Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts

22 May 2022


Not Eurythmics

Long before I began to write, I realized some words have soft forms and others hard edges, even harsh, jagged teeth. The letter G has a soft feel that alliterates with J, but the hard G means serious business. For example:

glare, goat, glum, gormless, gut, gash, gears, glut, gangster, garage, gag, gasp, guttural, gale, gaffe, gaff
Combine the G with the letter R, then Gr… can sound overly masculine, even violent.
grit, gravel, grind, grubby, grungy, grumpy, grate, grill, grotesque, grab, grope, grease, gross, grim, groan, growl, grunt, grrrr

The sounds– the letters– that follow can soften a word. Examples include:

glen, glade, gorgeous, glorious, giggly, glamorous, girl

The Sound You Hear…

Not Ebonics

The understanding and practice of sounds is called euphonics. It comes to us from the realm of music and poetry, and it refers to the sounds of words. Some words work well together where one word seems to naturally follow another. Contrarily, other words don't sound right when harnessed together. Poets and lyricists treat euphonies as one of their best tools.

Authors also use euphonics, although they may not be aware of it. I pay a lot of attention to names: ethnicity, meaning, type (occupational, place, etc) and the sound. I often try to fit a name with a character’s personality: Is she smart, sly, sensible, seductive, sensuous, soft, sordid, staid, straight-laced, stalwart, or staggeringly strong? I strive to reflect that in the name.

Positive About Negatives

Thanks for a tip from ABA and Sharon pointing me to an article by Joslyn Chase. Chase drew my attention to a book, Euphonics For Writers by Rayne Hall. Among other topics, they point out words beginning with N tend to impart a negative tone. I might add that many, many languages have this same characteristic:

no, nay, nix, non, nein, ne, nee, nej, nie, não, nu, nyet

Not only do words have meaning and inflections carry meaning, but the sounds of words also affect readers and listeners.

If you’ve read Rayne Hall’s book, what is your impression?

15 May 2022

¿Quién mató a Sara?

John Floyd Bad Guy Award

Not every miniseries on Netflix is a Harlan Coben story. Astounding, yes, I know, even though I enjoy them sprinkled amongst other series.

My Netflix favorites tend toward foreign productions. European shows dominate, but occasional works slip in from South Korea, South Africa, Venezuela, and Mexico. And Mexico is where the murder mystery Who Killed Sara? is set.

Many of its actors appear in telenovelas, i.e, Hispanic soap operas, sexy soap operas. Cultural tip: Pretty much everything on Telemundo and Univision is sexy, good motivation to learn Spanish.

So, because a number of these actors are cast in daytime dramas, Who Killed Sara? was miscategorized as another telenovela and dismissed. Creator José Ignacio Valenzuela never expected the show might become a global sensation, and misjudging the series as a mere soap serial seemingly sealed its coffin, limiting its impact within Latin America.

Except word got out. People watched. And more people watched. And more. So many viewers, Netflix noticed. And funded a second season. And a third. At one point, it topped their popularity list. Who Killed Sara? had made it.

How Good Are the Bad Guys?

I’m convinced the success of a crime novel hinges upon how good– er, I mean how bad the bad guy is or how complex. The worst of the bad guys should either make your fictional life much more interesting or scare the bloomers off Buchenwald Oberaufseherin Ilse Koch… or both.

Think of any James Bond movie. The best are those with the baddest badass bad guys. The cars or the fancy ass gadgets from Q, might have drawn our curiosity, but remember the scary Colonel Klebb, Dr No, the metallic-toothed Jaws, and pretty much anyone from Golden Eye. Them’s scary!

(A major miscast in Tomorrow Never Dies was media mogul Elliott Carver– the world had yet to meet Rupert Murdoch, an Australian leftist hellbent on bringing the US and Britain to its knees… That’s one hypothesis.)

I previously promoted Hungarian actor Lukács Bicskey as one of the most interesting bad guys in the film Titled Day of Wrath / Game of Swords. Sadly, the movie’s star, American actor Christopher Lambert, sucked the life out of the show, guaranteeing a spot in Film Purgatory.

Who Killed Sara? poster

I present a new nominee for badass bad guys: Ginés García Millán playing César Lazcano, self-made multimillionaire businessman, patriarch of the Lazcano crime family. He’s a charming man who kicks the crap out of his son Chema for being gay and recreationally bangs the wife of his older son, Rodolfo. He and his henchmen are not above murder, including multiple attempts to kill their children’s betrayed friend, our hero Álex. And yet as much as César hates and fears the boy he betrayed, he also admires him. More than once, he is heard berating his kids, telling them he wished he had Álex as his son instead.

