chol's executioners forced him to stand at a marked spot, aimed a zeroed-in mortor round, then fired a shot that blew him to bits. One second he was there, the next he was not.

     In North Korea, capital punishment prisoners do not linger on death row up to fifteen years while their appellate attorneys and anti-capital punishment advocates try to save their lives. When the time comes to execute them, they are not eased into eternity with a carefully prepared cocktail of drugs. In North Korea there are no last meals, last words or last anything except the condemned person's last breath.

     In 2003, when the Supreme Leader's son Kim Jong-un returned from boarding school in Switzerland, he met and established a relationship with a famous North Korean singer named Hyon-Song-wol. Hyon was a member of the Unhasu Orchestra, the Wangjaesan Light Band, and the Morganbong Band. She had recorded a string of hits that had propagandistic titles like "Footsteps of Soldiers," "I love Pyongyang" (who doesn't?) and "We Are Troops of the Party." (When North Koreans say "party," they're not talking about a fun gathering with friends.)

     The Supreme Leader, who did not approve of Hyon Song-wol, ordered Kim Jong-un to break off the relationship. After Kim Jong-il died in December 2011, his son, the new Supreme Leader, married Ri Sol-ju, also a singer with the Unhasu Orchestra. Hyon, his ex-girlfriend, married an officer in the North Korean military and had a baby. There were rumors, however, that Kim Jong-un continued to see Hyon. The young Supreme Leader's wife reportedly resented her husband's former girlfriend, and wanted her out of Kim Jong-un's life. Permanently.

     On August 17, 2013, North Korens authorities arrested Hyon Song-wol and eleven other entertainers--singers, dancers, and musicians--with the Unhasu Orchestra. Hyon and the others were charged with breaking the nation's laws against pornography. Specifically, they were accused of making and selling videos of themselves performing sex acts. (These charges were patently false and absurd.)

     Just three days after being falsely charged with pornography, Hyon Song-wol and the others were lined up against a wall and machine-gunned to death. After family members were forced to watch the state slaughter their loved ones, they were hauled off to labor camps.

     Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University, an expert on North Korean affairs, told a reporter with England's The Daily Telegraph that Hyon Song-wol and the other entertainers had been executed for "political reasons" related to Kim Jong-un's wife.

    While Kim Jong-un has threatened to annihilate the United States with nuclear weapons, and a Korean-American Christian missionary named Kenneth Bae is rotting a North Korean jail on false charges of spying, the Supreme Leader does have a friend in America. A few months ago the former basketball star Dennis Rodman visited the dictator in Pyongyang. This week the tattooed and pierced ex-jock is back in North Korea to talk with his murderous friend about basketball. Rodman's first trip was sponsored by a company called Vice Media. His current five-day visit is being paid for by an outfit called Paddy Power, an Irish gambling operation.

     Dennis Rodman's relationship with Kim Jong-un reaches beyond absurdity into the realm of obscenity.  

Criminal Justice Quote: Hanging Offenses

A hundred and sixty years ago there were 200 offenses for which a man, woman or child [in England] could be hanged. One could be hanged for cutting down a tree or for associating with gypsies: but, very strangely, not for associating with politicians.

Charles Duff, A Handbook on Hanging, a 2001 reprint of the 1961 classic

Monday, September 2, 2013

Writing Quote: Humor in Nonfiction Writing

     Humor is the secret weapon of the nonfiction writer. It's secret because so few writers realize that humor is often their best tool--and sometimes their only tool--for making an important point....

     Few Americans understand this. We dismiss our humorists as triflers because they never settled down to "real" work. The Pulitzer Prizes go to authors like Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, who are (God knows) serious and are therefore certified as men of literature. The prizes seldom go to people like George Ade, H. L. Mencken, Ring Lardner, S. J. Perelman, Art Buckwald, Jules Feiffer, Woody Allen and Garrison Keillor, who seem to be just fooling around. 
     They're not fooling around. They are as serious in purpose as Hemingway or Faulkner--a national asset in forcing the country to see itself clearly. Humor, to them, is urgent work. 

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, originally published in 1975 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Criminal Justice Bulletin: A Senseless Murder in Poughkeepsie

     Fannie Gumbinger lived in a middle-class, residential neighborhood in Poughkeepsie, New York, a Hudson Valley town of 75,000, 65 miles north of New York City. The 99-year-old had lived in the house on Underhill Avenue for 38 years. She had lived their alone since her husband died in 2007.

     At seven o'clock on the morning of August 21, 2013, Mrs. Gumbinger's caretaker, sensing that something was wrong in the elderly woman's house, called 911. Poughkeepsie police officers entered the dwelling and found Fannie Bumbinger dead. She had been beaten and her house had been burglarized. Detectives assumed the victim had been murdered by the burglar.

     On Friday night, August 23, police officers arrested Javon Tyrek Rogers. Investigators believed the 20-year-old had recently broken into at least five homes in Poughkeepsie. On August 24 at his arraignment, Rogers pleaded not guilty to burglary and first-degree murder. He is being held, without bond, in the Dutchess County Jail.

     Poughkeepsie Police Chief Ron Knapp, who called the crime a "truly senseless killing," told reporters that Rogers had admitted burglarizing the Gumbiner home as well as killing its occupant. 

Letting the Kids Sweat it Out in Chicago

    In August it can get real hot in Chicago. Last week the temperatures in that city rose to 100 degrees. This was bad news for hundreds of elementary students in dozens of suburban schools that do not have central air conditioning.

     Students at five Lake Zurich Unit District 95 schools took turns cooling off in the schools' air conditioned libraries. At Our Lady of the Wayside Catholic School in Arlington Heights, students in the building that didn't have air conditioning were rotated through the cooler buildings. In the schools that don't have any air conditioned buildings or rooms, teachers switched off the lights, organized water breaks, and turned on window fans. Sitting in a darkened classroom with hot air being blown on you must have been nice. Students were told to dress lightly. Classes in other schools were canceled, and in some districts, the kids were sent home early.

     Perhaps the schools that can't afford central air conditioning should stay closed until mid-September. It's not fun having a crayon melt in your hand. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Militaristic Policing

There's now a dominant military culture within modern police agencies. Go to one of many SWAT conferences and SWAT team competitions held throughout the year and you'll find exhibit halls teeming with military weapons, gear, clothing and imagery. The vendors at these events know their market. They use war imagery to ply their goods because that's what makes cops and police departments want to buy them. Many sell the same products to both the military and civilian police agencies. In the 1990s  and 2000s, the company Heckler and Koch marketed its MP 5 semiautomatic weapon with the slogan "From the Gulf War to the Drug War--Battle Proven." Publications like Larry Flynt's SWAT magazine feature ads that emphasize knocking heads and kicking ass, and print articles with headlines like "Go for the Throat" and "Warrior Mindset."

Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop, 2013