Showing posts with label suicide. Show all posts
Showing posts with label suicide. Show all posts

14 May 2019

Hollywood: Land of Broken Dreams

by Paul D. Marks

In the tense opening of my novel Broken Windows, a young woman—Susan Karubian—drives up the windy roads of the Hollywood Hills. She parks. She walks to a huge structure on the side of the mountain. Climbs it. Contemplates a moment. Then jumps to her death from the Hollywood Sign. We’re left to wonder who she is and why she does what she does.


But she isn’t the first person to jump to her death from the Sign. Susan is loosely based on Peg Entwistle. Entwistle came to Hollywood in 1932 to fulfill her dreams of becoming a star. When that didn’t happen she became the only known person to have jumped to her death from the Sign…until Susan Karubian in Broken Windows. But Susan has more reasons than simply not fulfilling dreams of stardom for her jump into infamy in 1994, when the novel takes place.

Here’s some excerpts from the opening of Broken Windows:

Prologue (Disjointed) Excerpts:

The nonstop rain of the last couple weeks had broken. The view from up here was incredible. You could almost see Mexico to the south and the Pacific glittering in the west. The city below, shiny and bright. Pretty and clean from up here. A million doll houses that reminded her of childhood, playing with dolls and making everything come out the way she wanted it to. Little toy cars down below, scooting back and forth. Swarms of ants scurrying this way and that on important business. Oh yeah, everyone here had important business all day and all night. Everyone but her. She gazed down at Los Angeles on the cusp of the millennium. The place to be. Center of the universe…

...The city glowed, shimmering with hope and desire and people wanting to make their dreams come true. She knew this, because she was one of those people…

…If she couldn’t be famous in life, she would be famous in death. But she’d make her mark one way or another. She hoped her fall from grace would be graceful, even if her life hadn’t been.

I’d like to say that the idea for this just popped into my head ’cause it was a cool thing to do – a great hook to open the book. But I’ve always been fascinated by Peg Entwistle and her jump into infamy. One of the themes in my writing that I revisit from time to time is how Los Angeles is the place people come to fulfill their dreams, to start over, to become a new and different person. How Los Angeles is on the edge of the continent and if you go too far you fall into the Pacific, lost to the world forever, at least metaphorically speaking. How many – maybe most – of the people who come here with Big Dreams never achieve them. They become hangers on, wanna-bes and also-rans. Dejected and Depressed. I think Peg Entwistle was one of those people.


Peg (I hope she won’t mind my being informal with her) was born February 5, 1908 and died on September 16, 1932 in that famous jump. She was born in Port Talbot, Glamorgan, Wales, as Millicent Lilian Entwistle. Peg and her father – it appears he’d divorced her mother – emigrated to America, landing in Cincinnati and then New York. Her father died in 1922 and Peg began studying acting in Boston.

Apparently, in 1925 a young woman saw a seventeen year old Entwistle play the role of Hedvig in Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. After seeing Entwistle in the play, that young woman told her mother, “I want to be exactly like Peg Entwistle.” And ultimately Bette Davis surpassed her inspiration.

Eventually, Entwistle found work on Broadway, performing in several shows. And in 1927 she married actor Robert Keith, father of actor Brian Keith of Family Affair and other TV and film fame. So she became his step-mother for a time. Entwistle and Keith eventually divorced and Entwistle moved west to stake her claim in Hollywood during the Great Depression.

She appeared in several plays, but in only one movie Thirteen Women, starring Myrna Loy.

From here the facts get a little murky. But apparently, despondent over not making it in Hollywood, she made that infamous climb to the top of the “H” in the Sign and jumped into history.

Her suicide note read, “I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.”

Find a Grave says, “Today she is remembered for being an example of the lost aspirations of many who go to Hollywood to become actors or actresses. Ironically, the day after her death, a letter arrived at her home, offering her the lead role in a stage play about a woman driven to suicide.”

Whether this letter is for real is a matter of dispute. But either way, it says everything about people’s quest for fame and their obsessive desire for their guaranteed (by Warhol) fifteen minutes in the sun and in the news.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

White Heat -- Shamus Award-Winning mystery-thriller -- is a BOOKBUB Featured Deal on Sunday, May 19th. You can get the E-book for only $0.99.  https://tinyurl.com/y5oq3psq



***

New May issue of Mystery Weekly is out. And I'm honored to have my new story The Box featured on the cover. Hope you'll check it out. -- This link is to the Kindle version, but there's also a paper version available.

https://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Weekly-Magazine-2019-Issues-ebook/dp/B07RC8XS93


***

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

11 November 2018

Part 1: Physician Burn Out and Suicide
– The Road they Travel.

by Mary Fernando

When the fall meets winter, before the snow is thick enough to obscure the road, the black tarmac can beguile you into driving on it. For those of us who have watched as winter makes it’s entrance, we know that the most dangerous driving is on those clear roads, topped with black ice, that can send your car careening off course.

Research shows us that one out of every two doctors are burnt-out and that doctors have the highest rate of suicide of any profession. Beware of suggestions that the problem will go away when doctors develop more resilience, take personal time or do yoga: these are just putting a coating of black ice on the problem- it looks safe but can send us careening dangerously off course.