Other bad guy nominees might include the OddJob to  Lazcano’s Goldfinger is psychopathic sadist Sergio Hernández, played by Juan Carlos Remolina, César’s best friend and business partner. And Mariana Lazcano, portrayed by Claudia Ramírez, wifely manipulator and enabler. Thanks to her motherly pretense, her insidious nature takes longer to reveal. But César Lazcano…

The plot’s problem becomes not who killed teen Sara, but who didn’t have a motive to kill her? Sara, her brother Álex, and the three Lazcano children were close childhood friends, but Sara was extra ‘friendly’ with everyone. She pretty much jodido’d the entire cast except possibly her brother Álex… I think. Then someone sabotaged a parasail killing her.

To keep his family and their business at arm’s length, César and Mariana Lazcano persuaded the dead girl’s young brother Álex to shoulder the blame, promising at most weeks in jail, a transplant for his ailing mother, and a handsome reward him for his troubles. Álex and the Lazcano children were shocked when Álex was sentenced to eighteen years, and worse, reneged on the promises, including caring for his dying mother. Lazcano even attempted to kill Álex in prison.

Thus the series begins with Álex’s release from a tough Mexican prison. He’s angry, wants vengeance, and is determined to sort out who killed his darling sister, not knowing she had carnal relations with half of Ciudad de México, both Lacano parents and their son Rodolfo, Álex’s former best friend.

And then things change. Fluid situations melt and reform. Alliances shift. César Lazcano and Álex team up and attain a mutual respect, whereupon the second season wraps, waiting for season three, and we’re not much closer to figuring out who killed Sara.

Some of My Best Friends…

Actor Eugenio Siller plays the Lazcano’s middle child, José María ‘Chema’ Lazcano, César and Mariana's middle child, second best friend of Álex… and deeply in love with him, unrequited love. His father refuses to acknowledge Chemo is gay and beats him badly to demonstrate manly virtues of something or other.

Nothing goes right for poor Chema. Minor missteps and the simplest of errors results in magnified consequences. To my surprise, I found my heart breaking for him. His character has tragedy stamped all over him. Second only to the relationship between Lazcano daughter Elisa and Álex, I chewed my metaphorical nails over Chema. The actor and writers reached across the border, the cultural barrier, and the gay-straight continuum shaking up my normal affectionate tolerance similar to Álex’s. Nicely accomplished.

And Now We Wait

This project has been filmed through the pandemic. I can’t imagine what the crew had to go through to avoid infections in this midst of this killer coronavirus. For certain, they have created an innovative story with care worthy characters, at least through two seasons. I’m adding this to my list of pending new seasons. It’s darn well worth it.

Have you seen it?

Update: NetFlix says season 3 will be released on the 18th of the month. Yay!

01 May 2022

Cover Models – Bookface

When the internet isn’t saturating the landscape with Orwellian narratives, you have to admire how the World Wide Web lives up to its name. This time we have a three continent degrees of separation, Africa – Europe – North America. Our long-time friend ABA in South Africa (which has recently suffered terrible storm damage) drew my attention back to a Bordeaux bookstore, Librairie Mollat, in a topic we covered five years ago. For instance:

I admire this exceptionally clever example:

This time we have an official hashtag label, #bookface, and others can take part in the Bookface Challenge. Here then is another list of bookfaces, mostly new, but a few from before. Notice how the technique has evolved and become even more precise:

I've got to love the imagination:








Check out the rest of the lot. Meanwhile below, Leigh needs practice, lots of practice: #birdface

The Terry Gilliam Do-It-Yourself Cover

ABA, always a step ahead, suggested another item, reminiscent of the above.



And finally, a message to Edgar Winner R.T. Lawton for his story “The Road to Hana’,

Congratulations, R.T!

17 April 2022

What the Casually-Dressed Writer is Carrying

I intended to write about a Mexican thriller/mystery series, but after reading Mark Thielman’s column, I considered an article in his shadow, and then Friday Joseph D’Agnese came along with his advice about organizers and notebooks. Okay, okay, so I have the attention span of a squirrel and… something, something.

That’s why James Lincoln Warren dubbed me the ADD Detective. If anyone needs an organizer, I do, and thank God for Rob Lopresti and Janice and secretaries and assistants and adjutants. I’m worse than a squirrel burying his nuts and…

Hey! Eve! Stop giggling! You too, Melodie. Oh Liz! Y’all are a klatch of incorrigible children.

Anyway, before I was so roooodly interrupted… What was I saying? Oh, squirrels. I’d make a terrible squirrel because I don’t remember where I put things.

I’m aware of the problem (I should be by now), so I consciously think: Where should I put this or that so I can find it next time?

