Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts

29 July 2021

Pro Tips


Luck has a lot more to do with success in life than most people want to admit.  Which is exactly why most trust fund babies are "born on third base and think s/he hit a triple."

But even luck has its limits:  If you never write anything, you'll never get published, because last I heard the "Secret Arts Patrons Society" (a/k/a SAPS) have quit going around door to door paying random strangers for ideas.

See above if you never submit anything.  

Sometimes it takes all day to write one decent sentence.  That's all right.  There's always tomorrow, when you can rewrite it and make it better.  Or make it worse.  You never know.  

BTW, read all the really good literature you can get your hands on, but also keep some really bad books* around, so that when you're really depressed, you can remind yourself how bad writing can get and still get published.  You may not be Stephen King or John LeCarre, but you can do better than this.  Hope!

*No, I'm not providing a list - I don't need that kind of hate mail. 

BTW, when you do hit the writing zone, and the words flow out like water, it helps to keep the following items handy:

  • Something to eat
  • Something to drink
  • A squirt gun full of water so that if anyone tries to interrupt, you have something with which to drive them away.  Sort of works on cats, too.

If someone is keeping two sets of books, they're doing something illegal.  They're also probably keeping that 2nd set as insurance against their boss.   

Speaking of insurance, the more ads you see for an insurance company, the less likely you'll ever get a claim paid, because those ads are all paid for with your premium checks.

This probably also works with all those pharmaceutical, bank, and investment firm ads.  

If everyone is "deep state", there is no deep state, and the person telling you that is probably themselves bat-s*** crazy, with a side of fries.

This works with anything else where it's said, "Everyone is… i.e., "Everyone is crooked" means, "I'm a corkscrew."

If someone offers you a bribe, they're doing something illegal.  They're also making a comment on your morals and your intelligence that I personally believe deserves defenestration.  

Any scheme that soaks the ultra-wealthy in the name of riding out the apocalypse / doomsday in style is fine with me, but it takes great panache to continue the grift for 14 years and still not have built anything but an extra-large barn with a lot of guns.  (Hell, I knew a guy who had a bunker with land mines in his property and all from his own funds. And he was picky about who he'd allow in when The Day came.)  Meanwhile, Barrett Moore is still raising money for his Haven.  (See Here)  Of course, Jim Bakker is still selling survival gear (HERE).  I have been assured by those who have watched his ads that Bakker tells his customers that they can take the 60 meal bucket (600 calories per meal, which is a hell of a lot less than McDonalds - you're gonna get svelte!) and when it's empty, turn it into a personal toilet. Pro tip:  There is a lot of money to be made from the Doomsday business.  

Although I still want to know how many true Doomsday preppers would be satisfied with a 600 calorie meal?  That's one Big Mac, no fries.  

It's never a good idea to hold an exorcism in a public place, but Home Depot?  

"Police in Lackawanna County announced they broke up a reported 'exorcism' that happened inside a Home Depot, in Dickson City Tuesday." The group was performing an exorcism for the dead trees in the aisle, i.e., the lumber. I want names, church affiliation, and how many beers went into this decision. (News

It's never a good idea to spread a pandemic among your own constituents, but as we all know, the GOP and various media outlets have been ignoring that pro tip for quite a while.  Recently, however, Fox News "It's all a hoax!" pundit Sean Hannity, Senator Tommy Tuberville, Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy and others have been begging people to get the vaccine.  My personal theory is that (1) lawsuits are coming and (2) they've begun to realize that, in the immortal words of Barry Hughart, "Corpses cannot pay taxes!" (Bridge of Birds) Nor can they be signed up for monthly or even weekly payments to the politicians or PACs or media outlets. Well, you can sign them up, but they won't pay.  Keep your customers alive.

Speaking of keeping customers alive, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is August 5-14, with of course a few days on either side of that to get "ahead of the crowds".  Projected attendance this year is over 700,000.  Meanwhile, South Dakota Covid cases are rising fast:  the Delta Variant, of course.  Since for some reason I doubt that all 700,000 rallygoers will be fully vaccinated, masked, and socially distanced, the pro tip is either get a lot of health insurance or STF home.

Finally, if you happen to be driving late at night and looking at your cell phone and hit a man and kill him and the sheriff doesn't give you an alcohol test and instead loans you his personal car to drive yourself home and the alcohol test is given the next day and no charges are filed for months and when they are they're three misdemeanors and you can pay $1,500.00 and make it all go away and you have the money because you're the State Attorney General, the pro tip is DO IT.  And quit blaming the victim.

BSP:  "The Sweet Life" is in the current issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.


And because you know that you've always wanted to read a mystery where Mrs. Elton of Emma is the detective, determined to catch the killer, especially if it's Harriet Smith, my "Truth and Turpitude:  Murder at Abbey-Mill Farm" is in the current issue of Crimeucopia: The Cosy Nostra, now available at Amazon.com.

15 July 2021

A Republic, If You Can Keep It


On June 30, 2021, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem announced that she was sending 50 National Guard troops to Texas to help secure our border, that the deployment would last between 30 to 60 days and that it would be paid for by "private donation."  The donor was not a South Dakotan, but from Tennessee:  Willis Johnson, billionaire Republican donor, who made his fortune building an "international junkyard empire." — Argus

Many of us South Dakotans were irate at the thought of our National Guard being hired out per some out-of-state billionaire's behest.  From Governor Noem's Communication Director, Ian Fury:

“The Governor has authority under SDCL 5-24-12 to accept a donation if she determines doing so is in the best interest of the State. The Governor has additional authority to accept donated funds for emergency management under SDCL 34-48A-36.”

But "experts say it sets a troubling precedent in which a wealthy patron is effectively commandeering U.S. military might to address private political motivations."  And South Dakota State Senator Reynold Nesiba (D) said, “This could set a dangerous precedent to allow anonymous political donors to call the governor and dispatch the Guard whenever they want."

To which I - and many others said – No kidding. 

Allow me to share why:

Once upon a time Rome was a Republic consisting mostly of free farmers surrounding the city-state of Rome. But Rome was always paranoid. They always thought their neighbors were out to get them, and the best thing was to conquer them first. (See the Punic Wars.)  

By 267 BCE, they'd conquered the entire peninsula of Italy.  Then they went abroad, and fought Carthage (present day Tunisia) in three Punic Wars. In between the First and Second, Rome conquered the entire Greek world. And by the end of the Third Punic War, here's what they'd gained, territorially:

Rome 145AD

But in order to do this, Rome built the largest military of its day. Now soldiers had originally been free farmers who went off to fight and then come back home to their lands. But after 100 years of war, the  army was no longer made up of "citizen soldiers" or "free farmers". For that matter, the free farmers were pretty much bankrupt, and trying to find a job in the city. The Roman equivalent of factory farming were latifundia, plantations that produced cash crops – cattle, wine, olive oil, wine. They were owned by patricians (BTW, all the Roman Senators were patricians, and most were very wealthy), run by overseers and worked by slaves. (They didn't have John Deere back then.) There were no controls over the overseers, and no attempt to treat slaves humanely. Cato the Elder argued that it was cheaper to work slaves to death and buy more than to treat them well. (Fun guy.) After a while, the landowners found it cheaper still to produce wheat and barley in overseas colonies using slave-labor (Sicily, Spain, Africa): the original outsourcing.
  • BTW, slaves were everywhere: Almost the entire population of Carthage was enslaved after the 3rd Punic War - farm & factory labor – and all those Greeks (a favorite source for tutors and skilled labor). Julius Caesar's campaign in Gaul (cd France) sent back 1,000,000 slaves. This flood of slaves meant it was often cheaper to buy a slave than hire a worker, and even when it wasn't, the presence of so many slaves kept wages very low; around 30% of Italian population were slaves.
Now the irony is that while the Senate saw itself as the guardian of republican liberty, for most of the Republic it spent most of its time and energy protecting the right of a few hundred families to get and keep almost all the land, wealth, and power in Italy. To do this, bread and circuses become the order of the day: low-cost food and free admission to entertainment and bath houses. This kept the poor shut up, if not happy. 

But let's get back to the military, which expanded rapidly, constantly. Rome was more or less at perpetual war (at least around its vast borders) until its fall around 476 CE. Back home, the senators squabbled over who got to be governor of the richest provinces, and who would be one of the two consuls elected every year by the Senate. The consuls ran the executive branch of government and for years the judiciary. Each consul was also the equivalent of a commander-in-chief, commanding an army of two legions strong (20,000 men).  Almost every Senator wanted to be consul.  The fights over that office led to blood feuds, which I'm not going to go into (look up the Gracchi brothers - you could start HERE).  


Rome 117AD

Rome, ca 117 CE

Late in the Republic, Marius (157-86 BCE) and Sulla (138-78 BCE) were rival generals. Marius was a wealthy plebian general, who bought his Roman citizenship. Sulla was a (rare) poor patrician general, who was opposed to any and all reforms. Marius made some changes to the army, but the most significant was making his men swear an oath of loyalty to him, not the Republic, not the Senate. Of course, every other general did the same.  From then on, the legions followed their general, whatever or whoever they were fighting.