To show you the road on which one doctor travels, let me introduce you to Dr. Johns, a Canadian family physician. Before we look at the road he is now traveling, let’s take a peek at the road he took to get to where he is. In his late teens and twenties, he worked hard, often around a hundred hours per week, with his nose in a book and caring for patients. Car accidents, severed arms, the agony of multiple illnesses coupled with old age, cancer in children – all the most devastating human conditions, sent him to study more, work harder, learn what he needed to to care for these patients. Many say medicine is a calling but it is built on a foundation of tenacity to help patients, coupled with the grit and determination to do so. Dr. Johns accumulated debt while others were earning, spent his nights by bedsides of the ailing while others were out having a drink with friends and eventually became a doctor. Resilience? He had that in spades.

Let’s zoom forward to the road Dr. Johns walks on today. Fifteen years after his training, he now has well over a thousand patients in his care.

“I carry these patients with me. The ones that are suffering, worry me. We are the ultimate patient advocate. We are responsible for their care, their well-being and ultimately their lives. Their care is my responsibility.”

Is he burnt out?

“I see it as a cumulative moral injury that I carry.”

Moral injury? Let’s break that down by looking at some of his patients, like the ones with knee or back injuries. The first problem is getting the tests needed for diagnosis - sometimes with wait times of one to two years. When the tests are finished and surgery is needed, add another year or two of waiting, at least. During that time, Dr. Johns explains, his patients are less mobile, maybe unable to work or adequately care for their children or aging parents. They are plagued with chronic pain, with each step eventually bringing agony. Dr. Johns works longer hours seeing these patients and calling hospitals and surgeons to try to get them better care.

“I work harder than ever before but I have so much more guilt about the patients I can’t help. It is enforced mediocracy.”

So what can Dr. Johns do? He worries about treating the pain with painkillers and risking drug dependence. He worries about their financial precariousness and their loss of independence and dignity. He worries about the patients who have multiple illnesses and are increasingly isolated form their community by their lack of mobility. He worries about the development, often inevitable, of depression secondary to chronic pain and the loss of the ability to work and care for those who need them, because mental healthcare is simply another wait of years.

Many of these factors Dr. Johns cannot change, because “the decisions about the availability of diagnostic tests, access to surgery or mental health services are decided by administrators who manage the system but are not accountable: they never sit with the patient and hear their stories. They never feel responsible for their care.”

In Canada, these administrators decide what services are available and in the United States, they decide access in different ways. But all administrators forge the care patients receive, without having any responsibility for each patient impacted.

So, moral injury? Dr. Johns argues that the care that he trained so diligently to provide is not the care his patients get and he is powerless to change that. It is, for him, a deep moral injury. This is the evisceration of doctors.

Dr. Phillips, who works as a hospitalist, points out another serious gutting of doctors: doctors in hospitals are discouraged from bringing to the attention of the media the lack of beds, equipment and access to operating room times. Many are threatened with loss of privileges or loss of their jobs if they speak to reporters directly. So, how do you fix a problem that is out of your control when you cannot speak about it?

Recently, the NRA told doctors to stay out of the gun control debate, by asking them to stay in their lane. Responses from doctors on twitter told stories of gun violence with the sassy hashtag #ThisIsOurLane. However, despite speaking out, patients with gunshot wounds are still flooding into hospitals because doctors have no control over policy, but are responsible for saving the lives impacted by policy.

This is just a small glimpse into the road that doctors travel. If we let administrators and policy makers have control over patients’ lives but never have even one patient under their care, if we muzzle doctors from speaking out or ignore them when they do speak for patients, then we have the conditions for burnout. If you coat that road with thin ice of words like ‘resilience’ and suggestions like ‘lunchtime yoga’, there is a good chance that you are creating black ice that will drive any change dangerously off course. Worse, much worse, it is patients who drive that road with their doctors and often careen off into the ditch of increased disability, pain and suffering.

Doctors suffer in a system they cannot change for the better — they burnout and they die — because when they are crushed by the moral injury caused by the weight of the thousands of patients who they cannot help.

22 June 2017

Bullying 101

by Eve Fisher

DISCLAIMER: Almost 40 years ago, a dear friend of mine
committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his running vehicle.
I claim no objectivity in what follows.

Earlier this week, Leigh Lundin posted The Wickedest Woman in the World, a great blog post about the Michelle Carter case. A lot of us chimed in. During the discussions, I agreed that an article about Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome would be valuable, along with a little thing on hybristophilia, but later, later, later… And I will. But after I listened, briefly, to Rush Limbaugh (I try to keep an ear on what the self-proclaimed Doctor of Democracy is up to) and got ticked off, I've decided that the REAL description of Ms. Carter's behavior is bullying.

You see, Rush was defending Michelle Carter, saying that the case against her is nothing but liberal BS, because liberals don't believe in free speech (oh, Rush, if you only knew!). He said, "this woman, Michelle Carter, she may be just downright mean. She may have no heart. She may just be brutal, getting on the phone and telling this guy to kill himself, ’cause he said he was going to, and if he doesn’t now he’s a coward and whatever. But she didn’t kill him. And yet so many people are coming along thinking he didn’t do, he’s a victim, she did it. This is 180 degrees out of phase. If we’re gonna start penalizing people for things they say or things that they think, but don’t actually do — now, I know what some of you think. “But, Rush, you just got through saying that the Democrats turned this Hodgkinson guy into a lunatic.” I do believe that. But..." (See full Transcript for more of the typical Rush twist on how it's different when…)

Well, first off, sorry, Rush, but we already penalize people for things they say. We have freedom of speech, not freedom from consequences of said speech. But more on that later.