I come up with a genius place to store it.

And then I can’t find it.

My chosen tuck-away place was so brilliant, I’ve completely lost it.

Assisted Living

I’m fortunate to live in this age. As a child, I built my first simple ‘computer’ (a gated circuit) and started programming in my teens. I realized computers could help with some my attention deficit problems:

  • Computer-storable items would reside in one place… a computer.
  • They would be searchable. Hey Google: When is girlfriend's birthday?
  • They could help me organize: calendars, contact lists, homework.

So there I was, a teenager using half-million dollar computers to save my name/address book. Life was good. Until the computer crashed. But still…

Aids, Aides, and Accessories

Computers can't solve everything. I can't yet say, "Hey Google: Where are my glasses?" which is why I keep a half dozen pairs scattered around the house in 'known' locations. Damn squirrels.

But we come ever closer. Apple markets AirTags, which look like half-size key fobs. Attach it to my key ring and, if I happen to misplace my keys, I can say, "Hey Siri: Where are my keys?"

(You might think I often lose my keys or wallet, but I don't. I have one place for each and I'm well-trained to put them in place.)

They're also useful for items that might be potentially stolen– purses, briefcases, luggage, someone’s wandering child. ("Mrs Lundin, dis is Benny de Snatcher. We got your boy. How much we gotta pay if we return him?")

Aids, Aides, and Assistants

Amid all this verbal perambulating, I offer my methods of using computers to help organize and write. Sure, we know the obvious: proper formatting (real tabs, double space, etc.), spell checking and sometimes grammar. That’s handy, but computers shine at research.

Sure, we have Google, Bing, Yahoo, Duck-Duck-Go, and DogPile, but I need to collect notes. I want to copy articles in case they go away. What to do? Excel and text processors are 'okay', but I wanted more than a digital filing cabinet. Cross-platform could be a great goal too: Mac, Windows, Android, iPad.



I snapped awake one night (all right, one afternoon) and realized I could apply my programming background to create sort of Post-It notes on web pages. Before I began, I swept the web to find out if anyone else had hit upon the same idea, and it’s happened indeed. Some very smart person not only had created web page Post-Its, but also provided marker-style high-lighting! Better yet, they introduced a free version.



What if I wanted to organize and store articles? I tried Pocket. My phone and tablets had limited space back then and Pocket was large, comparable to OneNote. That might not be a concern today, but back then when I needed the space, I deleted it.

Like OneNote and similar to Diigo, Pocket plants a Pocket icon in the menu bar. To bookmark or copy an article, click on the Pocket icon.



I can never remember the name of the EverNote app, only its logo, an elephant, which presumably never forgets. They're light on free storage, but it is popular with students. Check it for yourself.



Microsoft sells OneNote and way back, they should have been ashamed. Using it brought back those caustic jokes that Microsoft uses their customers to stress-test their programs, and Microsoft doesn’t recognize a bug until every single user on the planet has reported it. Oh Lord, OneNote was horribly buggy. Ofttimes the Android version wouldn’t save articles. On other platforms it lost data, but when following up, I found a remedy of sorts: Sync the data each time the program opens. This prevents the Android version trampling on the iOS data and crushing the laptop versions.

Microsoft spent years to get a handle on OneNote problems. These days it’s fairly clean, although I continue to hit the Sync All command whenever I open it. Reading between the corporate lines, Microsoft would love to sell the product but it had been so troublesome, they permit customers to use it for free. OneNote fits in nicely with the paid Mac version of MS Office, so I’ve settled upon it.

Its interface is idiosyncratic but no longer erratic. Unlike other offerings that copy articles and not much more, users can create notebooks, sections within each notebook, and pages within each section. Pages can contain pretty much anything: rich text, pictures, audio recordings and videos, snippets of conversation, and sketches you might make. Clicking the OneNote icon in the menu bar or the Share button on mobile devices offers a number of choices for saving articles. It stores data in Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud, which allows the user to access it multiple ways.

I create notebooks for each project I’m working on, a notebook named SleuthSayers that contains sections on news (with a subsection for Florida news), writing, fraud, and miscellaneous notes, and a personal notebook with multiple sections. The interface is quirky, but you may find it suits you.

But wait, there’s more!



One product that didn’t pass my research test I keep around… In fact, it’s called Keep introduced by Google a few years ago. When they proposed discontinuing it, a public outcry kept it alive.

Compared to the other programs above, it’s not especially suitable for writerly research, but it is perfect for personal use in several ways. Its interface resembles those Post-Its we spoke of above. Double-clicking on a note expands it for better readability and editing. Notes can use any color with or without to-do-type checkboxes. Checkbox items can have sublists.