Sulla and Marius' rivalry exploded into violence in 88 BCE, when Sulla took his troops and marched on Rome.  This was the first time that Roman troops marched on Roman citizens, but it would not be the last. Marius responded in kind. The result was a 5 day blood orgy of horrific looting, rape, arson, pillage, mutilation and killing.  But then Marius died (of natural causes!). Sulla took over, and retired in 79. Everyone felt the Republic would be just fine now, ignoring the fact that these two had just shown future generals how to take over Rome. And Julius Caesar, 21 when Sulla retired, was the man to do it.

Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) traced his descent all the way back to Aeneas, son of Venus, daughter of Jupiter; after his death, he would be deified. He made his name as a military commander in Gaul, and he made sure everybody knew about his exploits by writing the Commentaries. He was superb at power politics, willing to pay, bribe, subvert, seduce, or marry anyone he had to in order to get ahead. In 60 BCE he formed a triumvirate with Pompey and Crassus to take over Rome. Crassus - banker, provider of fire-insurance and owner of silver mines, was the equivalent of a billionaire in his own day. Pompey had mopped up the Spartacus revolt with typical brutality, and was mega-rich thanks to provincial governorships in Asia. He also married Caesar's daughter Julia, but when she died in 54 BCE, so did their alliance. 

By 52 BCE, Julius Caesar had conquered all of Gaul and invaded Britain. He came back as a conquering hero, with 13 loyal legions (at least 65,000 troops) totally loyal to him and him alone. The Senate was terrified, and made Pompey sole consul of Rome, with absolute power. Pompey "asked" Caesar to come back as a private citizen, leaving his legions behind, a polite way of telling Caesar that he was going to be outlawed, killed, and his property confiscated. Well, nuts to that, and in 49 BCE he "crossed the Rubicon" with his troops into Rome and launched a four year civil war. Pompey eventually fled to Egypt, where Cleopatra beheaded him as a favor to Caesar. In 47 BCE, Caesar was absolute ruler of Rome.

His assassination three years later was supposed to bring back the Republic - that's what Brutus and Cassius said they wanted. Instead, it brought all-out war, in which it was every general and Senator for himself. The winner was Octavian, Caesar's adopted son and heir, whom few would have bet on to win: young, inexperienced in battle, relatively unknown. But Octavian hired the best generals, plus he had patience, a genius for administration, and always spoke out firmly on behalf of conservative values. It also didn't hurt that, as Caesar's heir, he was fabulously wealthy. Octavian, at 32, became master of the Roman world, and was transformed into 

AUGUSTUS CAESAR (b. 63 BCE, r. 31 BCE-14 CE)

And he had a long life and a long reign: 45 years as absolute ruler of Rome, even though he began by proclaiming that the Republic was restored. Throughout his reign, he always maintained a pretense of maintaining the Republic. He publicly declined the dictatorship, was never called emperor, and while he held every office of power and the title of Augustus (or revered one), he made sure that everyone knew that his favorite title was princeps: "first among equals" or "chief citizen."

He maintained the facade of the Republic: elections were held, the assemblies met, the Senate passed laws. But before anything passed, Augustus sponsored it and approved it. He had absolute power, and everyone knew it: you just didn't say it bluntly. At least, not at first. Later, no one worried about it. 

By the time he died in 14 CE, almost everyone who could have remembered the Republic was dead. The only thing Roman citizens knew was imperial power, and, frankly, they liked it. They were addicted to it:  the power, the wealth, the constant flood of goods and services, the mastery.  Freedom seemed to be a small price to pay.



"There is a story, often told, that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: "A republic, if you can keep it." The brevity of that response should not cause us to under-value its essential meaning: democratic republics are not merely founded upon the consent of the people, they are also absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people for their continued good health."  (Link)

Transforming the United States military (on any level) into hired mercenaries, at the beck and call of any billionaire and their political cause, is no way to keep it.



PS - From the "How Low Can They Go?" files from South Dakota:  State AG Jason Ravnsborg, who struck and killed Joe Boever on a remote highway on Sept. 12, 2020, and was only charged three “Class 2” misdemeanors for it, is up for trial at the end of August, and plans to defend himself by claiming that his victim was suicidal and threw himself into Ravnsborg's windshield.  (HERE)  Because God forbid that Ravnsborg should take any responsibility and pay a maximum total of $1,500.  I'm still working on getting the stench out of my nose from this one.

01 July 2021

A Short Evocation of a Lesser Common Narcissist


(Based on true events, but the names and cities have been changed to protect… you know how it goes.)

Many years ago, a guy named Kirk came to visit us for New Year's in Laskin, SD, bringing with him an Internet friend, Rona. The last time we'd seen Kirk was over ten years before, when we still lived on the East Coast. Since then he and his wife, Anna, had split up. According to Kirk, she went crazy, and I mean literally crazy. This may be true - Anna always seemed a little strange to me - but I can also assure you that living with Kirk didn't help. Kirk was profoundly convinced of his ability to do anything, superbly, without practice or study. And shared his expertise with everyone. The latest iteration was computer: 

"You remember how I used to be into hacking? Made me the expert on security issues. I get messages from people and companies all around the world wanting me to fix their stuff. Make it impervious to scammers. Set up firewalls no hacker can breach. I could make a mint, but I'm picky about who I work for. But they all know what I can do. They all want me." 

Why, then, after Kirk and Anna split up, he went to Arizona, looking for the six figure dot-com job,  I have no idea.  Apparently no one had ever told him about Silicon Valley. He didn't find the job or any other, except some side gigs. I'm not sure he actually looked. After all, his repute was such that sooner or later the perfect job would find him, right? 

Meanwhile, he couch-surfed from friend to friend, apartment to apartment.  And he searched for love on the internet, and found Rona, from Serbia, and headed off to see her in Texas. 

Rona was getting her doctorate in plant cellular microbiology at Southern Methodist University. How she got from Serbia to Dallas is a whole 'nother story, but let's just say Dallas was major culture shock. She ended up retreating into her studio apartment and spent most of her time outside of classes and labs on-line. She told me that meeting people via the Internet was safe in Europe. "You meet normal people." Then came Kirk. Who sounded like every other lad looking for love on-line.

She was lonely and he was lonely, and she invited him to come to Dallas and visit for a few days. Along the way he called us and invited himself and Rona to visit for New Year's. He implied that he had met Rona in Dallas and something about Christmas with her family in Fargo.  We had no idea he had (1) never been to Dallas before, (2) never physically met her at all, and (3) that she had no family in the Americas. 

So we said sure, come on up, and he said, "Well, we should be there in an hour."  

And they were.  


I liked Rona at once. Physically, she looked tired and worn out, not just from the trip, but from her whole life. She grew up and lived in Belgrade throughout the whole breakup and the Kosovo bombings and the subsequent craziness of rebuilding. And now she was in a strange country, and even though American TV is universal, living here is different than watching it on TV. She chain smoked (but then so did we back then), and had a terrible cough.  She was also very intelligent and had goals and the drive to fulfill them.  The plan was to get her doctorate and become a scientist and make a good living. 

Meanwhile, I had forgotten how exhausting Kirk was. He paced and postured and never, ever, ever shut up. Mostly about himself.  Mostly his amazing track record with jobs, knowledge, and women, all of whom always developed a major crush on him.  

But not Rona.  Definitely not.  In fact, she was completely weirded out by him, and wanted to get away from him ASAP.  Per Rona's desperate request to me (almost as soon as she hit the front door), they had separate sleeping arrangements the entire visit.  Kirk was offended, because - as he repeatedly said - they were just friends and that’s all that he had in mind.  He'd never even thought about her "that way".  By the second night of the visit he was obsessed with it.  I know, because he talked to me for 3 hours straight:

"I don't know what I did.  Why is she so upset?  What is her problem?  You know, she's really very domineering and aggressive.  I don't like that in a woman.  Maybe I should have just gone for a one-night stand, maybe that's what she really wants.  I'm not that kind of guy, you know that, everyone knows that, but sometimes you've got to do what they want, whether they know it or not, you know?"

Repeated, over and over and over again on a bitterly escalating loop that was disturbing, and made me afraid for Rona after they left our place.  

But Rona had survived worse things than Kirk.  They left Monday morning, and a couple of hours later Rona walked out on him at a coffee shop in Sioux Falls.  (I had asked her to call me to let me know if she was okay: she did and she was.) She got a taxi to the airport, where she planned to stay until she got a flight. Any flight. She could do that because she had credit cards.  

Kirk did not.  All he had was the rental car. So he called us and said he was broke and that he needed some money, and could we come down to Sioux Falls and give him some? And if not, how about if he turned around and came back and spent some more time with us? Granted, it was a very small-time extortion, but it was neatly done.   

Of course we drove down and gave him $75, and said, "Well, it's been great, but we've got to get back to work, and so do you, and have safe journeys, traveling mercies, and, uh, next time maybe give us a heads up before you come to town."  

Kirk took the money, but his feelings were clearly hurt.  