Secondly, what Rush presented was the standard bully's defense:
  • "I didn't MAKE them do anything."
  • "It's THEIR fault if they can't take a joke."
  • "Can I help it if they're a loser?"
  • "I didn't do anything wrong."
  • "Hey, 'sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me'. So what's the problem?"
Okay, show of hands, how many people out there have ever been bullied? How many felt helpless? How many felt afraid?

Scut Farkus
Scut Farkus
Let's use Scut Farkus (of "A Christmas Story") as an example: Scut had all the neighborhood boys terrorized to the point that, when he came up and yelled at them "Come here!" they came. No, he didn't lasso them or hold a gun, he just yelled and they did it. And there's at least one scene where a boy turns around and gives him his arm to twist. They were thoroughly cowed.

But it can get infinitely worse than that.

When we first moved up to South Dakota, I subbed at the high school for a while, and a student there committed suicide because of the constant, non-stop bullying that he received. That was before internet and cellphones. Google bullying and suicide and see the number of hits you come up with. And cyber-bullying, with teens and adolescents, is pushing the number of suicides up.

According to PEW research on teens and cellphones, one in three teens sends 100 text messages a day. 15% send 200 text messages a day. And a certain percentage of that is cyber-bullying. And a certain percentage of that leads to suicides. Michelle Carter exchanged over 1000 text messages with Conrad Roy, encouraging him, telling him, badgering him to commit suicide. What makes it worse is that she knew that he had attempted suicide already, back in 2012, and that he was battling anxiety and depression. After learning that he was planning to kill himself she repeatedly discouraged him from committing suicide in 2012 and 2014 and encouraged him to "get professional help". But then her attitude changed and in July 2014, she started thinking that it would be a "good thing to help him die" (Wikipedia) Thus the 1000 text messages. That's cyber-bullying, and it worked. She even admitted it, in an infamous text to a friend - “I was on the phone with him and he got out of the [truck] because it was working and he got scared and I f***ing told him to get back in."

And why did Michelle Carter want Conrad Roy dead? Because she wanted to receive the sympathy of her classmates as the grieving girlfriend, who only wanted the best for her boyfriend, and the best was that he die.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo talks to Michelle Carter in court.
Michelle Carter - from CNN,
"Text Messages Michelle Carter Used
How many of you have been or have known the victim of domestic abuse? There's often more verbal than physical, because it's all about control. Here are some of the many signs of domestic abuse, a/k/a bullying (from the Domestic Violence and Abuse Checklist.):

Does the abuser:
  • humiliate or yell at you?
  • criticize you and put you down?
  • treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
  • blame you for their own abusive behavior?
  • see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
  • act excessively jealous and possessive?
  • control where you go or what you do?
  • keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • constantly check up on you?
Notice that I did not include any physically violent act. All of the above are verbal, emotional abuse; and they're enough to leave the victim answering "yes" to, Do you:
Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight"
  • feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
  • avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • feel emotionally numb or helpless?
Domestic abuse is bullying, carried on into adulthood. There's a direct link between bullying in childhood and domestic abuse in adulthood (Psychiatry Online): "Men who had bullied schoolmates once in a while were twice as likely to have engaged in violence against a female partner within the previous year as were men who said they had never bullied their school peers. And men who had admitted bullying frequently in school were four times as likely to have done so as were men who had never bullied in school."

On top of that, there's a direct link between domestic abuse and mass shootings (see here and here, too.) Because bullying is all about control and fear. Domestic abuse is all about control and fear. Mass shooting is all about control and fear.

Okay, that was quite a long and winding road. And not every bully, cyber-bully, or just narcissist is going to end up a mass shooter. But I noticed this in the Wikipedia article cited above: This decision "could set legal precedent for whether it's a crime to tell someone to commit suicide." My response?

I CERTAINLY HOPE SO.

Why wouldn't it be a crime to tell someone to kill themselves? Why wouldn't it be a crime to gaslight a person? Why wouldn't it be a crime to do your best to INCREASE someone's mental illness? Or to use their mental illness to your advantage?

Here's the deal, Rush and followers: I believe 100% in free speech. You can say anything you please, anywhere, any time. But I also believe that free speech has consequences. After all,
  • If you yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, you're liable for the results.
  • If you threaten the President's life, you're going to get a visit from the Secret Service.
So why, if you badger someone who's battling depression and mental illness with over 1000 texts telling them to kill themselves, and they do it, why wouldn't you be culpable?
Of course, the bullies would totally disagree: to a bully, all the consequences flow one way, onto the victim, who is solely responsible for what happens to her/him. And so we have Michelle Carter, new icon of free speech, who told her boyfriend to "get back in the f*****g truck" so that she could go cry about his death to her friends.

Next time, Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome and hybristophilia, or why Erik Menendez has a wife.

14 April 2016

If Only We Had LAWS Against This Stuff...

by Eve Fisher

"If only we had LAWS against this stuff..." and other crazy statements:

Okay, a few reminders just to catch everyone up.
    Joop Bollen and then-Governor,
    current SD Senator, Mike Rounds,
    in happier days
    • Back in 2009, Joop Bollen was appointed to run EB-5 - which was a federal program designed to trade green cards to foreign investors for $500,000 a whack - by our former governor, current Senator Mike Rounds, who, when questioned recently about all of this, said, "The state of South Dakota would use different federal programs on a regular basis and you always assume that if the federal program is in place that they have a control process in place. We’re finding in some cases that that is not the case " (Mike Rounds interview).  Like when you put Joop Bollen in charge of that federal program, allowed him to privatize it in SDRC Inc., and told everyone what a great job he was doing?  (I swear to God, you can't make this stuff up... Sadly...)  
    • There's still as much as $120 million missing from the EB-5 program. 
    • For two years, the only person held responsible for any missing funds was Richard Benda, who according to our fearless AG shot himself in the stomach with a shotgun in a field because he'd embezzled $500,000.  
    AND NOW FOR THE LATEST !!!  HEADLINE NEWS !!!

