Showing posts sorted by relevance for query spring training. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query spring training. Sort by date Show all posts

27 March 2012

Gone South III -- Play Ball!


by Dale C. Andrews

Space Coast Stadium, Viera Florida -- Spring Training home of the Washington Nationals

     Several weeks back I mentioned the geographic challenge of uploading timely articles every second Tuesday during the winter months.  Pat and I decided years ago that once we retired we were going to spend as much time as possible each winter away from our home in Washington, D.C.  This year that meant that for three weeks in January we were in the Caribbean – two weeks of which were on a sailboat with the spottiest internet imaginable.  We came back from that trip to spend two weeks at home, making certain that our adult sons had not completely trashed the house, and then took off again to Gulf Shores, Alabama for two and a half weeks in February.  We lucked out there with great internet available in the condo we rented.  Then after another two weeks of checking on the house we are off on the last of our winter trips – a week and a half in Florida devoted to watching the Washington Nationals’ Spring training.  I’ll have some internet access there, but to be on the safe side this article will be scheduled before we leave. 
"Smartie" getting off of the Autotrain.  Everyone laughed.

    While we drove to and from Gulf Shores, our Spring Training tradition sends us south on the Autotrain.  This allows us to leave our bigger "road trip" car in D.C. and travel instead with our convertible Smart car, which would never otherwise see Florida.  (I can’t imagine 900 miles of I-95 in Smartie).


    The train is always a blast. --  dining cars, where, as a couple, we invariably sit across from people we have never met, and lounge cars where strangers sip cocktails together while watching the scenery pass.  No wonder  trains  have always been fodder for mysteries.  I can’t ride an overnight train without thinking of The Lady Vanishes,  Hitchcock’s second-to-last British film.  The 1938 movie (based on the largely forgotten book The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White), together with Hitchcock’s 1959 American film North by Northwest and Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express all capture the microcosm that is train travel – a self-contained slice of life, detached from the rest of the world by movement.  No wonder that trains afford a perfect setting for classic golden age mysteries – how better to contain your story and all of your suspects?  While ocean liners are a close second, nothing beats the tightly cabined setting of a train.

    So to and from Spring Training I have little trouble conjuring up SleuthSayer thoughts.  But what about baseball itself? 

    For whatever reason the nation’s pastime hasn’t provided much of a setting for mystery stories.  Perhaps readers will offer up other examples, but the only ones that spring readily to my mind are the Ed Gorgon stories by the great Jon L. Breen.  Jon started the series way back in 1970 and has written that his original inspiration for Ed Gorgon, the baseball umpire who repeatedly is called upon to solve mysteries between calling balls and strikes, was that Frederic Dannay, then editor-in-chief at Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, liked nothing better than baseball and dying messages.  So Jon served up both in Diamond Dick, the first Ed Gorgon story..  That story, and the further installments in the series, spanning thirty years, are collected in Kill the Umpire: The Calls of Ed Gorgon published by Crippen and Landru in 2003. Jon's collection is a fun read and is available at Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, or direct from Crippen and Landru.   (Tell Doug Greene that Dale sent you!)

Shoeless Joe and Ty Cobb, 1913
    If one casts a wider net other non-mystery baseball stories can be reeled in.  Much of the literature that has derived from baseball seems to have its roots in the Black Sox scandal, in which various members of the Chicago White Sox were charged with conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series.  Even though they were acquitted by a Chicago jury, eight players were eventually suspended from baseball for life, including (famously) Shoeless Joe Jackson, who got his name from once running the bases without his shoes on, and who may have been the greatest baseball slugger of all time.  Ring Lardner was a young reporter covering the scandal, and his impressions of Shoeless Joe were said to be the inspiration for his baseball short stories that were later collected in You Know Me Al, a series of letters authored by a vernacularly-challenged ball player.  Lardner uniformly portrays the White Sox players in You Know Me Al as semi-literate and hopelessly avaricious. 

    A real life episode that has repeatedly found its way into baseball lore followed Shoeless Joe Jackson's appearance before a grand jury empaneled to investigate the conspiracy allegations.  On September 29, 1920, The Minneapolis Daily Star, during the course of reporting on the scandal, published the following account:
When Jackson left criminal court building in custody of a sheriff after telling his story to the grand jury, he found several hundred youngsters, aged from 6 to 16, awaiting for a glimpse of their idol. One urchin stepped up to the outfielder, and, grabbing his coat sleeve, said:

"It ain't true, is it, Joe?"