I keep (see what they did there?) a couple of general reminders, technical notes I picked up whilst wandering, security alarm codes for friends (without personal identifying information), field notes, a couple of items to ask my doctor on the next visit, library book list, and shopping lists… multiple checkbox shopping lists for groceries, hardware, Costco, Walmart, and so on. Moreover, many of them are linked to friends, so whoever arrives at a given store can pick up items for me or vice versa. If one of us thinks of an add-on item, we enter it on our device and it appears automatically on theirs.

Note: The above link is the general Google Keep page where you can download mobile apps. To visit the web page for notes from your computer, you’ll use:

Bad News / Good News

Common to all these programs, if you lose your phone or drop your tablet off a Pacific Coast cliff, your data is still available. And it all can fit in your pocket.

Have you tried these? What do you think?

03 April 2022

Tattwo Parley

In 2005, a Chicago man opted for a tattoo to honor his home city. It was a great tat with ornate lettering. He went for it, Chi-town. Except when he returned home, he discovered it read Chi-Tonw.


Oops. He sued the tattoo business, but since he’d signed off on the template (made with antique transparency machines!), some sort of settlement was reached. Curiously, it started a fad with other Chicagoans getting their own Chi-Tonw art.

Me, I think bare skin is beautiful, but I may be an exception. I knew a guy who had trouble paying his rent, but he estimated he’d paid out $20,000 for his skin art. He claimed it was an investment.

You might think a tattoo would be something to proofread twice over, but alas, spelling seems to be that last thought, not the first. Chinese lettering is especially troublesome where a single stroke can completely change a meaning. Just because your artist might look Asian, it doesn’t necessarily imply he knows Chinese. Apparently the following means ‘hooker’.


The following guy preempted questions with the wording: “I don’t know. I don’t speak Chinese.”

Undecorated: I don’t know. I don’t speak Chinese. Decorated: I don’t know. I don’t speak Chinese.
“I don’t know. I don’t speak Chinese.” Fully decorated. © NextShark

As Ray Bradbury demonstrated, everyone has a story. Unfortunately, many students weren’t paying attention in Mrs. Henshaw’s English class. In the following, the contraction you’re seems especially troubling.

Your blood, Mrs. Henshaw’s tears.

Know Your Alive

When in doubt, double down.

The Cards Your Delt


I'm Awsome!

And sometimes we make the wrong Choises.

Life is a Choise

That's no excuse.

Everyone Elese Does

I'm soooo jalous of the punctuation.

Are You Jalous&

God and Mrs. Henshaw

ONly God Will Juge Me

Except lack of a spell-checker.

Regret Nohing

Stating the Obvious.

Somke Weed

Revolutionary 101, it's Systsemic.

ƒ the Systsem

As the James Bond franchise wore on…

Tomarrow Never Knows

Now that's just sad.

Tradgey • Comedy

Uh, okay, I get it. I'm outta here.

Your Next
neutered male symbol, male with bar through it

But wait, there’s more.

While researching, I came across a charming story about a guy who’d adopted a rescue dog from a pound. The dog had been tattooed, and the new owner felt badly for it. In solidarity with his new pet, he had the same tattoo burned into his skin. Aww, sweet!

Normally the story would end there, but the innocent owner hadn’t checked out the meaning of the tattoo.
It meant ‘neutered’.

Unless otherwise noted, pictures © Sverige2

29 March 2022

You’re Only Famous When You Die

Leigh Lundin was the first to notify me of my untimely death, when he emailed me on March 16:

Michael, while speaking this morning with my friend Cate in South Africa, she bloody nearly gave me a stroke.

She: “I’m sorry to hear about your friend, the one we were just talking about.” (We’d been talking about how prolific you and John Floyd are, masters of quality and quantity.)

Me: “What? Who are you talking about?”

She: “Michael Bracken. I saw his obit. It’s online.”

Me: “No!”

She pulled up the article and read it to me. Whew. It quickly became clear the obituary was referring to someone else, BUT… here’s the kicker. That early edition of the article spoke of the novels and numerous short stories you’d written, mentioned EQMM/AHMM, and that you’re editor of Black Cat. They conflated your career with the other guy!

Cate emailed me the URL, but by the time I got it this evening, the mix-up had been resolved. I regret I couldn’t get a copy to show you the conflation, but better for us, they had the wrong Michael B. I don’t know if there’s a way to get that early copy. I include the URL below.

I haven’t said anything to anyone else in case you might find an article/story in this, Michael. AND—this is exciting—you are definitely renown internationally.

I often wonder what will be written about me after my death and, apparently, I almost found out.