    Image result for eb-5 south dakotaFirst of all, our own Attorney General, Marty ("I'm going to be running for governor in 2018, so I need to get something on paper") Jackley has FINALLY indicted Joop Bollen on five felony counts of violating SDCL 44-1-2, “unauthorized disposal of personal property subject to security interest.” In other words, Bollen used EB-5 money, transferred to his own private corporation, SDRC Inc., for his own personal purchases.   $300,000 here, $96,000 there, to a total of about $1.2 million. He sent some to Pyush Patel of Griffin, Georgia (who owns gas stations and has been participating in Bollen's corporation creationism since 2005), some Bollen just pocketed, and some (and this is my favorite part) Bollen spent on Egyptian artifacts from Christie's and the Harer Family Trust.

    NOTE: Bollen, through his lawyers, claims he's being scapegoated.  Mr. Bollen is also free on an unsecured $2,500 bond. (That should make you spit your coffee out in shock:  let's face facts, you'd have to post a lot more money than that if you'd just robbed a casino and gotten only $200 bucks.)

    NOTE WITH FACEPALM:  Nor has the Dutch born and raised Bollen been asked to surrender his passport.  Jackley said that “at this point” he “did not have concern” about the passport, “as long as we’re made aware of certain travel,” since Bollen has “significant ties financially to this community.” (Bollen Initial Appearance - dakotafreepress.com - once again, thanks Cory Heidelberger for GREAT coverage!)  Again, you'd have a rougher time of it if you'd robbed a casino and gotten only $200 bucks...

    And here's the best part: Right now our fearless AG Jackley - who, as I said, for 2 years has blamed Richard Benda for any and all EB-5 problems - is now blaming the whole mess on (drum roll, please!) a lack of tough laws making conflict of interest a felony! Personally, I would have thought that our laws making embezzlement, fraud, etc., felonies would have been enough, but apparently not.  We need more.  So it's really all the South Dakota legislature's fault...

    Oh, and one quick note about the Gear Up! scandal (6 people dead and counting) and the missing Westerhuis safe (The Chinese Are Coming). “I don’t know where that safe is at,” Jackley said. “I don’t know if it burned in the fire or if Scott Westerhuis took it out and threw it in the Missouri River.” (Jackley Conspiracy Theories, Argus Leader)  Feel free to insert obvious questions here:

     __________________________________________________________________________

    US District Attorney Marty Jackley.png
    Marty Jackley
    Meanwhile, Mr. Jackley, having apparently solved everything about EB-5 and Gear Up! (except that pesky $118.5 million in EB-5 money, the pesky $4 million in Gear Up! money, and the pesky missing Westerhuis safe), is far more interested in investigating the destruction of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe's marijuana crop in November (some of the burning was shown on television) after the tribe suspended plans to legalize marijuana on its reservation.
    "I don’t think for a minute that they destroyed $1 million worth of marijuana. I don’t know where that went and it’s an open case. We never shut that case," Jackley said in an interview with Argus Leader Media. “We never got an opportunity to check what was destroyed." (Up in Smoke?)  

    Priorities, priorities...

    And now, repeat after me: "Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn't." Author Neil Gaiman.

    Will keep you posted, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

     

    03 March 2016

    A Sorry State of Affairs...

    by Eve Fisher

    All right, I admit it, I'm running late on this blog, but I've been spending the last two weeks e-mailing my state legislators and governor over a variety of bills that seem to come straight out of the minds of ALEC. (Look it up.  Also, here:  SD Legislators with ALEC ties.) You see, we only have a 2-month legislature, that only sits 38 working days, so if I don't express my opinions now, I won't have time later on. Seriously - the session is going to end March 11. (Veto Day is March 29.)

    First off, South Dakota is still officially missing $120 million dollars in EB-5 fees and investments, $14 million dollars spent (somewhere) of Gear Up! federal money, 7 people dead, cell phones wiped by the managing company the morning after an arson/murders/suicide (maybe), and a safe that had legs like a dog and walked out the door in the middle of the night. So, what's on our legislature's minds? Transgender potties and single women.



    There's also House Joint Resolution 1002, which wants a new Constitutional Convention to propose “amendments to the Constitution of the United States that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and members of Congress.” That'll fly.

    Meanwhile, we're last in the nation for teacher pay, and our legislature is trying desperately, DESPERATELY to not put into action Governor Daugaard's proposal to increase sales tax by 1/2 of a cent to pay for increases. My favorite excuses are (1) that they haven't had time to read the bill and (2) that they haven't had time to come up with an alternate funding proposal. They've known about this since December. This is called kicking the can so far down the road that maybe it will disappear. At one point the House rejected it. Finally, though, late yesterday, through sheer shaming by most of us citizenry, it passed. We will no longer be 50th.