"Well," he said, right before he drove off, "as I remember it, you invited me."






BSP

Read "The Sweet Life" in the July/August Issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Also, my story "Collateral Damage" is in Murderous Ink Press' Crimeucopia: We're All Animals Under the Skin. Available at Amazon.


17 June 2021

All's Well That Ends in a Story


Since everything that happens could be turned into a crime, every crime can be used again, and everyone is a potential character, or at least part of a character.  And every story has another way it can be told.  (You should hear some of the ones I've been told at the pen.  Or at the laundromat.)

Ripped from the internet:


Well, there's a game that's hard to resist:

Gone With the Wind: Spoiled rich girl pines for married KKK guy.  Marries another guy for spite and 2 others for money.  She keeps the plantation.  (Historical Romance.  Warning:  Contains material that some might find offensive.)
The Fountainhead:  Spoiled rich girl pines for lusty architect, but marries 2 men for their power in order to keep him unsuccessful, because if she can't have what she wants, she'll destroy it.  (Warning:  Contains material so inane that some people have mistaken it for a political manifesto.)  

NOTE:  I'm beginning to see a pattern here...  

SECOND NOTE:  Speaking of political manifestos: 

The Communist Manifesto:  Classic apocalyptic thriller of good vs. evil, in which the proletariat rises up against the evil capitalists in a violent apocalyptic revolution. The resulting dictatorship of the proletariat causes the state, family and religion to wither away and die, and everyone lives freely in an endless paradise on earth.  (Claims scientific basis, but really based on German philosophy.)

NOTES:  Very poor experiential track record. Much easier to read than Das Kapital. Also suffers from what is now the libertarian mindset in that it assumes two "facts" that have never been in evidence when it comes to human beings: (1) that we always act rationally and (2) that we always care about their neighbors. 

Emile, or On Education:  Influential treatise on the education of young children, whose author put each one of his five children into an orphanage. 

1984:  The World State keeps everyone in line in a totalitarian oppression based on constant fear and propaganda.  

Brave New World:  The World State keeps everyone in line through unlimited sex, drugs, and entertainment.  

NOTE:  What is it with these patterns?

And back we go to spoiled rich girls:

The Razor's Edge:  Spoiled rich girl falls for dreamy new age guy, but marries for money.  Later kills his fiancee; is surprised when he doesn't appreciate it. He gets enlightened; she doesn't.

To be fair, there are also a whole list of novels / books / stories / plays / movies about spoiled rich guys:

Eugene OneginAnna Karenina, etc., there's a shoal of Russian characters, all interchangeable.
Adam BedeTess of the d'UrbervillesEast Lynne, and every other Victorian seducer.  
But let's let Tregorin in The Seagull sum it all up for all of them: 

The plot for the short story: a young girl... happy and free, like a gull. But a man arrives by chance, and when he sees her, he destroys her, out of sheer boredom.

The Southern version is different:  from Quentin Compson in The Sound and the Fury to Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof:  A post Civil War Southern gentleman, neurotic, introspective, supposedly intelligent, spends his time whining and drinking, but almost never screwing.  (Which is why his sister / fiancee / childhood sweetheart ends up in bed with the roughest trade she can find.)

On to other things:

Finnegan's Wake:  An Irish wake (in case you don't know, endless drinking & talking) and a resurrection (or maybe not).
NOTE:  It helps if you read it aloud, while drinking Irish whiskey, with an Irish accent and a high pitched voice (like Joyce's, below).  Or you could read Philip Jose Farmer's Riders of the Purple Wage, and discover the joys of jacking in as well.  (Look it up.)  


Finnegan's Wake is best known for its polyglot language that includes English, Latin, Gaelic, and some words that he made up himself.  The opening line:  "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs" - can give you the impression that you understand it.  How about this?

"Wold Forrester Farley who, in deesperation of deispiration at the diasporation of his diesparation, was found of the round of the sound of the lound of the Lukkedoerendunandurraskewdylooshoofermoyportertooryzooysphalnabortansporthaokansakroidverjkapakkapuk."  

Speaking of interesting words, perhaps invented, the other day a friend of mine mispronounced "speculum" as "spacula".  I replied that a spacula was the offspring of Dracula and a kitchen utensil, which is exactly what a speculum often feels like.  

Ah, vampires:

The Twilight Series:  A handsome vampire likes to play with his food.

As John Franklin once lectured in Laskin, SD, in a hopefully soon to be finished story by yours truly


"Continental European vampires are predators, pure and simple. But the fictional vampires of England and America are like cats:  they play with their food. And only Americans would come up with vampires that not only play with their food, not only fall in love with it, but want to have sex with it.  That and American Pie makes one suspicious of American kitchens."

BLATANT SELF PROMOTION:

My story "Collateral Damage" is in Murderous Ink Press' Crimeucopia: We're All Animals Under the Skin.  Available at Amazon.

And my story "The Sweet Life" will be in the July/August Issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  That's my 30th story in AHMM!  Thank you to the late, great Cathleen Jordan and the current editor, Linda Landrigan!  


03 June 2021

What to Do With the Body


One of the major tactical problems with murder is what to do with the body. Any idiot can kill someone (or so it seems), but successfully corpse disposal is rare. Very few murderers have incinerators on hand, or woodchippers (not to mention the stomach for it), or work for a funeral home, meat packing plant, or meat pie production line. Sweeney Todd is famous because he was rare – and even he got caught. (See? Now you can sleep better at night.)

Of course, the main thing that has almost always been done is to dump it. Whether in deep water, with weights (BTW swimming pools are a poor choice: stick with oceans), or in a remote wooded location, or in a ditch, or sometimes at someone else's door, dumping the body followed by running like hell is a time-honored tradition. This is why people keep stumbling over bodies when they go hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing, or walking down dark alleys. And then the police show up, and sometimes the FBI, and, very often, they can track the murderer down.

Burial is also popular. However, a word of advice: don't do it on your own property. And when the police show up asking to search the place, don't tell them "Sure, search away. Just not over there." (Yes, that happened, I believe in the Daybell case.) Another word of advice: dig deep. And then deeper. And then deeper still. And, after filling the grave, plant something quick and spreading. Agatha Christie (in Nemesis) used Polygonum Baldshuanicum, a/k/a MileAMinute. Kudzu would be perfect.

Another very common method of disposal is putting the corpse in the freezer. There was the woman in Japan who kept her mother's body in a freezer for 10 years, because that way she got to stay in the apartment on her mother's senior citizen rent. A man died, and as people were disposing of his estate, they opened his freezer, and found his mother's body in it. Back in April, 2021, a freezer filled with human body parts was found dumped and half-buried in the Alaska woods (interesting combination). (The article goes on to list a number of freezer disposal incidents HERE) And if you google "corpse in freezer", you get an endless list of hits.

My Note: The problem, of course, with the corpse in the freezer is then, what do you do with the freezer? As that google search will tell you, this has stymied a lot of people.

Now you may be asking, what has gotten Eve so interested in body disposal? No, I have not, nor am I planning to kill anybody. No, no, I do but jest, poison in jest; no offence i' the world.

But what sparked my interest was a highly unusual place for a body: Inside a papier-mâché dinosaur statue. Specifically, a stegosaurus, although I'd have been just as intrigued if it had been any kind of dinosaur sculpture.

stegosaurus, Barcelona

It happened in Barcelona, Spain. Apparently a father and son, walking by the sculpture, noticed the smell (this is almost always a give-away). Now, here's the tricky bit:

While police have not confirmed how he got inside, local media reports that the man dropped his phone inside the statue and was trying to retrieve it, BBC News reports. He fell inside, hanging upside down, and was able to call for help. However, police have not confirmed how the man got inside the dinosaur. Police are awaiting the results of the autopsy to find out the cause of death. (CBS News)

Here are the obvious questions:
  • How did he drop the phone?
  • How addicted was this man to his phone?
  • Why did he go diving in after it?
  • How do you fall head down into a dinosaur leg?
  • Okay, if he called for help, who heard him?
  • Or did he fall head down into the dinosaur leg, and then called for help, and then dropped his phone?
  • And whoever he called - in person or by phone - why didn't they save him?
  • Or at least call the police?
Inquiring minds want to know.

Meanwhile, please, don't try any of this at home.

20 May 2021

A Broad At Home and Abroad


Medical tests for Allan this week, so time is limited.  But I was looking through my old travel notes, reminiscing and thinking, and thought I'd share some.  Enjoy!

2018

In Amsterdam, a blonde woman, chubby, wearing a flesh-colored dress, very short, very low-cut and too tight, so that at first glance she looked naked. It was a cool day, so she also looked very chilly. 

Canadian lady told us a story about a man on another cruise, very rich, know-it-all, full of himself, who would order a platter of asparagus and extra entrees and then want everyone to share, even though everyone had ordered their own. It was like he hadn't grasped that no one was paying extra for any of it, as if it weren't free and he was spending his own money on them. I said that if he really had money, the least he could have done is bought everyone a round of drinks.  Everyone agreed.  Loudly.  And the first of many rounds of drinks was bought.  

