Showing posts with label news. Show all posts
Showing posts with label news. Show all posts

05 July 2020

Florida Number 1 !


coronavirus
Few recognize the name François-Marie Arouet but probably know his pseudonym, Voltaire. An advocate for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state, he’s little known for writing one of the earliest detective stories and some of the first science fiction, truly a writer ahead of his time.

Voltaire is best known for a satire, Candide, in which “all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds.”

And here, in the best of all possible Floridas, we’re setting daily records! For, umm, coronavirus infections. We’re bigger than Texas! We’re bigger than California! We’re bigger than New York!

Florida! We’re number 1! We’re number 1! Er, wait…

COVID-19 coronavirus infections per day
COVID-19 coronavirus deaths per day

We recently broke 10 000 COVID-19 infections per day. Yesterday’s increment came in at 11 458 as the state approaches 200 000 cases and more than 3700 deaths.

Meanwhile the United States is quickly closing in on 3-million infections. It seemed only days ago we wondered if the nation’s death toll would hit 100 000, but already it’s 131 549 and growing. Once our infectious response teams led the world. Now third world nations shun us.

The US has 4¼% of the world’s population, but more than 25% of global infections… and deaths. Yet, in this best of all possible Candide worlds, 41½% of Americans think our government acted just peachy. Ironically, one of the organs the coronavirus attacks is the brain.

US world population versus infections

This is today’s take home message. I don’t give a damn what your politics are. I simply ask you to error on the side of caution and stay safe.

Additional Risk Factors
  • Age– the older you are, the more you’re at risk.
  • Sex– males are 6 times more likely to succumb than females.
  • Race– blacks are more susceptible than whites.
  • Blood– A and AB types pose a significantly higher risk.
How to Be Smarter than the BBC

If you can bear with the numbers a moment longer, the death rates bandied by news outlets, including the venerable BBC, are often in error. Their non-mathematicians typically divide the number of deaths by the number of cases– wrong! To get the correct number, simply divide deaths by the number of recovered patients. In other words,

COVID-19 Death Rates as of 4th July 2020
525 491 ÷ 5890052 = 0.0892 or 8.9% worldwide
131 549 ÷ 864 996 = 0.1520 or 15% nationwide

22 September 2019

Florida News – Boobs, Bars, and T-Shirts


by Leigh Lundin

Florida postcard
An Eagle, a Fish, and a Dolphin walk into a sandbar

There’s this baseball game, see, and an osprey carrying a fish– ospreys look quite a bit like bald eagles– but, well, and this Dolphin catches the fish…

Wait. I’m way behind bringing news of the nation’s craziest state, stories both current and of recent history. Amaze your friends at your foresight not living in the land of the loony. Better read it for yourself.

To ride, you must be this high.

An out-of-state great-granny saves her shekels to vacation with her family at Walt Disney World. Like others her age, she suffers various aches and pains, shrugged off in a nation that hates to hand out pain medication. Fortunately, her home state of North Carolina allows her to medicate with CBD oil, an extract of cannabis, the hemp plant. Unfortunately, Florida forbids. A Disney security guard spots the bottle with tincture of THC and arrests the dangerous felon. The good news: our local controversial assistant state attorney, Aramis Ayala, refuses to prosecute.

Flintstone car © Hanna-Barbera
Yabba-Dabba-Doofus

Not just grandmothers. What other place would arrest Fred Flintstone for speeding? (Check the photos. I love the guy’s imagination, I really do.)

Battling Boobs

Waddya do when you think another mother dresses too sexily? You expose her, of course… literally.

Bouncing Boobs

Bouncing off the pavement, in fact. In the early morning hours, a drunk guy leaves strip bar and falls from his truck. Truck continues without driver, not good news.

And Still More Boobs

In the back of a police car, no less. Lordy, lordy, how drunk must one be. Thanks to Sharon for this one.

Revenge, a Dish best served with a Tip

Girl-boy argue. Girl takes boy’s credit card. Girl dines alone. Girl leaves tip. Girl arrested.

Facebook, I keep warning you!


Dummy burglars steal a safe. They can’t resist bragging on Facebook. Helpful hint: Cops visit Facebook too.

@ University of Tennesee T-shirt by Florida 4th grader
Volunteers

We go all the way to Tennessee to find a Florida feel-good story. A 4th grader who makes his own fan T-shirt finds himself derided by the mean girls. When the University of Tennessee hears about the bullying, they buy the design and offer the child a free scholarship eight years from now. Got to love my new favorite university.

28 September 2017

The Goodfellas Return to South Dakota


South Dakota made it to the national news this week, thanks to Rep. Lynne DiSanto, R-Box Elder, and State Legislature Whip, who posted an image earlier this month on Facebook or some such social media:

  

After people called her out on the meme, she took it down and wrote:  “I am sorry if people took offense to it and perceived my message in any way insinuating support or condoning people being hit by cars.  I perceived it differently. I perceived it as encouraging people to stay out of the street.” Yeah, right. That's why she commented:
"I think this is a movement we can all support. #alllivessplatter"  

To be fair, as some of us have noted, she's from West River, where there's a wee bit of racism. That's where I was denied a motel room 27 years ago because they thought I looked Native American.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, 
has the lowest per capita income in the country.
That's where, for 2018, the Native Americans of Tripp, Dewey, Jackson, and Buffalo Counties will be provided only 9 days of the official 46 days allotted for early voting at one satellite center each for the Rosebud, Cheyenne, Pine Ridge, and Crow Creek Reservations, respectively.  Why? you might ask. (Although you may also have already ferreted out the reason.) Because that's all that the county commissioners asked for, according to Secretary of State Shantel Krebs.