    Wild Bill Janklow
    There was also HB 1161, which would preemptively render useless an intiative that we the people are planning on voting on in November to rein in payday loans. South Dakota is, in case you don't know it, the usury capital of the country, thanks to the 1978 SCOTUS ruling in Marquette Nat. Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Service Corp, which (summed up) says that your individual state anti-usury laws cannot be enforced against nationally chartered banks located out of state. Our then governor, "Wild Bill" Janklow, heard that and persuaded the legislature to pass a bill that repealed South Dakota's cap on interest rates. And so Citibank, Wells Fargo, and other institutions moved here and life is sweet.

    My favorite bill was HB 1107, which was "to ensure government nondiscrimination in matters of religious beliefs and moral convictions," as long as their religious beliefs and moral convictions were the following:
    The Compound, West River in Pringle, South Dakota
    1. Marriage is or should only be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
    2. Sexual relations are properly reserved to marriage; or
    3. The terms male or man and female or woman refer to distinct and immutable biological sexes that are determined by anatomy and genetics by the time of birth.
    (I have yet to determine why we apparently have religious beliefs and moral convictions about sex: what about usury? war? violence? lying? greed?)

    Anyway, one of the great ironies of this bill is that at least one of the sponsors was an unmarried man who posted pictures of himself and his hot girlfriend all over social media. (It's a small state: you can find these things out.) I wrote many of my legislators about this bill, but my first question wasn't the obvious, "And were you a virgin on your wedding night?" Instead, it was, "Does this mean you guys are finally going to take on the polygamous sects living in compounds out West River?" (No one answered that question.) I also pointed out that birth anatomy and birth genetics can be entirely different (I used to work at Medical Genetics - see my blog post here (Medical Genetics). Everyone assured me that this was a non-discriminatory bill, to which I replied, politely, "Bull hockey." This bill has been - thankfully - tabled. Hopefully it will stay that way.
    NEWS FLASH: The feds have actually taken on the polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs' brother Seth in Pringle, South Dakota over food stamp fraud! Huzzah! Federal Probe Shows Details of Polygamous Sect. BTW, to those who don't know, the way these polygamous sects get around the laws against polygamy is by having "spiritual" marriages, which are not registered anywhere. The women - usually child brides, with no power of refusal - are then registered for food stamps, etc., as single mothers. Sadly, most of their sons are booted out of the compound as soon as they get to puberty, because there aren't enough brides to go around, since the old men are marrying all the daughters as soon as they hit puberty. Now you know why I asked about that...
    But the one that's taken up most of my writing time is the transgender potty bill, which would would prohibit public school students from using a bathroom or locker room for a sex other than theirs at birth. (We really made the national news with that one. Sigh.) It passed the House, it passed the Senate, and now it's on Governor Daugaard's desk. I've been writing him almost every day, with at least one of the following arguments:
    1. Transgender people don't want to do anything but use the bathroom safely. A boy who is transgendering to a girl doesn't want to assault girls, he wants to become one. A girl who is transgendering to a boy doesn't want to assault boys, she wants to become one.
    2. Every student I've talked to doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. They all know some transgender students and have no problem with them using whichever bathroom they're comfortable in. (Bathrooms have stalls, with doors that lock.)
    3. Gender is something that is not obvious, and is not always determined at birth. (See my Medical Genetics article link above.)
    4. There is one bathroom which everyone uses - old and young, straight and gay, male and female, adults and children - and no one is worried about assault or trauma or shock: it's the one in your home. You go in, and shut the door.


    The latest one - and I'm about to start writing my legislators on as soon as I finish this blog - is SB 159, which gives insurance companies credits on their premium and annuity taxes for granting “scholarships” for private K-12 school tuition to low-income students. The fun part of this is that the legislator who sponsored this bill is married to (who'd a thunk it?) the founder and owner since 1972 of an insurance company, and was past president of the Sioux Falls Catholic Schools Foundation, and past chairman of Advanced Gifts for the O’Gorman High School Building Funding Drive. Great joy in the morning, who could possibly think there was any conflict of interest?

    What's especially irritating about all of this is that we're a relatively poor state; we are, as I said, ranked last in the nation for teacher pay. Governor Daugaard just refused to expand Medicaid again, after he said he would ONLY if the feds will move all Native American healthcare to their dime. Well, the feds did, and now Daugaard announced today that South Dakota still "can't afford" to expand Medicaid - keep kicking that can. Our infrastructure and roads are constantly crumbling (we have hard winters), and, as I said, we have over $120 million missing in taxpayer funds on scandals and corruption. But, rather than deal with any of these problems, our legislature keeps trying to pass bills that will only lead to lawsuits. Apparently, we have plenty of money for those. Not for investigating things that are really and truly affecting us right now.

    Anyway, that's the latest update from South Dakota, were we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.



    NOTE: Huzzah! Daugaard vetoed the transgender potty bill!

    18 February 2016

    The Good Soldier

    by Eve Fisher

    Fordmadoxford.jpg
    Ford Madox Ford
    I was on a panel about writing at our local library and the moderator asked each of us "What book or story would you love to have written, and have put your name to?"  My answer was - and is - The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford.

    It may be the perfect novel.  I read it every year both for pleasure and to analyze its amazing structure.  Very short (under 200 pages), tightly woven, seemingly infinitely layered and complex, Ford himself said that "I had never really tried to put into any novel of mine all that I knew about writing...  On the day I was 40, I sat down to show what I could do – and The Good Soldier resulted."