Common phrases on a cruise: 

"The food was better last year."

"I've never told anyone this before...."

On a tour bus, to us, "Oh, was this your seat?" while staring at our water and coats that they just moved out of their way as if they'd never seen them before. 

In Giverney and at Cap de la Hague, the scents, the quiet, the bird songs, the gardens, the wildflowers. Allan and I talked later and realized that it made us realize how sterilized rural South Dakota is: the Monsanto chemicals have killed all the wildflowers. 

Later, sitting listening to Bach while the drunks from the Ocean Bar keep knocking down the sign:  "Quiet, please: Performance in Progress".

Woman whose collagen was sloping out of her lips; rich husband, white hair, largely ignoring her except to pay for her wine. 2 Cor. 6:12 "You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections."  Isn't that the truth. 

2013 

A woman on the ship from Long Island, always complaining, especially about food.  She said she didn't eat beef, chicken, fish, or anything with a face.  Our guide finally got exasperated and said, "then what do you eat?"  She shrugged.  "I guess I can try the chicken."  This couple has done over 560 cruises, married 57 years, obviously have lots of money, but say with pride that they NEVER tip. No wonder they're always complaining about the lousy service. You get what you pay for...

Santorini is a volcanic shell, a dark half-moon, with walls like a worn castle; rippling soft tan, white/red/black lava that STOPPED and hangs, waiting to resurrect and sweep down to the sea again. And above, white houses (at night, a spangle of light against black velvet), hanging on the edge like angels' nests, with every one ready to take flight. 

The interior is like Crete, i.e., a dry Ireland, the Bloody Foreland area, white houses, donkeys, ditches, only dry, with figs and vines and olive trees instead of green velvet grass. Everything looking, sweeping out to the sea with the never-stopping wind. The wind and the land and the lava, all heading out, over, away, and if you could see the wind, you would see the explosion of Thera, the ash and dust rising and going out, re-enacted forever. Blue church domes, glossy with fresh paint. Dust clouds. Plastic covers snapping in the wind. Bougainvillea everywhere (it's a tough plant). Eucalyptus trees, trunks painted white - even without paint, eucalyptus has the color and feel of young firm limbs. All dryads must be eucalyptus, willow, or sycamore.  

Coming back on the ship, we were in the middle of a group of Japanese tourists.  What made me look twice was that one woman was holding a toy monkey, the size of a toddler, dressed as a toddler, in a baby carrier.  (I looked at it more than twice to make sure that it was a (1) a doll and (2) a monkey.)  That was disturbing enough, but she was holding it and talking to it as a toddler, as was the Japanese man who was apparently with her.  Allan wondered if maybe she'd lost a child. I'm wondering if maybe she never had one, and this is her surrogate, a babybot if you will. Very, very strange. 

2006 

At Bryce Canyon, time standing still, geologically speaking from a human vantage point. Forty plus years since I've been here, and it looks the same to me: vast, beautiful, etc. At least now I understand more of my love for Custer in SD - very similar in sweep; there are rock formations, just not so techni-colored; and the altitude, God knows, is more bearable. 

Kodachrome State Park (wonder who got paid to give it THAT name): 

1. A tall lingam, 40 feet tall, so sheerly phallic that my reactions were, in order, 

"if this was in India, they'd put flowers on it"

"if this was in India, they'd pour milk over it every day"

"if this was in India, there'd be a temple next to it, and worshippers would come out every day."

2. A massive outcropping of red rock, shaped exactly like the top half of an ape's skull, with huge dark sockets. Dark green junipers masked the lower half of the skull, and the red rock swept out to the side into another shape that was like a little temple, mini-pillars and hoodoos that, at a distance, seemed like dancers, smeared slightly, caught in movement. (I later used this in "The Dark Side of the Moon" - AHMM, Feb. 2016 - as the hide-out of the serial killer.)

3. Out of a lump of red rock rose a 30-foot pillar of rough white stone: the sentinel. 

So what did the Anasazi think when they came here? 800+ years ago all the rocks and spires and sentinels and lingams and pillars were here, but was it as dry then as it is now? It's hard to believe that it was: dry creek beds, inches of dust-fine dirt. 

But at Escalante there was a running river, at the bottom of hundreds of feet of cliffs that were striated, bottom to top, red, black and white, and shaped into meringues, swirled, slanted, bare, or tufted with junipers, bristlecone pines, sagebrush, all of it harsh and dry and beautiful.

And then, down, down, down in the dark red heart of all that fantastically carved rock, was the tender, living green of willows and rushes and grass, the tender living green that only comes from a endless water. We walked along that river in Escalante, saw thousands of willows, thrusting up from the sandy soil like living whips. Up on the cliffs of Bryce we saw bristlecone pines that had been bent and bowed by the winds until the trunks and the branches had been twisted into gray snakes that you could almost swear were moving along each other, v-e-r-y slowly. Up there the air was cool and windy and seemingly bearable: until you looked at the trees, and thought about what it would do to you. Down by the river, the cliffs funneled the sun and heat down to a furnace by a running river forge that simmered your skin in its own grease, made your lungs gasp with the thickness of it the wet hot air, filled your nose with damp from within and without, all of it suffocating, harsh, and seemingly unbearable: until you looked at the willows, the cattails, the grass, and it was all alive.

2000 

We caught a subway from Port Authority to Grand Central Station, which is the best way to make Grand Central look really up town and classy. At Grand Central we raced to the platform to catch the R train to Astoria. Street musicians were in every conceivable cubby-hold and wide space in the path. At our final platform we were serenaded by Peruvians, playing their haunting pipe/ guitar music. 



We were also entertained a man who looked like a mechanic in a business suit, carrying a large bouquet of flowers, and who was incensed to find out that the public phone wasn't working and had eaten his money. He kicked and screamed, hit and yelled, did everything short of taking someone's briefcase and using it as a hammer to try to beat that phone into giving him his money back, but failed. The New Yorkers surrounding us showed their typical determined uninvolvement and ignored him, standing around like ill-dressed and burdened penguins, waiting for their train -- the F, the N, the R, whatever letter was their treat -- until he actually started beating the casing of the machine with the receiver. At that point everyone stepped away a few paces, in unison, as if we were the penguin Rockettes, but otherwise did not give him even a glance. 

At one point he stopped his maddened beating to yell at the Peruvians to shut up, but they ignored him, too. I admired the fact that throughout, he held the bouquet of flowers upright and safe, even as the telephone mouthpiece exploded into chunks of plastic flying around.  More penguin shuffling...  And then the subway came, and we all - including the gentleman with the flowers - got on.  

A few days later we went to St. Michael's cemetery, which belongs to the Episcopal church but is nondenominational in its burying, where I found where my uncle Jimmy, a/k/a/ Demetrios (Daddy's younger brother) was buried. He died in 1940 at the age of 21 of rheumatic fever, so I never met him. His tombstone - huge pink granite - included both names, his birth and death dates, and a picture of him, young, smiling, handsome forever.  

Then we went to the really old Greek neighborhood in Astoria and found the brownstone where Yaya and Popoo used to live. Very big brownstone, as it turns out (that must have been one hell of a favor Popoo did the Gambinos, but that's another story), and currently owned by a very nice Bangladeshi man who talked to us about how long he'd owned it, and yes, the living room was still in the same place.  And, all around and within me, the sense of time shifting and moving like water.  


PS - Allan came through his doctor's appointments with flying colors - no more crackle or fluid in his lungs; no lung cancer.  He's still on oxygen, but he's doing much better.  Huzzah!

06 May 2021

It's the Same Damn Thing Over and Over Again


Homo sapiens is a weird species.  Granted, it's the only species of which we have a few thousand years of recorded history, written by, for, and about homo sapiens.  The amazing thing is how little we learn about ourselves from that.  And yet it's all there:  humans repeat themselves, cross-culturally, cross-chronologically, in certain patterns of behavior that must be rooted in the animal we are. Just as sheep flock together, lie down and get up, chew the cud, and wander around at very specific times, so humans do certain things certain ways, no matter when/where. Here are a few that I've noted (and yes, there are exceptions to all of these): 

(1) Hierarchical societies (oligarchies, monarchies, etc.) are the norm.  Democracies are rare.  We are still living in an on-going experiment.  Best wishes, and lots of luck.  

(2) Military cultures emerge regularly, whether (a) to an internal threat (from incompetence to criminal behavior to lack of heirs to natural disasters or anything else that can be blamed on the dynasty) as a way of distracting everyone from the truth or (b) to a genuine external threat (rarer than you might think) or (c) a surplus population of young unmarried men who are highly unlikely to ever get a wife (generally because of polygyny and/or female infanticide).  Oh, and they've also been generated and used against their own large slave population, as in Sparta and the Antebellum South.  Always remember Chris Hedges' "War Is A Force that Gives Us Meaning".  

NOTE:  Throughout history, every time someone invents a new weapon, someone throws a war to try it out.  Long bows and the Hundred Years' War!  Gunpowder and Renaissance Italy!  Tanks, submarines, airplanes, chemical weapons, and machine guns and WWI!  The "military-industrial complex" was around long before Eisenhower's day.