NOTE 1: There's $9 million in the kitty for early satellite voting centers for South Dakota Native Americans. "Buffalo County auditor Elaine J. Wulff requested $2,100 to open the Crow Creek satellite voting station on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for three weeks in October 2018."  (Dakota Free Press)  (Indian Country Media Network)

NOTE 2:  For those worried about fraudulent voters, I can assure them that each and every person on the reservations was born in this country, and their ancestors have been in the Americas for thousands of years.

And, in answer to the question you may not have asked, Yes, most SD county commissioners are white.

DiSanto did lose her job - real estate - and she was dropped by the group Working Against Violence, Inc., as a speaker from an upcoming event.  But our own South Dakota legislature refused to reprimand her in any way.  (Argus Leader 1 and Argus Leader2)  And no, I'm not surprised.  After all, it was just a couple of weeks ago that the Minnehaha County Republicans sponsored a "Liberty Rally" at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Sioux Falls. About 80 people, including five state legislators and two Republican gubernatorial candidates, showed up to listen to a New Zealand writer and filmmaker named Trevor Loudon urge South Dakota to pass laws labeling Muslim advocacy and student organizations as hate groups and block Muslim refugees and immigrants from even entering the state.  (I guess we need to build a wall around South Dakota, too...) Argus Leader 3

But enough about that.  What about money?

Remember Gear Up, the federal program to help give Native American students scholarships? Remember Scott Westerhuis, who apparently embezzled $1.4 million and then, when it was all about to come out, killed himself, his wife, his four children, and set fire to his house and destroyed everything (except for the safe, which is still missing)?  Well, the latest twist is that Legislative Auditor General Marty Guindon has done a new audit, and said that the funds used for the Gear Up grant were all returned, and South Dakota owes the feds nothing.  Huzzah!  (Argus Leader 4). Instead, Mid-Central owes $3.4 million that it stole from 14 central South Dakota public school districts via representatives of those 14 public school districts. Now, South Dakota not only wants the money back, it's suing... wait for it... the school districts! (Argus Leader 5)  Even a former Republican State Senator is appalled by this.  
Stace Nelson 2014-02-14 00-02.jpg
Stace Nelson
"The burden of ongoing corruption in SD just got real for the taxpayers in Armour, Burke, Colome, Corsica, Ethan, Gregory, Kimball, Mount Vernon, Plankinton, Platte-Geddes, Stickney, Wessington Springs, White Lake, and Wolsey-Wessington School Districts! On June 29th, the “Lead Grant Partner” to MidCentral Education Cooperative (MEC), responsible for the administration, management, and oversight of the GEAR UP grants since 2005, named those schools contracted to MEC for services in its $4.3 Million lawsuit to recoup monies fraudulently misappropriated. The “Lead Grant Partner?” The SD Department of Education (DOE)!...
"U.S. history is replete with political corruption like New York’s Tammany Hall, and the Chicago Daley political machines that robbed taxpayers from within government through cronies protected from prosecution. We are seeing the same subversion of law in South Dakota for protection of cronies, in an ever brazen fashion."  (read the rest of Republican State Senator Stace Nelson's op-ed here at Dakota Free Press)  
Tri-Valley school boardBut that's the big boys.  How can we, as individuals, do our part to participate in gaming the system? So glad you asked.  Meet Tri-Valley school superintendent Mike Lodmel, who figured out a quick way of getting more funding for his school.  He invited all the homeschoolers in the area to attend school on September 29 to receive a free laptop.  Interestingly, September 29th was the day that the state took its official student enrollment count to figure out the district state aid for next year.  Each and every homeschooler that showed up meant $3,000 more for Tri-Valley.  Well, the governor's office heard about this and shut it down. Mr. Lodmel sent letters to all the homeschoolers, withdrawing the offer of a free laptop. He also said that his attorney said the plan didn't break any laws. "Frankly, our district has rescinded the offer because (I feel) moving forward just wouldn't be worth it... I honestly didn't believe this would be 'such a big deal." (Argus Leader 6)  

Although it's irrelevant to Mr. Lodmel's funding idea, Mr. Lodmel is also the man who made Tri-Valley the first district in South Dakota to utilize the 2013 school sentinal law, allowing school employees to carry firearms...

Like I said, this is South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 

23 July 2017

Florida News, Moral Retardation


Florida postcard
Florida madness waits for no one. The Sunshine State exists merely to make other states feel better. Usually I adopt a mocking stance, but sometimes the subjects are too dark, too sick for levity. Two of the most disturbing stories– one about a truly sick honeymooning couple– I’ve removed from today’s lineup. At least we finish with a warming palate cleanser. Let the revue begin.

Water Hazard

Tampa, FL.  Golf courses once employed kids to retrieve wayward balls from ponds, lakes, and water hazards. In Florida, courses can get a bit rough. Ask Scott Lahodik. He’s worked as a golf ball search-and-rescue professional for nearly three decades. Recently a Charlotte alligator violently objected to Lahodik disturbing his collection. Lahodik thinks it might be time to retire.

Cutting the Cord

Deland, FL.  A professional skydiver chose to die doing what he loved. This might have been easier to take if it weren’t for people who loved him.

How Bow Dah

Boynton Beach, FL.  Without adding to her publicity/notoriety, a 13-year-old girl has become (in)famous for bad behavior and poor enunciation. Violent and apparently proud of bottomless ignorance, she appeared on Dr. Phil where she told him he wasn’t nothin’ until she graced his show. She’s also shown up in music videos, television shows, and courtrooms. Our home-grown (sort of) girl is an experience… and not a good one.

Wired

Boynton Beach, FL.  That teen girl isn’t the only bad actor from Boynton Beach. Police arrested a man with an electronic devices wired to his penis. Prosecutors will no doubt file a, er, battery of, um, charges. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the ‘electronic device’ was a GPS? That would be embarrassing.