But I do wonder, so much so that I once attempted to draft my own obituary when I suspected no one in my family would do it justice. After I discovered that the cost to publish my bloviated paean to myself would cost my heirs more than I’ve earned for most of my short stories, I decided the paltry inheritance I’m bequeathing them—what is the going rate for half a ton of recyclable paper?—might better be spent on a twelve-pack of Mountain Dew to be shared at the Wake while everyone listens to “Highway to Hell” and “Stairway to Heaven” in an unending loop because I want all my bases covered.

So how is it we wish to be remembered after we’re gone? Loving parent and devoted spouse? Or hermit-like creature whose occasional screeds entertained tens of people? Will the list of the left-behind be a litany of children’s and grandchildren’s names or a screen capture showing all the unfinished manuscripts residing on our hard drive?

Either way, most of us are likely to be forgotten soon after our passing… unless we have stories in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine’s submission queue. Then we will live forever.

Until then, may you live long enough for your friends to read your obituary and to express relief that the report of your death had been greatly exaggerated.

20 March 2022

Fun with Fugitives and Pharmaceuticals

I’m keeping it short today because I’m including links you’ll want to follow. They’re too funny for words.

bus before

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Next year marks the 30th anniversary of Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. (No, I can’t believe 30 years either.)

Much of the story centered around Chicago but North Carolina made out damn well in the filming. The most iconic scenes took place there– the train/bus wreck and the leap from the damn spillway.

The bus and train are still there outside of Sylva / Dillsboro / Bryson City. The director’s mother didn’t tell him to clean up after himself, so they’re rusting in an accidental one-man’s-trash-is-another’s-roadside attraction. And yes, they crashed a real train into a real bus on the Great Smoky Railroad rather than in Illinois.

bus and engine after

The scene turned out slightly more spectacular than they’d planned. Tests and calculations showed an ideal speed of 36mph (60kmph), but Tammy the Train, excited by her film debut, dashed off at 45mph (72kmph).

But it was worth it, wasn’t it? Compare the real thing with the improbable train versus helicopter CGI physics of Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible 3 flick.

The dam scene took place at Cheoah Dam. One of the hospital scenes was shot in Jackson County as well.

Me, I’m not going to visit. Bad things happen every time I step foot in North Carolina. (No, don’t write. You have no idea.)

It’s the Drugs, Man.

I didn’t come there to discuss dams and damages. Remember, the plot set out to learn why a one-armed man murdered Richard Kimble’s wife. Gradually we learn it has something to do with marketing a drug, Provasic, developed and manufactured by Devlin-Macgregor Pharmaceuticals.

As I was researching a project, I stumbled upon Devlin-Macgregor’s web site. To my surprise, they offer a very different conspiracy scenario from the film, possibly on the advice of Elizabeth Holmes. Be sure to check out their other fine products, Narcogesic and Solarresti, the only prescription mRNA inhibitor that provides fortified protection against all single and two-shot COVID-19 “vaccines” (1/3 the way down their home page) and their employment page.

Just don’t die laughing.

06 March 2022


Kristen Bell
Kristen Bell

The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window

It sounds like an answer sheet absent punctuation from a John Floyd quiz. Instead, it’s the title of a Netflix series. Although I dodged it for a while, I was pretty sure I knew what I was getting into.

(As long as we’re mentioning quizzes, if you’ve seen the series, what are some of the novels and movies they’re parodying?)

Windows 2022

It began with Jimmy Stewart’s spying-out-the-window genre perfected by Hitchcock. You know the one, Perry-Mason-gone bad, often mimicked, never equaled. But perfection doesn’t stop writers and movie-makers from trying.

TWITHATSFTGITW parodies the many novels turned into made-for-TV movies. Kristen Bell plays Anna, an alcoholic Veronica Mars. She embraces the rôle seriously and she makes it work. The characters, the writers, the directors… they make the result hilarious. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but an appreciation of the craft and the skewering of tropes that just… (stab) won’t… (stab) die.

Mailbox Technologist
Mailbox Technologist

And yet, the series is controversial. One (amateur?) movie reviewer hated it intensely, calling it immoral, foul, and raged about rampant nudity throughout, including “shirtless men, women in undergarments.” (gasp!) I vaguely recall one scene with nudity, but most of the outrage came from those who didn’t understand it was a parody. Sheesh, folks. Read the fourteen word title! (An exception was Yahoo’s critic– bless her candor– who admitted up front it took her several episodes before she caught on, and then she liked it.)