NOTE 2:  Interesting patterns of military cultures: 

a. Military cultures have what they consider a formal code of conduct, however, this is often disorganized, and often unwritten. It is also violated regularly. 

b. Military cultures are generally extremely machismo; and also historically very homosexual.  From Sparta,  Roman legions, Samurai Japan, Ottoman Empire Janissaries, the Knights Templar, Frederick the Great and his Prussian war machine, and on down the historical line, many military cultures have assumed that soldiers fought better and braver when they were on the battlefield with their lover(s).  

d. Military cultures usually educate their elite females (including physical/military training) more than in concurrent non-military cultures, primarily because someone has to keep things running while the men are off fighting. 

e. Military cultures have had little respect for civilians, especially peasants/farmers. In ancient and medieval times, the military elite often had the right to kill peasants at will.  

SUBNOTE:  A common motif in comic literature is the griping of retired military about how lazy, entitled, incompetent, disrespectful and generally poor civilian society is compared to the military.  Examples are Foggy in Last in the Summer Wine and Major Benjy in the Mapp & Lucia novels of E. F. Benson. 

f. Military cultures generally begin as military innovators, but become hidebound by traditional modes of war, often avoiding even technological advances. In the long run, this often proves to be their downfall.  A number of British & French generals in WWI were still fighting with cavalry tactics against machine guns.  In the same way, 

g. Military cultures also often begin as societal innovators (especially when it comes to integration of former foes, slaves, inferiors, others), but eventually become extremely conservative, worshipping the past (especially dead leaders and heroes), fearing change in cultural and intellectual matters.  There's a reason Sparta banned all philosophy (which included science back in ancient times), as well as "modern" art.  

(3) When societies perceive themselves to be in crisis, the first thing they generally do is look for a strong leader to tell them what to do; and that strong leader (from Pericles to Augustus Caesar to Napoleon to Stalin and on and on and on) often urges that (a) something needs to be conquered and (b)  a number of people need to be purged from society and (c) women have to have more babies.  Specifically, more of the right kind of babies.  

(4) Almost all humans have addictive personalities, and all societies DO have addictive personalities.  That's why they use up resources at a higher-than-replaceable rate and expect more to be always available, either by buying them or going to war to take them from someone else.  This doesn't work forever:  As Jared Diamond once said, what was in the mind of the Rapa Nui who cut down the last tree on Easter Island?  

(5) Technology scares people, at least at first.  Then, as it gains acceptance, it makes people believe that they have control over their environment (from weather to their own bodies), thus increasing the desire (see addiction above) for more technology, no matter what the cost.  What's interesting is that after a while, people develop both increased expectations of technology (to the point that some people today take it for granted that Covid vaccines were developed in record time), and a contempt for technology (hello, anti-vaxxers who tell us all about it via cell phone).  

(6) As hierarchical cultures grow in size, most resources end up going to the least productive people (i.e., the farmers, teachers, artisans, etc. get screwed, while the real money goes to politicians, athletes, the ruling class, criminals, etc.). 

(7) Most societies see "traditional values" as whatever it is that they have been practicing for the last couple of generations.  

Example:  A person online said that his understanding of traditional values were "the importance of nuclear family, the primacy of parental decision-making re:child well-being (versus the state), the value of marriage and unease with divorce, concern over hypersexuality and pornography, etc." 

Meanwhile, the truth is the nuclear family isn't traditional, it's modern, and really begins around the late 1940s with the post WW2 housing / suburban boom. The "traditional" family has always been a multi-generational tribe that lives together, either in one or multiple dwellings in a farm, or (in the city) certain buildings within a certain area, more or less communally. The traditional marriage used to be, of course, polygyny (for those who could afford it). Divorce was perfectly traditional according to the Bible and everyone else, as long as the man instigated it. Parental decision making was the norm - including the parental decision to kill a baby that was unacceptably weak, deformed, disabled or female.  And concern over hypersexuality, pornography, etc. (which have always been around), has always been honored more in the breach than the observance (men's parties frequently had musicians, dancers, and acrobats who were suggestive onstage and available off). 

(8) Speaking of which, all societies are obsessed with sexuality and reproduction.  But what's considered "decent" or "moral" is various.  Polygyny, polyandry, monogamy, swapping partners,  homosexuality, bisexuality, sharing partners, birth control, infanticide, divorce, adoption at all ages, etc., have been around from the beginning of recorded history.  

NOTE:  In-law jokes are as old as time.

(9) There has never been a society without (a) a belief system in something greater than themselves; (b) a cheap addictive drug available to the masses; and (c) art (visual, kinetic, musical).  There have been many attempts to wipe out any and/or all of these - John Calvin's Geneva, the French Revolution, the Puritans in America, Prohibition, Stalinism, Khmer Rouge, Mao's Cultural Revolution, the Nazis, etc. - but the attempt has always, always, always failed.  We're gonna believe, we're gonna get high, and we're gonna paint, draw, write about it all.  

(10) Humans have always liked pets. 




BSP: My story "Collateral Damage" is in Murderous Ink Press' Crimeucopia: We're All Animals Under the Skin. 

Linda Thompson is stunned when someone transforms her joke about a drive-by shooting at an AA meeting into reality. Drugs and exes, bikers and beatings, neighbors and old memories all put Linda on a twisted search that may solve the mystery, or get her killed.

Available at Amazon.

22 April 2021

I, The Jury


"But the cop killings that dominate our mindspace are miniscule compared to the number of black Americans who destroy themselves with drugs, the road Floyd was on. The number of police killings of black men, however tragic, is a drop compared to the ocean of black men killed by other black men, never mind all the other murders America tallies."
— Op-ed on The American Conservative

So I responded:

"And the black killing of others (black and white) that apparently dominates your mindspace are miniscule compared to the number of white Americans who destroy themselves with drugs, the ocean of white killing of other whites, etc. Look up the statistics some time. Since the majority of the population is still white, more whites = more white crime = more white killings and suicides, etc.  

You can say that George Floyd was a criminal - he was high on drugs and he apparently passed a bad 20. But here's the thing - in our country you're supposed to receive a trial before you're imprisoned, much less executed. You're even supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. There might be more than one reason someone passes a fake 20: I have a 65 year old white friend who every once in a while receives a bad 20 in her shop. The bank never calls the cops. They simply inform her that it was bad and destroy it, and she's out 20 bucks.. And drug addiction is a disease that can be treated - if you can keep breathing.

The point is that cops should not be judge, jury and executioner. Their job is to make arrests, not executions. There is a wide variety of less-than-lethal force that can (and should, according to most training) be used before having to shoot someone, especially shoot them to death. Instead, we have seen some pretty trigger-happy cops. I think the most egregious example is Tamir Rice, 12 years old and playing with a toy gun in a public park, shot within seconds of the police arriving on the scene."

As it turns out, I was wrong about more white killings than black killings - they're about at a dead heat:
*Murder and non-negligent homicide: whites 5,070; blacks 5,660

But as for the rest:

  • Violent crimes: whites, 276,310; blacks 172,980
  • Drug abuse violations: whites, 1,109,600; blacks 406,940
    • (Surprised you, didn't it?)
  • All crimes: whites, 7,014,550; blacks 2,667, 010
    • See US DOJ statistics HERE.

As I said, the greater the population, the more crime will be committed by that population.

Anyway, I stand by my argument that cops should not be judge, jury and executioner: that's the job of the court system. I am a great believer in separation of powers, and wish we could see more of it. Presidents and Governors should not be deciding issues of guilt or innocence, constitutionality, etc. That's what the judicial system is for. Nor should Presidents and Governors be writing legislation; legislatures, both national and state, should.

Speaking of which, our Governor, Kristi Noem, did a "partial veto" of an anti-transgender law, and then tried to rewrite parts of it (she called it a "style and form veto") to only be against K-12 trans students (to keep the NCAA $$$ and ranking flowing to South Dakota universities). In other words, she was trying to have it both ways with the conservative crowd: "See, I'm still anti-transgender, but I have to be practical." The South Dakota legislature rejected her changes, and accepted her veto, so (thankfully) that's over in South Dakota until next year, when the usual suspects will again bring the usual anti-LGBQT legislation to the floor.

Okay, back to policing.


Looking it over, I can honestly say that I totally understand that a person with a weapon or in the midst of a violent crime or performing crimes against other people can end up being killed by police. It is a dangerous job. BUT that still leaves the majority of cases to that were none of those. So, looking that over:

  • One obvious thing change would be to have trained mental health professionals go out on mental illness / welfare checks, and non-violent domestic disturbances. (With appropriate police back-up when necessary.)
  • Secondly, I think it would be really good to check into what traffic stops are being used for. When was the last time you were stopped and arrested for changing lanes without signaling? Sandra Bland was, and she ended up dead after 3 days in jail.  
  • I'd like the list of the "other non-violent offenses" that drew out the police and caused them to shoot to kill, as well as the "none/unknown".