    It begins, "This is the saddest story I have ever heard."  And right there is the first hint that we're dealing with one of the most unreliable narrators in history.  Because John Dowell didn't hear this story:  he lived it.  John Dowell and his wife Florence, both Americans, meet Captain Edward Ashburnham and his wife, Leonora, of Branshaw Teleragh, England, at a spa in Nauheim, Germany, where Edward and Florence are being treated for heart ailments.  The Ashburnhams "take up" with the Dowells, and they spend all their time together for the next nine years.  Until it all collapses when Florence dies, and Dowell discovers a number of things:
    • that Edward and Florence having an affair, which he never knew.
    • that Florence never had a heart problem at all.  Instead, she'd faked a heart complaint to stay in Europe, originally so that she could continue her affair with her uncle's American bodyguard and helper, Jimmy. 
    • that Edward and Leonora hadn't spoken in private for perhaps twenty years.
    • that Edward was a serial philanderer, whose known adventures began with a conviction (!) for assaulting an Irish servant on a train.  
    • that Edward was now in love with his young ward, Nancy Rufford.  
    • that Florence killed herself... well, look down under questions...

    From left: Jeremy Brett, Susan Fleetwood, Robin Ellis and Vickery Turner in the 1981 TV adaptation o
    The 1981 TV adaptation, with Jeremy Brett and others
    Dowell also admits a few things:
    • that he and Florence never had sex, because of her supposed heart problem.
    • that he is extremely glad to be rid of Florence.  Florence begins as "poor dear Florence" and ends up "a contaminating influence...  vulgar... a common flirt... an unstoppable talker..."
    • that he is now extremely wealthy, because Florence was an heiress. 
    • that he wants to marry Nancy Rufford. 
    And then there are the things that are hinted at, implied, downright said but then denied.
    • Dowell admires Leonora Ashburnham more than any woman on earth, and also considers her "the villain of the piece".  
    • Dowell's admiration of certain men, beginning and ending with Edward Ashburnham, of whom he says, "I loved Edward Ashburnham - and that I love him because he was just myself.  If I had had the courage and the virility and possibly also the physique of Edward Ashburnham I should, I fancy, have done much what he did..."  But there was also a nephew, Carter ("handsome and dark and gentle and tall and modest....  [whose] relatives... seemed to have something darkly mysterious against him") , and hints at others.  
    • Dowell's greed for the sensuous pleasures of life, from caviar to Kummel to... other things...
    • Dowell has never worked a day in his life.
    The first reading of the book is heartbreaking.  Both Edward and Florence commit suicide, and Nancy Rufford goes insane.  Believe it or not, this is not a spoiler:  this is first chapter stuff.  The point is, that the first reading, gives you the plot, the second - maybe - gives you the motivations, and the third...  well, there's a lot of questions.
    • Why did Florence commit suicide?  Was she really that heartbroken about Edward and/or that terrified of Dowell?  (Dowell describes them both as "violent" men...) 
    • Did Florence commit suicide?  (There was a letter...) 
    • What was Dowell doing during the two to four hours between Florence's death and and the discovery of her body? 
    • Why did Dowell marry Florence, a woman he did not love, take her straight to Europe, and do everything she and the doctors told him to?  
    • How many women was Edward Ashburnham involved with?  (Six are detailed, but there's also "the poor girl, the daughter of one of his gardeners" who was accused of murdering her baby at the end...) 
    • Did Edward commit suicide?  And how?  Two different ways are given...
    • What about Edward's alcoholism?  
    • What about Dowell's alcoholism?
    In other words, what the blazing hell really happened?

    And all is told in a magnificent, elegiac, Edwardian style that is rich as plumcake.  Read it, and let me know what you think.

    Available at Gutenberg Press for free at:  Gutenberg Press Edition
    Available on Kindle for free at Kindle Edition
    (Though I still prefer a hard copy, where I can scribble notes - almost as cryptic as the text - all over it...)

    Also, the most interesting article of all that I've ever found on "The Good Soldier" compares Ford Madox Ford to H. P. Lovecraft:  "Ford Madox Ford: As Scary as HP Lovecraft?"



    Maybe...

    14 January 2016

    The Chinese Are Coming!

    by Eve Fisher

    A while back I wrote a column called "A Little Light Corruption"  about how South Dakota looks like Mayberry and acts like Goodfellas.  The body count is still only at seven (thank God), but the money is getting weirder by the minute.

    For one thing, 35 Chinese investors are suing the State of South Dakota for $18,550,000, claiming they got ripped off in the EB-5 (green cards for a $500,000 investment) program.

    And Joop Bollen (a Dutch foreign national), who somehow was allowed by our own then-Governor Mike Rounds (currently our US Senator) and our current Attorney General Marty Jackley, to privatize EB-5 and turn it over to himself via his own corporation (SDRC, Inc.) is now suing the State for defamation of character.

    And our AG, instead of issuing warrants, is asking the court to freeze Joop's assets which are, in one bank account, around a million dollars.
    NOTE:  Remember, originally, AG Jackley determined that the only "misappropriated" funds from EB-5 was the $500,000 that Richard Benda supposedly stole before supposedly killing himself in a field.  Apparently things have changed.  Although Marty Jackley is keeping as quiet as a tomb.
    Joop Bollen and then-Governor,
    current SD Senator, Mike Rounds
    SECOND NOTE:  Mr. Bollen has, throughout, been treated with kid gloves.  He's never even been subpoenaed.  But the State of South Dakota has finally sued his corporation, SDRC, Inc... for documents.  Like, before they're shredded. 
    THIRD NOTE:  Despite the Chinese investor losses, and Mr. Bollen's interesting bank account, South Dakota is still officially missing $120 million dollars in EB-5 fees and investments.  Where did it go?  Well, the state deficit in the last year of Mike Rounds' governorship was $120 million, so it didn't go there...  
    Repeat after me:  "Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn't." Author Neil Gaiman.