"Yes, kid, I'm afraid it is," Jackson replied. The boys opened a path for the ball player and stood in silence until he passed out of sight.

"Well, I'd never have thought it," sighed the lad
    The line, and the saga of Shoeless Joe, who may or may not have been guilty as charged, reverberated through baseball literature.  In Bernard Malamud’s The Natural the central character, Roy Hobbs, is offered a bribe to throw a game and is then confronted by a child who says “Say it isn’t true, Roy.”  (The line is only in the book, so don’t look for it in the 1984 Robert Redford film!)   The story of Shoeless Joe is also at the heart of the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams, based on Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella.  And, finally, anyone who has seen the movie or stage production of Damn Yankees (a story close to the heart of any Washington, D.C. baseball fan) will remember the refrain “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo.”  (Hannibal Mo. had nothing to do with Shoeless Joe, but, hey, a song’s gotta rhyme, right?)

    Well I should stop here and start packing.  We are off on one last winter trip to the south.   Hopefully when we head back to Washington D.C. it will be spring, because if winter persists it will be me who you will hear lamenting “it ain’t true, is it, Joe?”

12 March 2013

Gone South (Again) -- Play Ball!


Space Coast Stadium, Viera, Florida --  Spring Training Home to the Washington Nationals
by Dale C. Andrews

    One of the things about posting articles for over one and a half years on SleuthSayers is that my annual habits begin to reveal themselves.  Nowhere is this more evident than during the winter months.  As I have written before, my wife and I, as we approached retirement, most looked forward to escaping the east coast during the months of January and February.  We are blessed with the fact that our elder adult son lives with us and his slightly younger brother lives close by, so there is no problem each winter with leaving the cats and the house behind along with the weather. 

    This year, like last year, we escaped for ten days in the Caribbean in January, and were under sail on the Island Windjammer ship Sagitta when my birthday rolled around.  Then we were back in the District of Columbia or two weeks before leaving for the Gulf Shores of Alabama, where we encamped for 5 weeks in a condo overlooking the beach and the Gulf.  We have spent most of a short twelve days back in the D.C, survived a final winter snow false alarm, and are now poised, once again, on the brink of our final winter trip – to watch the Washington Nationals in Spring Training in Viera, Florida.
Our Smart Car exits the Autotrain (to general laughter)

    As great as the prior winter escapes were, in many ways this one is my favorite.  Instead of driving our larger “road car” south, as we did when we travelled to and from the Gulf Shore, on this trip we drive our convertible two-seater Smart car the 20 miles to Lorton, Virginia, and then board the Autotrain for an overnight trip to Sanford, Florida, about 50 miles from the cottage we rent across the street from the beach at Cocoa Beach, Florida.  We will be there for one week, then catch a few days in Orlando re-acquainting ourselves with “the Mouse,” and head back to D.C. at the end of March, hoping to have finessed our way through winter once again.

Our rental cottage at Cocoa Beach
    But while the Autotrain and Cocoa Beach are terrific, what I truly love about this trip is its underlying theme:  the return of baseball, and the boys of summer.  It is difficult to understand what it is like to be a Washington, D.C. baseball fan without having lived through the last 40 years here.  Those years included a 33 year stretch without any baseball at all.  Remember that we lost the Senators twice:  First to Minneapolis, then to Texas.  In the intervening years there were repeated attempts to lure the nation’s pastime back to D.C. – one year it became so liklely that the San Diego Padres would relocate here that baseball cards were issued for that team, re-named the Nationals – but all of the previous attempts ultimately failed, generally as a result of a veto by Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, who persisted for decades in the smug belief that if he held us captive long enough Washington D.C. fans would embrace the Orioles as their own.  Sorry.  We didn’t.  There are some things that even hostages will not do.   

    All of this is background to explain how our household, and much of Washington, has embraced the return of baseball to the Nation’s capitol.  As Laura Ingalls Wilder observed, joy is always best when it follows sorrow.  Our thirst was quenched following a very long drought. 

    Last year in an analogous post I recounted some recommended readings that embrace the national pastime and that are great preparation, read in early spring, for what is to come with the boys of summer.  This year I thought I would add at least two more gems to the list, each by well-known authors who also apparently can’t get baseball out of their minds this time of year. 