Let’s just say I figured out the murderer, more a guess than a deduction because I was getting into the twisted minds of the show runners. That penultimate scene broke a major rule of mystery writing. And I think it was episode 3 that didn’t merely shatter a similar rule, it crushed it, crumbled it, pulverized it, demolecularized and obliterated it. Even my bent sense of humor went, “I don’t believe they did that.” And yet, it was perfect, absurdly perfect.

Setting aside the torch I carry for Veronica Mars, my favorite character was the mailbox technologist who, day after day, wrestled to get it working right, even entirely dismantling it to start all over. It’s one of those sly bits along with the novels Anna reads, like The Woman Across the Lake, and that Anna has poured so much wine, she can brim a glass to the very drop.

I can’t reveal more except to say by the end of the show, she gives up wine.

For vodka.

Quiz Answers

Not counting the granddaddy of the subgenera, The Rear Window, what are some of the novels and movies TWITHATSFTGITW parodied? These are suggestions mostly from The Independent:

Kristin Bell and Jameela Jamil
Kristin Bell and Jameela Jamil
  • The Woman in the Window
  • The Exorcist
  • Copycat
  • Fatal Attraction
  • Final Analysis
  • Flightplan
  • The Girl on the Train
  • The Hand that Rocks the Cradle

What do you think?

Okay, okay, so Jameela Jamil made my heart pound and my blood pulse in The Good Place. Or the Bad Place. It was the script, see. Yeah, the script.

20 February 2022


This is the good part, the part you mustn’t miss. Later, you can skip the opinion stuff.

In the 1960s, scientist John B. Calhoun conducted a large-scale social experiment, Mouse Utopia (not to be confused with Canadian psychologist Bruce K. Alexander’s much better known drug-related experiment called Rat Paradise or Rat Park). Mice were given everything life could want, endless food, water, medical care, toys, sex, nesting material, and 'condos'. Only a year into the experiment, society started to break down.

After a spate of violence, the rodents became less sociable, eschewed sex, abandoned motherhood, and spent all day eating, sleeping, grooming, and ignoring others. They gave up mating. They gave up socializing. The final birth occurred after only 20 months. After 2⅓ years, the colony went extinct.

At first, sociologists tried to draw conclusions about overpopulation and aberrant behavior, giving us the expression ‘behavior sink’. But as the utopian world declined, psychologists reached another conclusion– too much comfort isn’t good for us. We need challenge. We need adversity. We need want.

This concept is portrayed in the movie, Wall-e.

Worse than merely not being good for us, too much comfort is deadly. And it doesn’t take much to start the descent. We need challenges to remain strong.

Calhoun wrote that the animals died in spirit before they died in fact.

house mouse

06 February 2022

Mailorder Murder

Few things are sadder than suicide, the hopeless decision to end one’s life. Amazon is making it easy with an old product marketed in new ways. The same sort of web sites that promote foolish vaccination theories also promote ways to commit suicide. Sadly, that information is a bit more accurate.

Anyone familiar with wines knows of sulfites, nitrates, and nitrites. One or more is thought to cause red wine headache (RWH) although the evidence is contradictory and white wines often contain more of the compounds than reds.

Sodium nitrate and nitrite figure heavily in chocolate, coffee, and processed meats. Sodium nitrite and nitrate are used as a food preservative and give hotdogs and corned beef that unique pinkish hue. Sodium nitrite can kill Clostridium botulinum (botulism) and Listeria, helping to prevent food poisoning.

But it’s not all good news.

Sodium nitrate occurs naturally in some vegetables, fruits, grains and converts to sodium nitrite, an antioxidant, upon the tongue. Medically, sodium nitrite can treat cyanide poisoning, one of the great ironies. It can be used to bring about suicide and prevent suicide.

The New York Times reveals a scandal

As the New York Times reports, those intent upon suicide are turning to on-line ordering sodium nitrite. Consumers can buy a $10 bottle or a 25kg bag of sodium nitrite.

Amazon is taking the brunt of on-line orders, although other social media platforms disseminate instructions along with suicide ideology. But once Amazon’s buying pattern algorithms kicked in, it began to suggest items to aid in suicide.

As history has shown, what can be used for suicide can be used for homicide. We live in a fictional world, but we have to be mindful of the real planet where miscreants wander among us.

The New Yorker reveals a mystery

As for suicide, the claim of a painless passage isn’t true. An intriguing deadly mystery in New York in 1944 described eleven men who’d succumbed to the poison.

Victims capable of reporting their status mention headaches, sometimes splitting headaches.

sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate chemical structures

Symptoms include:

  • Bluish skin from a lack of oxygen,
  • Difficulty breathing,
  • Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting,
  • Dark brown blood,
  • Dehydration from loss of bodily fluids,
  • Fast pulse, dizziness, weakness,
  • Abdominal pain,
  • Convulsions,
  • Coma.