    Okay, on to GEAR UP!  Because we can't have just one major scandal about disappearing federal grant dollars in our tiny state.



    A whole lot of  money (almost $3.5 million in 2011) went to a whole lot of people, except that almost none of it went to what the purpose of the grant was:  to give scholarships and education to Native Americans.  In fact, while 50-75% of all GEAR UP funds were supposed to be spent on scholarships according to the federal grant requirements, South Dakota requested (and apparently got) a waiver to spend NO money on scholarships, but to spend 100 percent of the grant on college preparedness and college readiness. And of course the best way to prepare Native American students for college was to hire endless consultants and directors of various sub-corporations.  (Angela Kennecke investigation)  The result is, $14 million dollars spent (somewhere), and 20 people went to college.   As my blogger friend Cory says, wouldn't it have been cheaper just to give the kids scholarships?  (dakotafreepress.com/2015/12/31/)


    Some of you may remember from my last post on this that the Westerhuis' cell phones were cancelled the day after the arson / murder / suicides, and all the records were wiped, including who made a call and left a voice mail about 20 minutes before the fire.  As it turns out, the Westerhuis cell phones were through the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative (MCEC, the hub corporation for GEAR UP money, and for which the deceased Westerhuises worked). And it was MCEC that cancelled the phones and had the records wiped.  No explanation why they would do this before the ashes had even cooled on the ground...

    And you may also remember that there was a missing safe, which apparently had legs like a dog and got up and trotted off because it hasn't been found yet.

    From the "It can't get any weirder than this" files:

    Governor Dugaard and Secretary of Education Melody Schopp
    at the Interview
    The US Department of Education tells KELOLAND News that in 2014, the South Dakota GEAR UP State grant file was destroyed and none of the documents are available.  (More Angela Kennecke investigation)

    When KELO-TV investigative reporter Angela Kennecke asked for an interview with Secretary of Education Melody Schopp about GEAR UP and MCEC, she was told by the governor's office that she could only talk to Schopp with Governor Dugaard present. (see photo to the right)  Still trying to figure out whose hand needed holding...

    And the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative had a forensic audit of their books, and presented it to a public meeting of the MCEC board. Said the auditors:  “We did not have access to financial records or other information from any other business or individuals.”  (For example, any of the multiple organizations that the deceased Mr. Westerhuis set up.)  And neither MCEC board members, nor the public, nor the media were allowed to ask any questions or even speak at the public meeting.  (http://dakotafreepress.com/?s=audit)

    Just another day in South Dakota, where federal grant money can disappear like magic.

    Did I mention that 4 in every 10 dollars in South Dakota revenue come from the federal government? (10 States most dependent on Federal Government)

    Repeat after me:  "Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn't." Author Neil Gaiman.

    22 October 2015

    A Little Light Corruption

    by Eve Fisher

    By gum, we folks in South Dakota really know how to keep things quiet.  Until someone dies, and then the whole thing comes boiling out.  Mayberry it isn't.

    2013-2014

    October 20, 2013 - Richard Benda was found dead from a shotgun wound to the stomach in a field in October.  The SD Attorney General, Marty Jackley, instantly ruled it a suicide.  Came out shortly thereafter that Benda had, apparently, embezzled pots of money from the EB-5 program, an immigration program set up by George H.W. Bush in 1990 that grants Visas to foreign investors for a minimum $500,000.00 investment. Quick money for the state, quick green card, and everything's hunky-dory.

    Now Richard Benda was the former commissioner of then Governor Mike Rounds' Office of Economic Development. (Rounds is currently one of our two State Senators, the other being John Thune.)  He was also the one-time financial monitor of the Northern Beef Packers of Aberdeen, a $100 million slaughterhouse, funded largely by Asian EB-5 investors, which later was auctioned off in December, 2013 for $4.8 million in cash and $39.5 million in the cancellation of what's been called a “somewhat murky debt." Benda was soon accused of stealing $500,000 and "amending" grant proposals to give Northern Beef Packers more money. AG Jackley has refused to release the autopsy of Mr. Benda ("out of respect for the family"); and in July of 2014, after 9 months of increasing stink, Jackley waved a document in front of news cameras that he claimed were the indictments for Aggravated Theft and Aggravated Grand Theft by Deception that were about to be served on Benda right before he killed himself/was murdered. (Take your pick; we all have.)

    Like any good crime fiction writer, I looked at the documents and recognized the simple fact that, without a signature or notarization, these documents could have been typed up at any time, say the weekend before the Monday July news conference, when the crap was piling too deep to ignore any more.  And, as more and more people demanded answers, the SD legislative committee declared in December of 2014 that Richard Benda was solely responsible for the $500,000 embezzlement and probably the loss of millions of dollars (last report, $140 million, but who's counting), but no one knows where that money went, and they were not going to investigate further.  They were especially not going to investigate a man named Joop Bollen, a Dutch foreign national who ran the EB-5 program for Governor Rounds and later set up his own private corporation, SDRC, which took over administration of the EB-5 program.  Mr. Bollen was asked some questions by the SD legislative committee, but was allowed to answer them in writing, and never had to appear.  He has never been charged with anything.  Anything at all...