Jacksonville, FL.  We’re not done with penises yet, but a Duval County man nearly was. He managed to shoot himself in one of the worst places he could shoot himself. This is reminiscent of the Florida woman who was, well, caught pleasuring herself with a loaded pistol. Some people like to live dangerously.

Armed and, well, Armed

Deltona, FL.  A Volusia County man shot himself in the arm. This is the USA– people shoot themselves all the time. However, this man didn’t realize it until he changed his shirt… three… days… hence. (Shh! I always wanted to use that word.)

Listen folks, this is Florida. It’s freaking hot here. People sweat. God knows how many days he’d already been wearing that garment. We should change shirts three times a day instead of every three days. I know it’s difficult to detect one’s own body odor, but how bad do you have to stink when even a bullet hole under your arm goes numb?

Voter Fraudster, Oh Yeah

Sarasota, FL.  You know who Steve Bannon is, icon of alt-right rags and radio, and a fixture in the White House. You know about the desperate quest to prove some kind– any kind– of voter fraud. The committee need look no further than Florida.

Not only did Stephen Kevin Bannon register to vote in New York, he also registered to vote in Florida. For a home address, he listed a vacant house he never lived in and scheduled to be torn down.

That’s one. Now the fraud committee has another 199,999,999 voters to check out.

Aramis Ayala

Orlando, FL.  The Supreme Court has forced Florida to back down on a number of legal issues. In its excitement to execute, SCOTUS has required capital cases to be reviewed, which resulted in instances of actual innocence. The Court also directed Florida to stop incarcerating children for life. Florida judges made paltry efforts to see that children convicted of crimes less than murder have a chance, however slim, of seeing the outside world again before they die.

Orange and Osceola Counties recently elected a black prosecutor, a major step for Florida. However, our governor (you already know my criticisms about Rick Scott) virtually stripped her of prosecutorial powers and reassigned cases to other state attorneys. To rephrase, Governor Rick Scott has removed State Attorney Aramis Ayala from major cases, nullifying our election of this woman.

Setting aside racist overtones, the crux of the matter centers around the governor’s lust for capital punishment while Attorney Aramis Ayala has expressed doubts about the morality and effectiveness of the death penalty. No doubt Scott has his Attorney General pin-up babe Pam Bondi trying to figure out a legal justification for his actions.

My opinion? Governor, WE elected her as OUR state attorney, not yours. Screw up the rest of the state and leave us alone.

Shoot First… The rules are different here.

Tallahassee, FL.  Florida proudly originated the Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law detested by police and despised by prosecutors. It’s thought to thwart prosecution of approximately one hundred homicides a year (including children), triple the average. Now Florida has introduced a new and improved SF/SYG law designed to make it even more difficult to prosecute killers in a state already in love with death.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch has ruined the party by declaring the amended law unconstitutional. Governor Scott suffered the vapors at the news and waved his blonde bombshell Attorney General Pam Bondi into action. Miss Bondage is presently trying to find a legal argument to shut down the judge’s ruling.

He Who Laughs Last…

Cocoa, FL.  No doubt you’ve heard the news that four Florida ƒ-tards stood around joking, recording, deriding and reviling a man as he drowned instead of saving him. For once, I suffer a paucity of adjectives.

The question has been raised, why do we rush to implement Shoot First / Stand Your Ground laws but don’t have a Good Samaritan law? Folks, this is Florida.

And also, why should a civilized society require laws to do the right thing? Oh yes, this is Florida. But the final story might make you feel better.

Stone the Samaritans

Lakeland, FL.  Our hysterical society has developed such a fear of men with children, it’s become dangerous for both. A Polk County man attending a softball game noticed a lost child wandering around. He tried to help her find her wayward family.

When one of her parents finally bothered to notice the little girl was missing, he ran down the man he spotted with his daughter and, attacking him from behind, badly beat him. Police tried to tell the foolish father the stranger was trying to help, but the man refused to accept that possibility. Maybe the family felt a little guilt itself, but they took to Facebook to falsely deride the man who helped and demand police arrest and prosecute the helper as a sexual predator.

He Who Writes Last…

Panama City, FL.  A family– nine people in all– found themselves in trouble and unable to swim back to shore. Good Samaritans organized a sort of bucket brigade, a chain of 30 to 50 possibly up to 80 heroes and heroines extending far into the rip tide to save the family.

Kudos and congratulations. Sometimes Floridians get it right.

21 June 2017

First Words


by Robert Lopresti

If you haven't read B.K. Stevens' most recent blog I recommend you do so now.  This is partly because it is very interesting and also because it inspired today's wisdom-dump.  I am referring specifically to the unfortunate remark the older policeman makes to the returning homeowner.

It reminded me of this scene from the classic police sitcom Barney Miller.  You want the bit that begins around 2:20.




I think it was after seeing that show that my wife and I formulated what I think of as the First Words Rule.  It states when you have to tell a friend or loved one about a bad situation that has just occurred (a car accident, a house fire, the atomic defibulator crushing the emoluments boot) the first words out of your mouth should be: Everybody's okay.  Assuming that is true, of course

Now, how does that relate to writing?  (This is a blog about writing and reading and crime, remember?)

Glad you asked.  We are looking at the difference between telling a story and telling the news.  It is natural for a storyteller to want to build up suspense, or to tell things in chronological order.  But the journalist knows that it is bad form to "bury the lede."  If you are reporting on a city council meeting and one of the members accidentally drops a bloody axe out of her purse, that's probably where you begin your piece, even if it didn't happen until New Business, way at the end of the evening.

Of course, years later when you are telling your grandchildren about your career you might want to build slowly up to the axe-drop.  But that's story-telling, not journalism.

These days fiction writers usually begin in the middle of the story, not with the journalistic lede, but as far in as they think they can go without baffling the reader.  To pick one favorite at random, here is how Earl Emerson opened Fat Tuesday:

I was trapped in a house with a lawyer, a bare-breasted woman, and a dead man.  The rattlesnake in the paper sack only complicated matters.