I am among those who are very relieved that Derek Chauvin was convicted of all 3 counts.  I remember the first time I watched the video of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd's neck, rocking back and forth on that neck, Chauvin's hands in his pockets and smirk on his face, and at the time the only doubt I had in my mind was whether he was whistling "Dixie" to himself or "Another One Bites the Dust."  

Meanwhile, we stigmatize mental illness and addiction, and give paltry funding for mental health programs of any kind, and then wonder why the mentally ill are out on the streets.  

We fight a war on drugs while ignoring that the major gateway drug is perfectly legal alcohol, and then wonder why there are addicts everywhere we look.  

We fight a war on drugs with weapons and jail and prison time, while providing a minimum of money for counseling and/or treatment centers, and appallingly little health insurance coverage for them, and then wonder why addicts relapse all the damn time.

Surely to God we can do better than this.

*Also, whites commit suicide at a higher rate than any other race: In data released in 2017, the rate for white Americans was around 19 per 100,000, and it was about 7.1 for both Hispanics and Asian-Americans/Pacific Islanders, and 6.6 for Black Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



BSP: My story "Collateral Damage" will be appearing in Murderous Ink Press' Crimeucopia: We're All Animals Under the Skin.  (Our own Michael Bracken is in it as well.)

Linda Thompson is stunned when someone transforms her joke about a drive-by shooting at an AA meeting into reality. Drugs and exes, bikers and beatings, neighbors and old memories all put Linda on a twisted search that may solve the mystery, or get her killed.

Available at Amazon.


08 April 2021

So You Want to Live Free


My latest story, "The Sweet Life" will be published in the July/August edition of AHMM.  It has some relationship to this blog.  

Back – God help us! – 52 years ago, I left home in the middle of the night after one of the most frighteningly violent days of my short life.  I'm not going into the details.  But I truly believed that if I didn't leave that night I wasn't going to be alive much longer.  

I remember that night, but not much of the next couple of weeks.  But eventually I found myself on the road, looking for a haven.  I went to Coronado, then I went up to San Francisco - to join the hippie ranks, of course.  But by then the hippies were all gone (most to Northern California or Oregon, where a lot of them started communes).  Haight Ashbury was still there, but it was mostly hard-core druggies by the time I got there.  I went south, to L.A., and ended up in Hollywood, where I disappeared into street culture for the next couple of years.  

First of all, we need to remember that people have been / gone homeless for millenia.  Back in the Middle Ages, when the wealthy lords figured out that raising sheep on huge acreages was less trouble and more profitable than dealing with farming and farmers, they got rid of their tenants, who mostly fled to the cities or the forests. Every famine, people fled to wherever they thought they might find food. (Joseph's brothers to Egypt.) After every war, from the Crusades to Afghanistan / Iraq, some soldiers have returned damaged and hopeless and drifted, again, to the wilderness, whether cities or forest or desert.

What's changed is that today it's harder to be left alone than it was even 50 years ago.  You used to be  able to sleep in certain parks, under overpasses, derelict buildings, vacant lots, and the occasional free church.  You could even find a cheap place to rent every once in a while, and set up a makeshift commune.  But today… much harder.  The cities don't want the homeless, and they now have sufficient laws and police to harass, evict, move on, and/or jail people who live on the streets, in tents, on the ground, or in RVs.  See my 2014 blog, The Surplus Population.  Still frighteningly accurate.  And as for affordable housing anywhere?  Ha!  And good luck on finding a wilderness to disappear into.  

But the lifestyle itself hasn't changed.  

(1) Nobody becomes homeless by choice.  There's a story behind every homeless person.  S/he lost their job, their lifestyle, their mind, their health, their home, their family...  Something put them there, and I never met anyone who chose it willingly because it was a fun, free way to live.  What that something was is important to know if you ever want to get them off the streets.  Not everyone wants to go home.  I know I never once thought about going home, no matter how weird things got, because at least when someone did something awful / violent to me, it wasn't someone claiming to love me.  

(2) Over time, you get used to it.  The first requirement of life on the streets is to develop good radar for who dangerous and who isn't.  You will make mistakes.  Second is to find the infrastructure you need to stay alive:  usable restrooms, restaurants, churches, charitable organizations, etc.  Third is to learn the rhythms of the people around you, the police on the beat, the businesses, and how to work with them.

(3) Over time, you get used to it.  Street life is a whole lot of time to kill in between moments of great urgency, and sometimes great danger.  How do you spend that time?  Sleeping, when possible.  Talking constantly.  Looking around for anything that can be sold, spent, or used.  More talking.  Looking for food.  Lot of smoking.  (Smoking used to be cheaper than eating, and in the 60s and 70s even people who would never dream of handing out money would give you a cigarette.)  More talking.  The result of all that talking is some of the most unbelievable plots, plans, schemes, conspiracy theories and stories ever heard - believed.  Sometimes I think QAnon is simply channeling street people.  

(4a) You try to get used to it.  It's a strange mix of people on the streets.  Most of them are perfectly harmless; they're just unsightly.  But there are also the mentally ill - mostly harmless, despite talking to the air, which used to look a lot stranger before cell phones. But you can't ever tell if they would lose it.  Even worse are the predators, who specifically prey on their fellow travelers, often by pretending to be their friend.  Think Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy.  And at least he wasn't violent. 

(4b) There's also a strange mix of people who try to help people on the streets.  Many of them mean well:  those who come with food and water, those who offer rides to church or 12-Step meetings, those who provide medical care (we didn't have that in my day), and those who really are doing everything they can to get people off the street and into a stable life.  But there are also predators - the johns, picking up the young girls for some quick cheap sex; the cult leaders, looking for more recruits; the employers, looking for cheap labor; and the killers. 

(5) Over time, some people get more than used to it.  They turn feral - the life of the streets is the only one they can bear.  A life with a bare minimum of comfort / amenities, but a strange freedom.  If you can stand it.  Your time is your own.  You can say pretty much anything you want.  You can go anywhere your legs can take you.  You are not beholden to anyone.  There is no future, but there is certainly a present.  

I'm not romanticizing it like some people have (read John Steinbeck's Cannery Row for that).  It's hard.  It takes a hell of a lot of energy, just to stay alive every day. The life expectancy of a homeless person is very low.  And, as I said, there is no future, other than the ones cooked up in all those endless hours of talking.  The young street urchins waxing hopeful about being discovered and being the next singing sensation, model, actor, etc. (remember, I was in Hollywood).  The older guys talking about moving to the wilderness - Alaska, Rocky Mountains, wherever.  I never knew anyone who got any of those dreams.  Where they were was where they were.  

Me, all I wanted was to stay alive until I was old enough to go legal, and then come in off the streets and get a job and an apartment of my own.  I was lucky - through the grace of God, I did.  (BTW, doing that presented a whole new set of challenges.)  But - also through the grace of God – I've never forgotten. Everything I learned on the streets has come in handy in the rest of my life.


PS: Update on Allan. March 22nd, I took him to the doctor because he was having trouble breathing; they tested his oxygen levels, which were in the 70s, so it was off to the ER. He stayed in the hospital till 6 PM on Wednesday. Long story short: he has severe emphysema, will be on 24/7 oxygen for the foreseeable future, and has many upcoming doctor's visits, tests, etc., ahead of him. BUT he’s home.

Oh, and we've named his 24/7 oxygen concentrator "George".

25 March 2021

The Movie was Better


It is a universal truth that a novel is always better than any movie made of it.  Except when it isn't.  These are rare.  There is an endless list of bad movies made of excellent books, from every freaking version of Anna Karenina, War and Peace, and other classics.  I would include The Great Gatsby, but I liked the original - I thought Redford was as opaque as Gatsby should be, Bruce Dern sufficiently rough, etc. - the only problem, as always, was Daisy.  It's my belief that the only way to make a "perfect" Gatsby would be to pull a Bunuel and have two different actresses play Daisy:  one actress for every time we see Daisy through Gatsby's eyes (romantic, beautiful, etc.) and another actress for the real, shallow Daisy everyone else knows. 

But there are a few movies that are equal to if not better than their source material.  My list:

  • The African Queen - novel by E. M. Forster, movie directed by John Huston and starring, of course, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.  
  • Speaking of Bogart, there's Casablanca - has anybody ever actually read the play, Everybody Comes to Rick's?  
  • The Third Man - Graham Greene wrote the novella at the same time he wrote the screenplay, but just keep watching the movie, okay? 
  • Lonesome Dove - I infinitely prefer the miniseries, with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, to the book.  But, to tell you a deep dark secret, I think a lot of Larry McMurtry's books make better movies than the books themselves.  Including The Last Picture Show.
  • In an opinion that could get me banned from Australia, I think the miniseries Cloudstreet is better than the book.  
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock.  Trust me.  
  • Miss Marple, as played by Joan Hickson, in Nemesis is fantastic, and the script as a whole is as close to a perfect transmutation from the page as I've ever seen.  
  • Any movie version of Ivanhoe.
  • 2001:  A Space Odyssey - pretty good sci-fi novel, iconic movie.

So, what are some of your choices?