    First up, Stephen King.  King is a long-time victim of baseball fever.  His 2004 non-fiction volume Faithful is based on his correspondence with fellow novelist and co-author Stewart O’Nan, both rabid Red Sox fans, throughout the course of the 2004 season and ending with Boston’s trip to the world series.  King has also penned two short works inspired by baseball, 2010’s Blockade Billy, about a mythical 1957 catcher who, for reasons best told by King, has been erased completely from baseball history, and 2012’s A Face in the Crowd, also co-written with O’Nan, a long short story recounting what happens to a baseball fan who begins to see long-departed acquaintances from his past seated around him at the ballpark.  But while each of these works can serve to establish King’s baseball credentials, to my mind his finest baseball-related work is the 1999 novel The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon, the story of a girl lost in the woods who is counseled, in her imagination, by Gordon, the real-life Boston closer from the 1990s, and is ultimately inspired to “close” the novel as Gordon would have a game.  A great read for spring.

    Batting second, John Grisham.  Long before attending law school Grisham dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals and to this day he is a big supporter of little league teams in Mississippi and Virginia.  His non-legal 2001 quasi-autobiographical novel A Painted House features a narration punctuated by family gatherings around the radio to listen to Harry Caray’s play-by-play of St. Louis Cardinal games.  (Yep, that’s where Caray was, paired with Jack Buck, prior to his Chicago days.)  Even though baseball is only a supporting character in A Painted House, the novel is a fine spring read.  But Grisham truly excels with his 2012 novel Calico Joe, inspired by the real-life story of Ray Chapman, the only ball player ever killed by a pitch.  For a National’s fan like myself the novel proved prescient soon after it was released when, in the summer of 2012 rookie Bryce Harper, the team’s boy wonder, and the closest thing we have to Calico Joe, was beaned on purpose by Philly pitcher Cole Hamel for no reason except that Harper was new, young, eager and poised for greatness.  Like the pitcher antagonist in Calico Joe, Hamels self-servingly defended his action as nothing more than a lesson in “old school” baseball.  Former Phillies pitcher Curt Shilling (and, one would suspect, Grisham, as well) had a better word for it – “stupid.”  That lesson is learned in Calico Joe – another great read as we await opening day.

    Time to pack.  I am off to Florida.  Play ball!

(Next week acclaimed mystery writer Terence Faherty joins SleuthSayers, alternating Tuesdays with me.  Terry’s accomplishments – including authorship of both the Owen Keane and Scott Elliot series of mysteries and numerous awards—leave my own scant efforts in a pale cloud of literary dust.  But at least we have this:  Terry and I both love a good pastiche, as anyone who has read Terry's recent  short story A Scandal in Bohemia (EQMM, February 2013) knows full well.  And this we also share:  an understanding that the rules of constrained writing, once mastered, can also be bent.  This extends not just to plot, such as in Terry's re-imagined telling of Conan Doyle’s Bohemian Scandal, but to writing styles as well.  I noted in my last blog Churchill’s admonition that ending a sentence in a preposition was something “up with which he would not put.”  And here is Holmes dismissing the sanctity of the rule in Terry’s Bohemian pastiche: 
The wording of your note is out of character with a true free spirit.  “A matter up with which he can no longer put,” indeed.  Only someone sitting on a particularly rigid stick would go to such lengths to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition.”
I am certain we are all looking forward to welcoming Terry to the SleuthSayers ranks!)

18 March 2014

Bonehead


by Dale C. Andrews
Rule 59. One run shall be scored every time a base-runner, after having legally touched the first three bases, shall legally touch the home base before three men are put out. Provided, however, that if he reach home on or during a play in which the third man be forced out or be put out, before reaching [a required] base, a run shall not count. . . .
                                   Rule 59 Reach Official American League Base Ball Guide (1908) 


Washington Nationals' Spring Training, Viera, Florida
     It’s that time again. At least once a year my fortnightly spot here on SleuthSayers is devoted to the national pastime. Luckily my wife likes baseball as much as I do. We generally watch every one of the 162 games played by the Nationals in the regular season each year, and this week finds us on our annual one week visit to Florida to watch the Nationals in Spring Training in Viera. If we were not each such devotees it is hard to imagine the marriage surviving. 

       During the winter, when baseball retreats with the sun, I try to fill the void with the next best thing. There are others out there like me, and this usually inspires an annual crop of baseball books, generally published during the winter of our discontent. I have highlighted such books in past March columns here and here, and this year the best of the annual lot may be Where Nobody Knows Your Name by John Feinstein. Feinstein’s book is a non-fiction account of what it is like to play in the minor leagues -- far from the chartered jets and mega-salaries. The book is populated by has-beens and wannabees, and, as a result, in its telling it imparts a wistful sadness that can be found at times in baseball stories. 