Not the beginning of events, but not the climax either.

You can start your story or novel wherever you see fit.  But when you're telling somebody the news, start with the most important part.
 

06 April 2017

Little Big News: ITW Nominees 2017


The International Thriller Writers have named their nominees for 2017.  COngrats to the short story finalists:
  • Eric Beetner — “The Business of Death” UNLOADED: CRIME WRITERS WRITING WITHOUT GUNS (Down & Out Books)
  • Laura Benedict — “The Peter Rabbit Killers” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
  • Brendan DuBois — “The Man from Away” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
  • Joyce Carol Oates — “Big Momma” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
  • Art Taylor — “Parallel Play” CHESAPEAKE CRIMES: STORM WARNING (Wildside Press)

08 October 2016

Mrs. Malaprop Lives!


Affectation, Henry Fielding declares in the preface to Joseph Andrews, is "the only source of the true Ridiculous."

That principle holds true for language. We may get irritated with people who confuse "your" and "you're" or "accept" and "except." Usually, though, we're not tempted to ridicule them--certainly not if they're very young or haven't had many educational opportunities, probably not even if they're well-educated adults who ought to know better. After all, everyone makes mistakes.

Unless something is so riddled with errors that it's obvious the writer didn't even try to proofread, most of us are more inclined to forgive than to ridicule. (I certainly hope you'll forgive me for any mistakes I've made in this post. It's terrifying to write on this sort of subject, knowing I could slip up at any time.)

But when writers are guilty of affectation--and especially when affectation is compounded by ignorance--ridicule begins to seem like an appropriate response. Some literary characters have become famous for sounding foolish when they try to impress others with inflated language. In Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing, Dogberry announces that he and his men have "comprehended two aspicious persons" and later declares a prisoner will be "condemned into everlasting redemption" for his misdeeds. (I checked several copies of Much Ado, by the way, and they all said "aspicious," not "auspicious." So you don't have to forgive me for that one.) In Sheridan's The Rivals, Mrs. Malaprop complains she has little "affluence" on her niece, who is "as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile." When these characters make us laugh, I think we're laughing at their affectation, not their ignorance: They become ridiculous not because they have limited vocabularies but because they're trying to show off.

And Dogberry and Mrs. Malaprop have plenty of modern descendants. "My new thriller is the penultimate in suspense!" a novelist proclaims. The poor thing probably thinks "penultimate" means "more than ultimate." But since it actually means "second to last," "the penultimate in suspense" isn't much of a boast. "If you're searching for the meaning of life," a motivational speaker says, "I can offer you a simplistic answer." The speaker could have said "simple" but probably thought it sounded too--well, simple. Instead, the speaker opted for the extra syllable, unintentionally admitting the answer he or she is about to give can't adequately explain life's complexities. "If you follow my advice," the astrologer promises a potential client, "you will always be fortuitous." The astrologer may think "fortuitous" is a more elegant way of saying "fortunate." But to the extent his or her promise means anything, it means the potential client will always be ruled by chance. In all of these examples, the real problem is affectation, not ignorance. (True, we sometimes laugh at the things people say even when there's no affectation involved. For example, it was hard not to chuckle when Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot by just watching" or "Half the lies they tell about me aren't true." But an affectionate chuckle isn't the same as ridicule. Yogi wasn't putting on airs, just scrambling things up a bit--that makes a big difference.)


People who dress up their sentences with foreign words or phrases may also be suffering from affectation affliction. I love HGTV--like Food Network, it's one of my default channels--but the constant use of en suite grates on my nerves. "Here's your magnificent master bedroom," a star of Love It or List It or some such show will say, "and here's your spa-like en suite." Then he or she throws open the door to what used to be called a master bathroom.

Has en suite become fashionable because "master bathroom" sounds politically incorrect? I don't think so. After all, the same people who use en suite still say "master bedroom"--once, I heard an HGTV host refer to a "master en suite." And if the connotations of "master bathroom" make us uncomfortable, we can always say "owner's bathroom." No, I think en suite is appealing because it has that special air of sophistication, that added note of elegance, that je ne sais quoi. In short, it's appealing because it sounds so darn French. Unfortunately, to anyone who knows even a little French, it also sounds silly. "En suite" is a phrase, not a noun; it means "in a suite," not "bathroom." Two or more rooms that form a unit might be described as rooms en suite, but referring to a single room as "an en suite" doesn't make sense.

It also doesn't make sense for invitations to ask people to "please RSVP," or for menus to say a roast beef sandwich is served with "a cup of au jus." And if the menu also lists a "soup du jour of the day"--sacre bleu! The point isn't that we all need to know French--certainly not--but that we shouldn't try to sound impressive by using words or phrases we don't really understand. The advice George Orwell offers in "Politics and the English Language" can save us from a lot of embarrassing mistakes: "Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent."

Linguistic affectation can take other forms, too. Malapropisms are silly but relatively innocent. Driven by a desire to impress, people abuse the language without realizing it. But sometimes, I think, people are so driven that they push ahead even when they're fully aware of what they're doing.

That brings us to the world of politics, and to the world of television journalism. Like many others during this election year, I've been watching far too much cable news lately. And I've heard far too many reports that go more or less like this:
Top Democratic advisors meeting today to discuss strategies for the next phase of the campaign. On the other side of the aisle, Republican spokespeople responding to the latest controversies and countering with charges of their own. And both candidates issuing statements predicting victory. In Florida, officials warning of worsening conditions. In international news, NATO leaders calling for more joint action against terrorism, North Korea announcing more missile tests, and Vladimir Putin posing shirtless for more photographs.
Here we have five so-called sentences but not a single complete verb, just a plethora of present participles. As a result, we don't really know when things are happening. Have top Democratic advisors already met today? Are they meeting now? Will they meet later this afternoon? We can't be sure. We might think the present participle at least rules out the possibility that the meeting already happened, but that's not a safe assumption. I've often heard news anchors use the present participle, without any auxiliary verbs, to refer to past events.