Importantly, here are a few ways from the CDC to treat sodium nitrite poisoning.

  • Intubation and oxygen treatment,
  • Gastric lavage,
  • Methylene blue, antidote for nitrite poisoning.

Please, live long and prosper.

23 January 2022

Company Town, Part 2

Last week we peeked in on a Florida spy town and a couple of planned utopian communities. Today we’ll visit a few other curious ‘company towns’.

Celebration, Florida postcard

No Mickey Mouse Operation

Walt Disney World is the only corporation I know that’s also a government entity greater than a township, for most purposes a Florida county, the Reedy Creek Control District. Its handpicked residents comprise a few Disney loyalists who ‘vote’ whatever needs voting on. RCCD provides the government-friendly structure for WDW and Disney controls RCCD.

Disney also built the town of Celebration. While retaining critical properties and office buildings, Disney sold houses and apartments to those who could pay, guided with an invisible three-fingered hand through its homeowners association.

Nothing is nefarious. Buyers either agree to ultra-strict rules involving their property or they buy somewhere else without an HOA.

But once upon a time, a trouble-making scofflaw was afoot. In the dark of night, a wicked, subversive rebel crept through Celebration’s oak and cypress. He ducked under well-groomed hanging moss, and planted pink plastic flamingos on neighbors manicured lawns. Plastic pink flamingos (PPF) were strictly forbidden.

The community was outraged! Worse, the PPFs seemed to breed and multiply. These crimes had to be stopped before society collapsed.

The sheriff’s department investigated. Security Officer Obie took 8x10 glossy photographs and fingerprinted the PPFs. Twice they almost captured the miserable miscreant, but the perpetrator faded into the shadows before police could turn their cars around. Terrified residents claimed a chilling voice laughed with abandon, “Mwah-ha-ha-hah.”

Early one morning the tables turned. Authorities caught the bad guy pink-handed, populating neighbors’ lawns with PPF.

Except he was also a good guy. A local minister on a mission, a pastor with a passion for challenging authority whilst having fun.

But fun is precisely how evil takes root. Prosecutors proposed a fine and the PPF reign of terror came to an end.

Holiday tip: Evenings in Celebration are a fun place to visit during the Christmas season with caroling and Disney ‘snow’. (The flakes are made from a soapy substance.)

Sarasota, Florida postcard

The Circus Comes to Town

In years past, baseball teams, carnivals, and circuses liked to winter in Florida. Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey favored the Gulf Coast. In 1927, Ringling bought property in Sarasota and the influx of circus residents influenced the look and feel of the town.

Forty-some miles distant, the ‘The World’s Strangest Couple’, 8½-feet tall Al Tomaini and his 2½-foot tall wife, Jeanie, built a camp at the hamlet of Gibsonton. They established a fire department and police department. The fledgling town became popular with so-called carney ‘freaks’ and sideshow denizens. It became a home where folks couldn’t be judged by outsiders. It developed a carnival ambiance with bright lights and tents, and a sense that residents awaited a call to the big top.

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey combined shows, buying up additional land in Florida, including Haines City, where entrepreneurs built Circus World and later Boardwalk and Baseball.

Circuses no longer bore the cachet of turn-of-the-century traveling entertainment extravaganzas. Perhaps Circus World’s park was too close to Disney or too far, but various owners struggled to make a profit. Visitors can sense theme park desperation, and the Haines City projects were doomed.

Meanwhile, tourists were welcomed to visit Ringling’s Sarasota estate with its museums and entertainment venues. Perhaps the most fascinating was an extensive diorama explaining the complex operation of a traveling circus, from the advance man who visited towns arranging for an empty field, permits, water, feed, food, and other servicing, to the clean-up crew that followed the circus. It portrayed the kitchens, medical staff, the vets, the accountants and bookkeepers, housing, administration, and security. Little wonder running off to join the circus fascinated little boys.

Cassadaga, Florida postcard

I Foresee a Town…

The town of Cassadaga calls itself the Psychic Capital of the World. The village isn’t what I expected. I don’t understand: It has road signs. Residents listen to weather reports. Posters advertise clairvoyant meetings. Hey, shouldn’t psychic citizens simply know?

Seers have no shortage of prophecies and prognostications when it comes to criminal cases. Invariably, predictions prove wrong.

In 1979, St. Cloud, Florida police relied upon Cassadaga fortune tellers rather than criminal science to assist in the homicide of a preacher's wife. They failed miserably.

In 2008, nearly ninety psychics weighed in on the search for little Caylee Anthony. Having pointed police in wrong directions, they failed miserably.