BTW:  I would have done more of these, but my husband had a medical emergency and I've spent the last 3 days at the hospital with him.  He's back home now, for good hopefully, so… sort of back to normal.

11 March 2021

Notes from the Culture Wars: Heartland Edition


1 - Nomadland

Of course I watched Nomadland on Hulu.  Beautiful, and yes, I've been everywhere in South Dakota that they filmed. My favorite park is the Badlands and always has been. (But, while Wall Drug has the best maple donuts in the country, it is never, ever, ever that empty of people.)

Nomadland

At the same time, I found the movie depressing, and not just because of the economic fact that there are lots of people who cannot earn enough working full time to live on, nor have enough retirement from working full time to live on. I already knew that. There are people who work full time in every major city in America who can't afford an apartment. It is a scandal, a shame, a horror, and something should damn well be done about it.

But you know, the battening of the rich upon the poor has been going on for millenia. What really bothered me was the social isolation.  Everyone wandering around on their own, meeting at the various job sites around the country, gathering at the places out in the desert, etc., where they can live off the grid, but separate mentally, separate emotionally, separate financially.  A fierce independence and determination to not be "beholden" in any way.  A toxic independence, in my book.

Now I'm not talking about the people who love travel, and are in perfect health. And perhaps that was Fran.  But most people would like to settle down and stay put, especially as they get old and creaky.  And the only way you do that is by banding together. That's how the poor have survived the predation of the rich for millenia. That's how I survived 2 years on the streets of L.A. That's how the peasants survived Calvera's constant depredations in The Magnificent Seven.  That's how [almost] everyone lived through The Grapes of Wrath, Cross Creek, and the entire Jim Crow South.

At one point in the movie a few people mentioned that they couldn't actually live on their retirement (me, too).  And the obvious answer is - live together!  Whether you want to call it a boarding house, a commune, or a house sharing, a bunch of people can rent (or even buy) a place and all have their own room, share the facilities, the rent, the chores and the expenses of life a lot easier than one lone widow /widower can do it all themselves.  Dickens is full of boarding houses.  In It's a Wonderful Life, after George has wished himself out of existence, he finds a world where his mother is running a boarding house.  I've lived in 2 communes in my day, one in L.A. and the other in Atlanta.  I still think it's a damn good way to live.  And I know I'd prefer it any day than living in Nomadland.  

2 - State of South Dakota v. AG Jason Ravnsborg

On February 23, Governor Kristi Noem released videos of Ravnsborg's two interviews with law enforcement late Tuesday. I think the highlight that sickened entire state was this:

An investigator asks Ravnsborg how he retrieved his insurance card, which was in the glovebox. Ravnsborg describes leaning in from the driver seat, trying to avoid glass in the passenger seat. He denies seeing a pair of glasses. “They’re Joe’s glasses,” an investigator says. “So that means his face came through your windshield.”  (Argus Leader)

And he repeated - again - “I never saw him.  I never saw him.”  

Anyway, the Governor and practically the entire state is calling on Ravnsborg to resign, and the SD Legislature said they'd impeach him.  But then the legislature decided to postpone any impeachment proceedings until after Ravnsborg goes to court over his 3 misdemeanor charges.  Gov. Noem - who obviously wants Ravnsborg GONE - weighed in today, saying they don't need a special session for it, and don't have to wait.  (Argus Leader)  Obviously Gov. Noem wants him gone - the only speculation is why.  What surprises me is that Ravnsborg hasn't grasped yet that if he is impeached he'll lose his law license.  We'll see what happens.  

3 - South Dakota Legislature, Where Bad Bills Never Die

Every legislature has its quirks. We have a little feature called "smoke out", which allows legislators to force committees to deliver failed bills to the chamber floor if they can secure the support of 1/3 of the chamber’s members.  And of course it's just been used for three of the damnedest bills:

HB 1212, which says, in part, “A person who unlawfully enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.” So much for innocent until proven guilty.  It's also, basically, a "stand your ground" law, because if you think they're doing something unlawful - you can shoot them and claim immunity.  NOW ON THE GOVERNOR'S DESK FOR SIGNATURE!!!

HB 1075, which says “Any federal statute, federal regulation, or executive order of the President of the United States, and any order of a federal or state court is null, void, and unenforceable in this state if the purpose or intent is to impose or enforce, against a resident of this state, an extreme risk protection order, including such an ex parte order, under which the resident, in order to reduce the risk of physical harm to himself, herself, or another, is: (1) Required to surrender any firearms or ammunition in his or her possession; or (2) Prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm or ammunition.”  Because God knows that owning a gun matters more than the health and safety of anyone around the person, even if they are so freaking dangerous the whole town avoids them and a judge has declared them a threat to themselves and others.  This one FAILED, thank God.

HB 1217 which seeks to ban transgender girls from participating in high school sports, and would require student athletes to fill out a form each year, proving biological sex from a birth certificate.  NOT ONLY PASSED BUT SIGNED BY THE GOVERNOR, SO...

4 - Speaking of the Transgender Culture Wars, Here's My Take:

As many of you know, I once worked for Medical Genetics at Emory University, where, among other tests, we did sex tests on newborns. One of my regular jobs was to sort out the chromosomes (from a photo taken on an electron microscope) to determine what the sex of a baby or child was, because the physical genitalia were anything from unclear to deformed to nonexistent. 

IMPORTANT NOTE:  One out of every thousand children is born with "indeterminate genitalia". 
The doctors, nurses, and parents literally could not tell, looking at the baby/child, what sex it was. In the past - and apparently it still happens today - they would simply assign "sex" according to their own preference - and a lot of times they were wrong:

Two examples of wrong assignment are Mokgadi Caster Semenya, a South African runner, who was assigned female at birth (b. 1991), but has either XXY or XY chromosomes, and Foekje Dillema (1926-2007), a Dutch runner, who was assigned female at birth, but after her death was determined to be a "mosaic", or a "46XX/46XY woman."  Both were raised as girls.  So which, my dear culture warriors, should everyone go by - what was/is on her birth certificate, or the genetics?  Or is it her own damn business?

SECOND IMPORTANT NOTE:  Conservatives (?) keep trying to say that sex chromosome abnormalities are very rare.  WRONG.  Actually, sex chromosome abnormalities are the most common there are because they are rarely lethal (unlike many other chromosomal abnormalities).  And the variations of genetic results can range from the normal XX or XY to XXX, XYY, XXY, as well as mosaics, and many many more. Nature is not "always right" or "always perfect".

For example: "Klinefelter syndrome has been reported to be between 1 in 500 and 1 in 1000 male births." (That's XXY or XXXY or a mosaic.) "In severe cases, they have relatively high-pitched voices, asexual to feminine body contours as well as breast enlargement, and comparatively little facial and body hair. They are sterile or nearly so, and their testes and prostate gland are small. As a result, they produce relatively small amounts of testosterone. The feminizing effects of this hormonal imbalance can be significantly diminished if Klinefelter syndrome boys are regularly given testosterone from the age of puberty on." These are very apt to be confused as girls at birth, unless sex tested, which may or may not happen. And they may very well "feel" that they are girls.  And without a lot of testosterone, they will be girls.  (Palomar Article)

And then there's the Guevedoces, a classic study which I read for the first time back on the job at Emory, about a community in the Dominican Republic, where some males are born looking like girls, are raised as girls, and only grow penises at puberty, at which time they become male.  Yes, you read that right.

"When you are conceived you normally have a pair of X chromosomes if you are to become a girl and a set of XY chromosomes if you are destined to be male. For the first weeks of life in womb you are neither, though in both sexes nipples start to grow.
Then, around eight weeks after conception, the sex hormones kick in. If you're genetically male the Y chromosome instructs your gonads to become testicles and sends testosterone to a structure called the tubercle, where it is converted into a more potent hormone called dihydro-testosterone This in turn transforms the tubercle into a penis. If you're female and you don't make dihydro-testosterone then your tubercle becomes a clitoris.
When Imperato-McGinley investigated the Guevedoces she discovered the reason they don't have male genitalia when they are born is because they are deficient in an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase, which normally converts testosterone into dihydro-testosterone.
This deficiency seems to be a genetic condition, quite common in this part of the Dominican Republic, but vanishingly rare elsewhere. So the boys, despite having an XY chromosome, appear female when they are born. At puberty, like other boys, they get a second surge of testosterone. This time the body does respond and they sprout muscles, testes and a penis."
(BBC

BTW - it doesn't just happen in the Dominican Republic; it's also been found in Papua New Guinea and Turkey.  And probably elsewhere, just not reported.  Or believed.  



25 February 2021

The Greatest Historical Mystery of all Time


A while back I read, among other things, a review of Roberto Calasso's La Folie Baudelaire(1)

"Calasso's book can be seen as a series of spirited improvisations on the theme expressed in Walter Benjamin's essays on Baudelaire: that the poet, though he remained resolutely in the Romantic tradition, was the first to express the dark new reality of what Benjamin called 'the permanent catastrophe of life after the Industrial Revolution.'"