I don't know when this preference for verbs without tense began. Maybe it's a recent development, or maybe it's been around for a long time, and I just haven't noticed it until now because I don't usually watch so much news. It does seem to be widespread. I sampled three cable news networks to make sure, and I never had to wait long to hear an ing string. I also don't know why the trend developed. It could be that news writers are so determined to use only "strong" verbs that they avoid all forms of to be and other auxiliaries. My best guess is that news writers (or, more likely, producers or executives) decided that unadorned present participles are more dramatic than regular old verbs, that they're sexier, more immediate, more exciting. "FBI investigators revealing startling new facts"--if we don't know exactly when something is happening, we might think it's happening right now. Better stay tuned. If that's why news networks are dangling all these enticing participles in front of us, I'd say it's another form of affectation. And it's a particularly calculating form, a deliberate misuse of language to mislead and manipulate. I don't want to overstate the problem, or to suggest news networks have evil intentions. At worst, they're guilty of trying to drive up ratings, and I suppose that's natural enough. But I don't like it when people twist the language to try to limit my understanding or control my reactions. And as a long-time English professor, I know that plenty of students already have a hard time understanding what a sentence is. If the news networks are muddying the waters still further, that's a shame.

We probably can't do much to reform the language of cable news, and malapropisms of one sort or another will probably always be with us. Affectation has deep roots in the human soul. But we can at least try to keep our own use of language as free of affectation as possible. To the extent that our writing has any influence on others, we can try to make sure our influence is positive. How can we do that? I've always found some advice E.B. White offers in The Elements of Style helpful, even inspirational. "The approach to style," White says, "is by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity."

That about sums it up.

# # #

Do you have favorite examples of malapropisms, or of other forms of inflated language? I'd love to hear them.


13 October 2013

Florida News: Rich in Irony


by Leigh Lundin

I haven't been writing about Florida in recent months, not because weird stuff stopped happening here, but because the news had grown morbid and lost its humor. There's nothing funny about a grown man who ran over a young girl who'd refused him or the poor Tampa girl bullied into suicide.

But remember, this is the home of irony, where our governor, Rick Scott, who originally opposed Obamacare, still refuses to allow Affordable Care 'Navigators' into the state. The irony? Rick Scott engineered the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in our nation's history. His fines alone were $1.7-BILLION. But with the billions left over, he purchased a governorship, always for sale in Florida.

Following are a few tidbits from the Sunshine State.

Attack of the Giant Snails

For centuries, ships have brought invasive– and terribly destructive– foreign species to Florida. I personally feud with fire ants, vicious Formicidae that don't simply bite, they use acid to burn holes through the skin and kill a human when attacking en force.

Some of the most destructive plants and animals have come from hobbyists' aquariums– hydrilla, walking catfish, Asian carp, and now, straight out of 1950s scary movies… voracious snails the size of a large man's fist. Miami-Dade decided it was time to call in the dogs.

Bang-Bang, You're Suspended

The very funny Irish comedian, Dave Allen, had his index finger missing since childhood. When he was a child and played cops and robbers with his mates, chasing each other and shouting "Bang, bang!" Some of the boys challenged his stubby index finger, telling him he couldn't shoot with that. "Sure, I can," he said. "Ever hear of a snub-nose .38?"

Now comes the story of an eight-year-old Harmony boy who was playing bang-bang-shoot-em-up with his fully-loaded pretend finger pistol in this great state with the deadly Shoot First / Stand Your Ground proudly on its books.

His Osceola County school suspended him for playing bang-bang with his brother and friends, but threatening no one. As his mother pointed out, he was actually empty-handed.

Bang-bang, You're Arrested

As discussed in this column, Florida has an insane collection of gun laws ranging from the infamous Shoot First / Stand Your Ground to mandatory sentencing. More than one critic have observed that the laws were written by whites for whites and seldom work in favor of black folks.

Take the admittedly murky case of a Jacksonville mother of three, Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot to keep clear of her ex-husband. If she'd killed him, she might have defended herself with the Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law, at least if she'd been white. But since she didn't kill him, the state's mandatory sentencing kicked in, subjecting her to a twenty-year prison term, which even non-supporters feel is excessive.

Now, an appeals court has sent the case back for a retrial on a technicality. Let's hope a jury finds a way to make this right. And just in case you think Florida has left its racist roots behind with all the Northerners who've immigrated, let me remind you Florida still honors the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Civil War criminal, brilliant cavalryman and possibly racially rehabilitated Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Sing-Sing-Singultus

Remember Jennifer Mee, the Florida teenager who appeared on talk shows because she couldn't stop hiccupping? She hit a little hiccup of her own.  She's been sentenced to life imprisonment for masterminding a robbery and murder

iOpening: What the…?

Some people will do anything to get the latest Apple gadget. In this case, a woman walked into the Boca Raton Apple store with a strap-on device… nobody knows quite what it was. My guess it probably violated Apple's warranty, not to mention a possible law or two.

In the meantime, welcome to Florida, folks. No irony deficiency here.

14 July 2013

Florida News


Illegal Blogging

Be advised: In posting this article, I am violating one of Florida’s most recent laws. Signed by our illustrious Medicare governor, it bans internet cafés… and computers and tablets and smart phones. Yep, I’m a criminal. This comes two years after Florida banned sex. I can’t get away from my criminal past.

Florida bleeding
George Zimmerman Trial

Two stories dominate the news here in central Florida. First is the George Zimmerman trial which went to the jury Friday.