    But wait, there's more!  I've been on vacation, and while I was gone, the Feds, yes, the Feds! have decided that South Dakota is too corrupt to use EB-5 funds, and we are barred, yes, BARRED, from every getting EB-5 money again.  Plus, they're suing South Dakota:
    http://dakotafreepress.com/2015/10/18/feds-say-south-dakota-too-corrupt-to-use-eb-5/
    http://www.mitchellrepublic.com/news/state/3863619-feds-aim-kick-sd-out-eb-5-program-state-sues-bollens-records
    And, at last, the State of South Dakota is going to sue Mr. Bollen.  Like there's any money left...

    Meanwhile, there's a whole new bit of nasty coming out from under the rocks:

    2015

    Late at night on September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota.  It wasn't until a few days later that it turned out that all six had been shot to death.  SD Attorney General Marty Jackley declared it a murder/suicide/arson, perpetrated by Scott Westerhuis.  The only question was why.  Now, I'm writing this in early October, and this is only going to get messier.

    Scott Westerhuis was the business manager of MCEC, the Mid Central Educational Cooperative, which is, among other things, a hub for distributing federal grand monies to other non-profit organizations.  One of these was South Dakota Gear Up, whose website was taken down after all the employees were fired...  Well, here's the deal, Gear Up received a $4.3 million dollar contract to help get Native American kids into college. On September 16, 2015, Department of Education terminated the contract after an audit declared bad reporting, bad accounting, and general bad books. On September 17, the Westerhuis family tragedy occurred.  On September 25, State Education Secretary Melody Schopp fired every surviving employee of Gear Up, and shut down the Gear Up website.
    36705 279th Street, Platte, SD. screen cap from Google Maps, 2015.09.22.
    36705 279th Street, Platte, SD.
    screen cap from Google Maps,
    2015.09.22.

    But wait, there's more! The Westerhuis family lived on a $1.3 million rural Platte property that included a 7,600 square foot house, a $900,000 gym complete with basketball court, weight-lifting area, and computers, and a loft with a meeting room, rooms for guests, and a kitchen.  This was on an official combined MCEC salary of $130,549.82.

    But wait, there's more! Scott Westerhuis set up as many as 7 non-profit corporations related to Indian education:




    Some are inactive, but Rock Ranch Consulting, which has no easily identifiable online presence, may refer to the Westerhuises’ rock-decorated rural home, torched on September 17. Rock Ranch Consulting was the source of incorporation funds for “American Indian Institute For Innovation and Excellance,” [sic], whose 2014 Form 990 shows $2.7 million in revenue and $3.0 million in expenses, including $1.58 million in salaries and wages, $311K in pension and benefits, and $270K in travel, conferences, and meetings. Apparently very little education of Native Americans actually happened. And there's Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium (OSEC), formed in 2011 and still in good standing, whose 2013 Form 990, completed by Nicole Westerhuis on November 6, 2014, shows $965K in revenue and $935K in expenses. Scott Westerhuis was incorporator of all of these, and his wife Nicole was business manager of at least some of them.
    (Thanks to Corey Allen Heidelberger for his incomparable fact-finding on Dakota Free Press: http://dakotafreepress.com/tag/mid-central-educational-cooperative/ )

    But wait, there's more! We are just now cracking (again, thanks, Corey!) the list of high-level education professionals who received significant monthly and annual payments ($150,000+ in some cases) for consulting and administration from Gear Up and/or MCEC, and are scrambling to cover their assets, er, what they did and when and why.  My two favorites:

    1. Dr. Joseph Graves, Mitchell, SD School Superintendent, received his money from the MCEC for the Teaching American History federal grant; what makes this especially sweet is that the South Dakota Board of Education has made teaching early American history optional in South Dakota.  
    2. Dr. Rick Melmer, the Dean of Education of the University of South Dakota, who simply couldn't remember nine $1,000 in payments live on South Dakota television:  http://www.keloland.com/newsdetail.cfm/melmer-answers-questions-about-gear-up-work/?id=185508   You really can't make this stuff up.  (I don't know about you but I've never forgotten a single thousand dollar check I've ever gotten in my life, much less nine of them...)
    South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard
    Governor Dugaard
    Now I could go on into a tirade about South Dakota mismanagement of federal grant monies, i.e., the political cronies slurping on the federal gravy train.  (Meanwhile our distinguished Governor Dugaard refuses to expand Medicaid coverage because the feds might not have the money:  note to Gov - if so, it's because your pals have siphoned it all off to build large gyms.) Or I could discuss the shameful use of Native Americans to get grant monies.  I have, I will, and I will again.

    I will go off, for a moment, again, on the fact that South Dakota has been ranked #2 for government corruption.  (New Jersey, eat your heart out!)  How can this be? Simple:  South Dakota is a one-party state:  the Governor is Republican, the GOP has a super-majority in the legislature, the districts are gerrymandered so that Republicans consistently keep their super-majority (this is especially farcical when you see the little corridor linking the entire Rosebud Reservation, votes 90% Democratic, to staunch Republican Pennington County, a/k/a Rapid City).  It helps that Pierre, our capital, is one of the few US state capitals which is not on a major interstate - it's literally out in the middle of nowhere - and there is no major news media located there.  This helps ensure that whatever happens in Pierre, stays in Pierre.

    Until someone dies.  And the death toll is starting to rise.

    Meanwhile, why does hell always break loose in autumn?  

    I'll keep you posted.