Perhaps most embarrassing was a 2001 case of missing Lillian Martin and her grandson, Joshua Bryant. Cassadaga mediums claimed…

  • A trucker abducted them.
  • The grandmother killed the grandson.
  • The parents killed both the grandmother and the boy.

Wrong. The body of Joshua would be found three years later  virtually on Cassadaga’s doorstep, the victim of a confessed killer.

The FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children maintain that to their knowledge, psychic detectives have never solved a single missing-person case, not one, not ever.

Clearwater, Florida postcard

Imagine a secretive organization…

  • infiltrating more than a hundred US government agencies, embassies, and foreign powers using 5000 or more spies and agents.
  • engaging through its intelligence arm in kidnappings, burglaries, wiretapping, false imprisonment, covert surveillance, and attempted assassinations.
  • declaring war on the FBI and IRS, and breaking into federal courthouses, DoJ and IRS offices.
  • plotting bombings.
  • framing a reporter for murder.
  • framing the mayor of a Florida city for sexual impropriety and reckless/drunken driving.
  • infiltrating newspapers critical of the organization.
  • disappearing the wife of its beloved leader, David Miscavige.
  • taking over a Florida city at the same time it declares itself a victim of persecution.

Now imagine this is no foreign power, no insidious 007 SMERSH, but instead a cult/church/corporation/criminal enterprise called Scientology. We’re talking the religion founded on a bet amongst science fiction writers, a bet gone horribly wrong.

Scientology’s internal Guardian’s Office operates as an intelligence bureau to investigate Scientology’s ‘enemies’. The FBI uncovered an astonishingly lengthy list of clandestine operations. While posing as a religion, Scientology regards its tenets and teachings as trade secrets, its symbols trademarked properties, and, unlike a real church, doesn’t hesitate to take opponents to court. The Church of Scientology (CoS) has not hesitated to use illicit and illegal means to silence its critics.

Scientology fought a ‘war’ with the IRS for recognition as a real religion, eventually overwhelming the agency with unceasing political and legal pressure, as well as infiltrating the IRS and other government bodies.

Shelly Miscavige, wife of current CEO David Miscavige has not been seen since 2006, notwithstanding a reported sighting by the National Enquirer. Former members believe she is held captive at the Church’s compound outside San Bernardino. Although not claiming to have seen her face to face, Los Angeles police believe they spoke with her by telephone.

For the past half century, Scientologists have attempted to surreptitiously take over the city and government of Clearwater. Around 2000, the ‘church’ doubled its land holdings via a thousand secret purchases through shell companies. They've bought up much of the city's waterfront. In a downtown sale of a lot, the seller chose to sell it to the city at a third of the price the 'Church' had offered. Unsurprisingly, the Church sued, claiming religious discrimination. In an attempted coup d’état, Scientologists plotted smear campaigns against the mayor in an attempt to remove him from office.

To me, the most compelling crimes inflicted by the cult of Scientology were against author Paulette Cooper. At the height (or depth) of the plots against her, Scientologists attempted to sue her and her father into bankruptcy, defame her with false accusations about pedophilia and other rumors, and ultimately frame her for bomb plots. At one point they planned to attack her (and according to one report assassinate her) outside Clearwater.

Exciting times. Rather than leave upon a sour note, Let’s visit a couple of company towns outside Florida.

Hershey, Pennsylvania postcard

Hershey, Pennsylvania

Mmm, chocolate. It’s a tasteful company town, for sure. Milton Hershey founded the town in 1903 for company workers and their families. Hershey-built homes provided the most modern amenities of the era, including electricity, indoor plumbing, and central heating. The town maintained a public trolley, free schools including a vocational school to train orphans and the underprivileged. In later years, Hershey built parks, golf courses, a community center, a sports center, a zoo, and an amusement park.

When I visited as a teenager, I took the factory tour, but the part that stuck in my mind was the street lamps– they were shaped like Hershey Kisses, some silvery with the tag of paper in the foil, some just chocolate as shown in the photograph.

Naked City’s Sundial
Naked City’s Sundial

Naked City, Indiana

An hour south of Chicago, a pair of nudist resorts outside of Roselawn, Indiana saw the 1930s launch of a different kind of company town. At one time, the village hosted the Mister and Miss Nude pageants. The state brought obscenity charges against Naked City, which included the showing of an X-rated film, and brought about the resort’s demise. It is now called Sun Aura, which seems to have retained the famous leggy sundial sculpture (at right).

Hoosiers need not worry. Indiana has other nudist camps and colonies, including Our Haven Nature Sanctuary in the town of French Lick, which…

Hey Janice! Stop giggling. Eve! Decorum, you two. Stop it! Ladies! Behave!