I happen to know one of the defense attorneys, Don West, his wife and family, although I haven’t seen him in some years. He’s a decent man and it was from him I learned that even male criminals have a back story, that most were dysfunctionally forged in childhood, some by events so terrible most of us cannot imagine.

After doing my small part to bring the Sanford shooting to the attention of readers, I haven’t written about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman in quite some time. Opinions appear to be as polarized as the prosecution and defense: Some see Zimmerman as a hero defending his neighborhood from marauding criminals ‘who always get away’ and that he merely defended himself against a violent teen who ambushed him. Using eMail blasts and doctored photos, the neo-nazi StormFront.org has partially succeeded in polluting opinions, so that casual followers might imagine Trayvon was a gang-tattooed, gold-toothed, junkie with a criminal record.

As brought out in testimony, yes, he wore two tattoos: One honoring his grandmother and the other a depiction of praying hands.

The state’s case is simpler: An innocent teen boy, minding his own business, was stalked and then waylaid by a Neighborhood Watch ward captain and wannabe cop operating outside his purview.

I suspect the truth is that George Zimmerman isn’t a vicious person and I don't conclusively intuit he’s racist. Instead, Florida’s Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law disfavors the black community and defies common sense, but in Florida, that’s no reason to change a bad law.

The news media here referred to the ‘racially charged’ testimony of Trayvon’s friend, Rachel Jeantel, sneered at by Sean Hannity. To my mind, the scene wasn’t so much racially charged as it was sadly funny, exposing the gap between a 60-something white man and a teenage black girl. A baffled Don West simply couldn’t fathom what the girl was saying. I kept thinking of the scene in Airplane when Barbara Billingsley pops up, “Oh stewardess, I speak jive.

The prosecution handed the defense several gifts, including most of their witnesses exploited by Mark O’Mara and Don West. I couldn’t believe prosecutors put Zimmerman’s best friend, Mark Osterman, on the stand, giving him a platform to present Zimmerman’s claims virtually unchallenged. WFTV’s local legal analyst, former criminal attorney Bill Sheaffer, scathingly criticized the state’s ongoing gaffes, mostly for putting forward Zimmerman’s testimony making it unnecessary and even risky for him to testify.

It does appear Trayvon took Zimmerman to ground and straddled him. After all, Zimmerman was an armed guy following Martin in the dark (against the instructions of the police 911 operator). The defense made an issue whether the pistol was pressed against Trayvon’s chest or not, whereas I’m not certain that’s critical. Indeed, the key to the defense was to portray Trayvon as the aggressor and Zimmerman the victim.

Other problems with the gun disturb me. The defense echoes Zimmerman’s contention that Trayvon grabbed Zimmerman’s weapon and yet Zimmerman somehow wrested it from Trayvon’s grasp despite the boy’s purported overwhelming strength. The big problem: How would Trayvon know about a concealed pistol in a waistband holster under George’s rain jacket in an unlit area on a rainy night? If, as Zimmerman claims, Martin managed to get him on the ground and pummeled him, I can’t imagine the boy knew Zimmerman had a gun. Either Zimmerman had already announced or even pulled out his pistol whereupon Trayvon defended himself, or Zimmerman didn’t pull out his Glock until he was already under Martin, which implies Trayvon couldn’t have known he had a pistol. To me, that’s the biggest hole obscured in the defense’s case. The state asks another question: If Trayvon straddled a supine Zimmerman and the gun was in the waistband holster as Zimmerman claims, wouldn’t Trayvon have had to climb up off the man to reach for the concealed pistol?

One other issue dismays me although it doesn’t affect the other facts of the case. Not for a second do I believe the comic book dialogue Zimmerman attributes to Trayvon: “Tonight you die, MF.” And later, after Zimmerman fired, he claims Martin stood and gasped, “You got me!” Beyond the bad B-movie lines, the medical examiner testified that after the Martin boy was shot through the lung, drowning in his own blood, he wouldn’t have been able to move, let alone stand or speak. To be clear, Mark O’Mara managed to slightly dislodge the ME’s certainty, but the overall gist remained– the shock would have prevented Trayvon from moving.

Note: We haven’t been told why, but local channel 6’s WKMG has been banned from the courthouse amid Twitter speculation it may have something to do with their interview of Sanford’s ex-police chief who’s openly critical of the mayor and city manager. WKMG was the dominant all-Casey-Anthony all-the-time news station and had been a major news source following the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Note: The trial is over. Two hours before this article went to press, the jury announced their verdict: Not Guilty.

Shooting for Fun

We don’t know many details yet, but for weeks a number of random shootings of houses and cars have plagued Kissimmee and nearby Saint Cloud, which included at least one killing and possibly two. This week, Osceola sheriff arrested four youths: two 20-year-old males, a 17-year-old girl, and the primary shooter, a 15-year-old boy.

On 24 June, Lothar Schafer bought himself and his teen son a .45 calibre Hi-Point carbine. The following day, the shootings began when the quartet of friends rode around Osceola County from midnight to dawn, shooting at houses and cars. At six one morning, the 15-year-old decided to shoot a young man at a bus stop ‘for fun.’ The same boy also stands accused of stabbing a robbery victim in the throat.

Jorge Muriel, the anguished brother of one of the accused said, “I wish I didn't grow up when guns were so common. … If people didn't have guns this wouldn't have happened.” ‘People’ in this case were all less than 21.

Details how investigators zeroed in on the youths remain sparse. We do know the Osceola Sheriff’s Department called in the local Florida Metal Detecting Club which proved its, er, mettle by finding the shell from the bus stop shooting, which linked the murder to the other shootings.

Remember the chief prosecutor in the Casey Anthony trial? Jeff Ashton announced a few hours ago he’ll prosecute the shooters. Stay tuned, my friend.