To which my response was: "Maybe, but Genesis is the first work to express the dark new reality of 'permanent catastrophe' of life after the Agricultural Revolution."  

I've suspected for a long time that most of the very ancient myths, including Genesis 2-3 and Gilgamesh, are all really about the the Agricultural Revolution. It actually is one of the great historical mysteries, if not the greatest:  how humanity went from wandering the earth to settling down, from hunter-gatherer to farmer. Because there was nothing inevitable - or even logical - about it. Humans were hunter-gatherers for 90% of human history. Agriculture is only a blip of time, and the urbanized world we live in - with only 1.3% of the US population actually working in agriculture, and only 26.7% world-wide - is barely 100 years old.  

So how did it happen?

MY NOTE:  That's what myths are for, to explain mysteries that no one can explain.  How we got here.  Why we're doing the things we're doing here and now - because we have no idea what the hell happened.  Especially when you realize that you're stuck.  You can't go back.  

So, here's the thing:  Paleolithic and Neolithic hunter-gatherer societies were complex, advanced societies.  They had fire, dogs, tools, woven containers, clothing, religion, art, music, dance, and stories.  They invented rafts, nets, and skis (the oldest skis still in existence date back to 6,000 BC from Russia).  They buried their dead. They had some concept of religious ritual.  They built sanctuaries and raised monoliths, megaliths, astronomical calendars, and passage tombs in abundance.  Look up Gobekli Tepe, Warren Field, Newgrange, etc.  

They had phenomenal memories.  (As I always told my students, oral cultures aren't and weren't stupid.)  Whole genealogies, records of journeys, oral maps, oral encyclopedias of where the plants and animals were, what herbs you used for medicine, what parts of trees and animals were best for what function and endless  - they had it all in their heads, and passed it all down, generation to generation, to [almost] the present day.  

They lived well.  They ate just as many plants as animals, and in some cases and definitely in some seasons, more more.  They returned again and again to sites where specific plants (roots, tubers, nuts, berries, and even grains) grew.  And they often either made sure to leave a certain number of those plants intact (roots in the ground, seeds above ground) and even replanted some things. (Ginseng hunters in China were known to do the same thing.)

It was a fairly egalitarian society: there was a leader, and/or a master of the hunt, but when the hunting and gathering was done, all the food was shared out equally among the tribe. Enlightened self-interest was and is the norm for pre-industrial societies. Radical hospitality was and is mandatory - if a stranger shows up, take him in, feed him, treat him well, because some day it will be your turn.  

It was also a fairly non-materialistic society, in terms of stockpiling stuff.  It had to be, because you can't carry a lot of stuff with you as a hunter-gatherer. 

It was also a surprisingly leisured society.  Hunter/gatherers only spent about 4-6 hours a day hunting for food, and the rest of their time cooking, eating, making tools, decorating themselves, sleeping, talking, etc.(2)   

The main drawbacks were high infant mortality, as well as the occasional death from accident, injury, and murder (yes, people killed each other then as now - see my 2015 blog post, Death Comes at the Beginning).  And, of course, they were extremely vulnerable to natural disasters.  All that kept the population very low. At one point there might have been only 125,000 humans on the planet.  

And then came agriculture and animal husbandry, and everything changed.


By the time of this ancient Egyptian painting, world population is estimated to have increased to 5-10 million people.  The Neolithic Revolution fed a lot more people than hunter-gathering, increasing the population in ways hunter-gathering couldn't.  But it had its downsides as well: 

Disease: hunter-gatherers had much lower disease rates (lice, worms) vs. farmers (measles is rinderpest in cattle; TB and smallpox come from cattle; an excellent source of tetanus is horse manure; rabies, obviously; flu from birds or pigs).  There's also overcrowding; a hunter-gatherer tribe was close, but there weren't 300-3,000 of them packed into stacked dwellings in a small walled town.  

Insecurity:  If your crops fail - well, folks are going to starve to death.  There are too many people to go back to hunting and gathering.  (Especially today.  I hear people say, well, I'm going to go off the grid, up in the wilderness - to which my response is, what wilderness?  Also, just because you've watched Alaska The Last Frontier doesn't mean you know how to survive.)  

Possession / Greed / hoarding.  I grew this, so it's mine:  this is my land, my house, my crops, my animals, my family, etc.  Lock the door, bar the windows.  Apparently, the first use of writing was to record my land, my house, my crops, my animals.  Count 'em up and keep track of what's whose.

Kings, priests, armies, bureaucracy, and war all come with agriculture. Which leads back to the great puzzle of how they learned how to do all of this.  

And we have no records.  All the written records we have come after kings, priests, scribes, armies, bureaucracy, and agriculture are already in place - and practically irreversible.  

So, what happened?

Well, to figure that out, you have to take old myths seriously, but not necessarily how time has made people take them seriously.  Most myths have been transformed over time into what we call fairy-tales, folk-tales, religious texts, or epics.  This makes analyzing them hard.  Some people will even call it blasphemous, if you're analyzing their religious text. But there are certain universals.  There's a blind king in almost every ancient culture, from Oedipus to the Mahabharata.  There's a Cinderella story in Europe, the Middle East, and China.  And battling brothers is the basis of so many epics, so many founding fathers, so many wars - of course, that could simply be human nature.  And the Flood shows up everywhere.  So.  I firmly believe that there was, somewhere, some time, way back in time, a blind king, a Cinderella, and a terrifying flood, all so memorable that each story got carried from place to place and passed on down the ages.  

Which brings me back to Genesis 2-3.  A garden, in which every tree and plant is provided that's good for food.  And a great river flowing through it, with every beast and bird living on its banks.  And human(s) naming those beasts and birds.  There's a sense of infinite nostalgia, for a time when humans were one with their environment, where humans walked on the earth, knowing every tree, bush, plant, and flower, every animal, fish, and bird, and what each and every one of them was for. 

And then comes the serpent, “more subtil than any beast of the field” – and starts talking to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”  “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Now there's been a lot of water under that bridge, as to what kind of fruit, and what the real sin was - most theologians agree that it was a combination of pride and greed, basically disobedience to God. The Epic of Gilgamesh calls it a betrayal of nature (3).  And I agree. Because what really happened during the Neolithic Revolution was a turning away from a life that was based entirely on the existing seasons and habits of nature. Trusting, every morning, that nature would indeed provide food. All humans had to do was go and look for it. 

But discontent came, and the hissing voice - whether of a serpent or in someone's own head (4) - saying, "Aren't you tired of wandering all over the place and never knowing what you'll find? Wouldn't it be nice to be able to eat berries whenever you want, to store up enough food so that you don't have to be out in bad weather?  When winter comes, you'll be sitting tight in a nice warm place with all the food and more that you need? You can provide for yourselves. You can control nature, instead of it controlling you. You will be safe."

And they fell for it. Ever since, it's been a lot of hard work and (until very modern times) extremely little leisure.

NOTE:  There's a hint that God didn't appreciate it:  Genesis also has Cain and Abel, offering their produce to God - Cain gave vegetables, Abel gave a lamb, and God preferred the meat.  So Cain got jealous and killed Abel.

Another reason why I think this interpretation of Genesis might be the right one is that it came from one of the oldest known civilizations on the planet: Sumer. Remember, Abraham was Sumerian, he came from Ur, and he brought his folk-lore with him. And many of the stories in early Genesis are also from Sumer (the Flood, for one thing). Sumer, "the cradle of civilization" "the fertile crescent", one of the places where agriculture began the earliest, so that by the time of Abraham, there would have already been a couple of thousand years of farming.  That makes Sumer a very logical place for farmers to remember, longingly, of a time without kings, bureaucrats, armies, or war. A time when food was everywhere for the taking, and all humans had to do was wander through the earth like a giant garden. And wonder what had happened, why they had been cursed: and what a specific curse! 

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

The life of a pre-industrial farmer, and that's a curse, not a blessing.

(1) Primarily because he's the author of The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, and Ka, two very interesting works on mythology, among other things.

(2) See Jared Diamond's The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.  BTW, I love central air/heating, antibiotics, anesthetics, gas stoves and screened windows. But I can wax nostalgic like anyone else...

(3) One last note:  The Sumerian epic Gilgamesh is even more obvious about one of the last meetings between the settler and the wanderer.  King Gilgamesh befriends the wild man Enkidu - "Abundantly hairy and primitive, he lives roaming with the herds and grazing and drinking from rivers with the beasts. One day a hunter watches Enkidu destroying the traps he has prepared for the animals. The hunter informs his father, who sends him to Uruk to ask Gilgamesh for help. The king sends Shamhat, a prostitute, who seduces Enkidu. After two weeks with her, he becomes human, intelligent and understanding words, however the beasts flee when they see him."  (Wikipedia)  Later, Enkidu helps Gilgamesh kill the giant Humbaba, guardian of the Cedar Forest, where the gods lived (and where they plan to cut the trees down). But before that happens, Humbaba accuses Enkidu of betraying the beasts of the wild and, by implication, all of nature by becoming "civilized".

(4)This is why one should always beware of listening too loudly to the voices in one's own head.