12 July 2013

The Crazy Crawl


I’m busy today, so I’m stealing a page from Leigh’s book on Florida News, but crumpling it up my own way.


I’m sometimes rather disappointed by television news. Many of the stories are interesting – at least on network evening broadcasts – but, with the exception of the NewsHour on PBS, I find most stories seem to get a bit short-changed.

Few bits, however, are less informative than the “crawl” on the morning news broadcast of a local station here in The Valley of the Sun.

The “crawl” I’m talking about, of course, is that strip of text, which slides slowly by along the bottom of the screen, as an anchor or reporter covers the day’s stories. It doesn't often have much to do with the story being reported, but is instead, I believe, supposed to serve as a sort of televised headline, letting folks know what major stories have transpired since the last news broadcast.

Evidently the idea had its origin with the thought that some viewers might tune-in after a major story had already been covered, and the newscasters wanted to be sure all viewers got at least a clue about what happened.

At any rate, that’s how the crawl seemed to make its debut.

And, these days, I’m hard-pressed to find a televised news broadcast that doesn't include a crawl. Even sportscasts tend to have recent game scores sliding inexorably by along the bottom of the screen.

On that local station I mentioned earlier, however, the crawl is something else entirely.

What is it?

Well, I’m not sure. But, I think it might be some form of odd advertisement.

Either that, or maybe somebody at the station has a problem that needs immediate attention.

Items entered in the crawl, on this station, tend to be completely disassociated with any reality that I’m familiar with. Often barely complete sentences, they usually fail to provide important information, almost invariably leaving a reader to fill in the blanks. 

Here are just a few examples, gleaned over a recent period:

The dog was found in a car at a downtown Phoenix Circle K. 

THE dog?

This begs the question: “Which dog?”

Was it this dog, or that one?

And, I’m confused: What was going on that caused its being “found” to be important? Was the dog missing, or did he do something wrong? Were the police searching for this dog, because it had committed a crime? Assaulting a Post Office employee, perhaps?

Maybe s/he (we don’t know the gender) was a circus dog with special training; perhaps s/he was driving the car, but when police tried to pull him/her over s/he sped away, only to stop at a local Circle K, with tongue lolling. Is that what happened?

OR…

Perhaps there was no dog. Maybe a woman with an abrasive personality was found in a car at a local convenience store (that’s what a “Circle K” is, for those who don’t know), and the witness who relayed events to the reporter described the woman in unflattering terms, and the reporter misunderstood what the witness said, thus concluding that a dog had been in the car instead of a woman.

I don’t know. There was no story about ANY dog, that I saw, on that morning’s broadcast. On the other hand, I didn't see any stories about a woman being found in a car, either.

The family was living in a rented home, when it burned down according to Mesa Police. 

No, I can’t tell you anything about this family. There was no story on the broadcast about a home fire, or a family that had been burned out by one. Not even the Mesa Police showed up on the broadcast – even though the way the sentence was written, it would almost appear that the police have been implicated in arson. 

The car fire has been extinguished and the city says the intersection will be open at 10:00 am today. 

Thank god this one was posted on a different day, or I might have been led to believe that the family above was living in their car. I wonder what intersection was closed for awhile?

Tito said Thursday, baseball’s drug agreement could be undermined by leaks to the media about whether players are cooperating with an investigation by the commissioner. 

TITO said???

THE Tito? The one who used to rule Yugoslavia?

Or, is one of Michael Jackson’s brothers perhaps involved in baseball negotiations?

And, just which drugs are they all agreeing to take, here?

The man and a woman approached an apartment near 29th Avenue and Camelback road, drew a gun and demanded to talk to someone they believed was inside. 

At least this one gave me a good visual. I mean, whoever opened that apartment front door must have been wearing a mighty surprised face.

“The man and a woman … drew a gun…” Well, that must have been awkward. Did they both reach into the top of his pants (or inside her jacket) at the same time? And, which one is left-handed? (I would think that’s an important consideration when two people are drawing the same weapon.)

I can’t help wondering: Why is it “THE man”? I read that, and I get the idea I should know who this guy is. 

And, why is he with “A woman”? That makes it sound as if there’s a certain distance between the two. Maybe they had an argument over breakfast that morning. Or, maybe they just happened to approach the apartment at the same time. After all, it doesn't say, “The couple approached…”.

The latter is doubtful, of course, because: How could two people know to draw the same weapon at the same time, if they’d never previously met? Drawing a weapon together, it seems to me, connotes a fairly intimate relationship.

Conversely, perhaps the reporter was simply being chauvinistic. “THE man and A woman… yeah, that’s how it should read! Gotta keep those women in their place(s).” To wildly misquote Rudyard Kipling: “The man is THE MAN, a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a SMOKE!”

The President of Chattanooga State Community College said he didn’t know Federal Wildlife agents would kill the geese they removed from the campus.

As long as the geese were removed from the campus of Chattanooga State Community College at the behest of the school president, I think this one almost gets the green light.

Why almost?

Well, certainly Chattanooga State has a very pretty campus – even including a river walk – but, I can’t help wondering why residents in the greater Phoenix-Mesa-Metro area of Arizona would be interested in the ignorance of a guy who heads-up a small school in Tennessee.

On the other hand, Chattanooga is a fun word to write -- so maybe that’s why it wound up in the crawl this morning.

And, the geese– approximately 100 of them– were actually removed from the college campus, last week, and subsequently put down because no alternate location could be found for them. I know because I googled it.

And, that’s what makes me think this whole thing may be nothing but a form of advertisement.

I strongly suspect my local news station is putting incomplete and puzzling stories on their morning crawl in an attempt to make me google the story – hopefully including their station identifier in the info I type into google – as a way to drive more readership into their website.

If so, the plan is brilliant in its conception, and confusing to the end!
(Note: No dogs, bow-tied men, or books were harmed in the writing of this blog post.  And, I'm not the one who did-in the geese.)

See you in two weeks,
Dixon

03 June 2012

Florida (mostly) Crime News


by Leigh Lundin

Sometimes articles are contributed or suggested by readers. We owe most of today's articles to ABA, Yoshinori 'Josh' Todo, and the ever-popular anonymous. There's a lot here; let's get started, but first…

Chowchilla bus The Chowchilla Children

Livermore, Ca.  The word Chowchilla tugs at the memory, a word touching on one of the most bizarre crimes in North American history. On 15 July 1976, twenty-six children from the small town of Chowchilla, California and their schoolbus vanished off the face of the earth.

Fortunately, the good guys won and all the children and the driver survived. The driver organized the escape and was celebrated as an unassuming hero. This past week the driver, Ed Ray, died in his home town.

The event reminded readers of a Hugh Pentecost story published in the 1969 fiction anthology Alfred Hitchcock's Daring Detectives, "The Day the Children Vanished". The crime was dramatized in the 1993 ABC TV movie They've Taken Our Children: The Chowchilla Kidnapping.

Chowchilla van

Dirty Cop

AVALON, Pa.  From anon, just to prove not all the crazies live in Florida, a citizen thought his utility bills were unusually high. It turns out his neighbor, a Pittsburgh policeman, was breaking into his home to use his washing machine. I'm not sure soft-soaping the court will work in this case.

Hot Cop


Scottburgh, SA  From ABA, we have the tale of the lady cop who had the urgent need to conduct an 'in-depth investigation'… with a prisoner in a holding cell. I'd say 'under cover' investigation except there were no covers, only oral testimony. Stark naked in flagrante delicto, they were caught by fellow officers.

Donut Do-Not

Orlando, FL.  From Yoshinori Todo comes a couple of cons (in Florida, naturally) that seemed clever on the surface but fell short. First is the fellow who successfully convinced an Orlando Dunkin' Donuts that the corporate office had sent him to perform a surprise audit. They pulled the cash drawer so he could take it into a back room… so far, so good… I mean bad. Then he got into a bit of a rush, grabbed the cash and tried to take off, but customers foiled him before he got too far. My guess is he'll be spending time in the hole.

Debit Debut

Sarasota, FL.  If you or I were to steal a credit or debit card, we'd be screwed when the clerks realized the card was blocked. However, a party of five figured out a way around it. The 'customer' with the card pretended to phone the 'credit card center', which 'gave permission' for the clerk to complete the transaction 'off-line'.

Except this clerk remembered hearing of a similar scheme. She contacted police while stalling the customer. The cops picked up three scammers in the store and arrested two more in the parking lot, one who'd pretended to be the credit card 'call center'.

The $1 Crime

Naples, FL.  Normally if you commit a crime, even petty theft, you'd be wise to make haste outta there. But a Collier County man, somewhat inebriated, helped himself to free drink at a McDonald's soda machine. Employees called him on it, but instead of leaving when asked, he stuck around giving police time to arrive and arrest him. Word has it he's been arrested a second time. Still, he's not as crazy as the men who tried to steal an entire coke machine.

The $1,000,000,000 Crime

Fort Myers, FL.  Florida has long been notorious for its scammers, but a Lee County woman took matters to new depths. She claimed to have a billion dollar inheritance arriving any day now… she just needed a little help. Hey, I vote for sending her to Nigeria.

Time on His Hands

Panama City, FL.  Cops arrested two men in possession of a stolen shopping cart and what police believed was stolen camping equipment. While in police custody, one of the men stole a clock off the wall and tried to hide it in his back pack. I'll bet he'll be serving time.

Capital T Right Here in River City

Weston, FL.  Town fathers, sickened by all the rampant crime of soda-stealing and doughnut dipping figured out the solution of crime: They banned skating rinks, dinner-dance clubs, and just plain fun. They go a long way to proving Puritanism is alive and well in America, unlike the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser who sends porn to his Director of HR. But hey, this is the state where a Christian pirate radio station once interrupted air traffic control towers trying to blast music into Havana.

In Your Face

Miami, FL.  Some crimes are almost too awful to contemplate. It was bad enough when a high-school cross-country runner was partially blinded by an egg thrown by teens from a car at 50mph, leaving him with a fractured eye socket, a concussion, and fragments that punctured his pupil. But, our own mad Hannibal Lector wannabe took matters farther. A Miami Herald camera captured an 18-minute video of a naked Rudy Eugene who attacked Ronald Poppo, chewing off the victim's face until police arrived and shot the perpetrator. Before the week was out, HistoryMiami museum's Mystery, Mayhem, and Vice announced they're including this Zombie Attack venue in their crime tour.

Baltimore, Md.  Lest we conclude Florida is unique in cannibal attacks, a Maryland Morgan State University student apparently murdered his roommate and dined on his brain and heart.

Murderous Porn Queen

New Port Richey, FL. 
And finally, tattoo parlor owner Dennis "Scooter" Abrahamsen hired porn actress Amanda Kaye Logue for a sex party. Unfortunately Logue, described as "an evil being" who "planned and schemed" texted her boyfriend, Jason Andrews, she wanted to have sex with Andrews "after we kill" their victim in their premeditated scheme. The court sentenced Andrews to life and gave a tearful Miss Logue a reduced sentence of forty years. With luck, she'll serve every day of it.

A Nod to Josh

Yoshinori Todo might shy away from being labelled an 'expert', but he's the closest thing I know to an Agatha Christie authority. With this in mind, ABA sent the following to share with Josh.

Greenway House, Devon Coast, UK  Mathew Prichard, "the only child of the only child of the prolific author known as the queen of crime" talks about his famous grandmother while revealing letters from her ten month world travel with her first husband, Archie Christie. Read on!