       This year I also sought solace watching Ken Burns excellent Baseball documentary, originally released on PBS in nine episodes in 1994 and subsequently updated and expanded to ten episodes (innings) in 2010. The full series, available on-line from NetFlix, and elsewhere in DVD format, is highly recommended. Burns is a master, and his homage to the national pastime regales the viewer with the stories behind the sport. And like John Feinstein’s new book, Burns, too, offers some poignant stories amidst the heroics. A good example is the story of Fred “Bonehead” Merkle, which goes back over one hundred years. 

       In 1908 Merkle was a 19 year old backup first baseman on the New York Giants, a team that that year was in a neck-and-neck race with the Chicago Cubs for the pennant. Merkle had received high praise as an up and coming backup player when in late September the fates interceded. What started the ball rolling (or flying) could have been a big break for Merkle, but, as described by the Sports Encyclopedia in 2001, it didn’t turn out that way. 
Fred Tenney [the Giants’ regular first baseman] woke upon September 23rd (1908) in the throes of a lumbago attack, and 19-year-old substitute Fred Merkle was sent in to take his place at first base. As events turned out, fate would treat Merkle unkindly that day.
       Merkle took his position at first base and all went well until the bottom of the ninth inning when Merkle stepped up to the plate. The score was tied, one to one, and there were two outs. Merkle’s teammate Moose McCormick (what a great baseball name!) was on first base. Merkle singled and McCormick advanced to third. The next batter, Al Bridwell, also singled. Moose McCormick trotted home and the stadium erupted, fans storming the field in celebration of the Giants’ apparent win. 

The field just after Moose trotted home
       Concluding that the game was over, and perhaps a little terrified by the stampeding crowd, Fred Merkle lit out for the Giants clubhouse. But, unfortunately for him and for the Giants, he did this without first tagging second base. The Cubs second baseman, Johnny Evers, noticed this and, with Rule 59 (quoted above) buzzing around in the back of his brain, Evers had an Epiphany moment. He started jumping up and down, frantically screaming for his teammates to throw him the baseball, which he realized was still technically in play. In response a ball was retrieved by the Cubs, thrown to Evers, and Evers tagged second, while continuing to jump up and down to attract the attention of the umpires. 

       It took the umpires and the review process two days to sort out the mess, and they eventually ruled that because Fred Merkle had not tagged second Rule 59 dictated that that when the ball was thrown to second base Merkle was out and that, under Rule 59, the otherwise winning run was negated. This left the game a tie. A makeup game was therefore scheduled for October 8. The Cubs won that game, and as a result the pennant, by a score of four to two. 

       The Giants manager, John McGraw, was furious at the decision, and later handed out gold medals to all of the members of the Giants team proclaiming them the true champions, despite the fact that the Cubs went on to win the 1908 World Series. Were the Giants “robbed” of the pennant? Well, it all depends on exactly what happened to that baseball between the time that Al Bidwell hit it and the moment some minutes later when Evers was seen jumping up and down on second base with a baseball in his hand. 

       The story, as told in the Ken Burns series, went like this: When Johnny Evers realized that Merkle had returned to the dugout without tagging second he frantically signaled his teammates to retrieve the ball. Seeing what was going on Giants coach Joe McGinnity tried to prevent the play at second. As the Cubs players raced toward him he scooped up the ball and tossed it into the stands where it was caught by a fan wearing a bowler hat. Two Cubs players then sprinted into the stands, wrestled the ball from the hands of the fan, and relayed it to Johnny Evers at second base for the out. 

       If Burns got it right the play was pretty spooky but it is hard to say how the Giants were “robbed” -- the out was made consistent with the requirements of Rule 59. However the previous sentence begins with a mighty big “if”. The accounts of what happened that day vary radically and, rather strangely, it is almost impossible to find the account that Burns tells in his documentary. By contrast, here is the eyewitness account of what transpired as recorded by Mr. O. C. Schwartz in a diary that was discovered over 70 years later among Mr. Schwartz’s effects at an estate sale. 
       So much has been said about what is commonly called "The Merkle Boner" that, being an eyewitness to the account, I should set the matter straight once and for all.
       It was a Wednesday, Sept. 23 in 1908, my Dad took me to the game , letting me miss school that day. I was only eight-years old at the time, and it was the first chance I ever had to watch a professional baseball game in person.
       I may be 75 years old, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.
       The controversy is all about what happened in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Polo Grounds was crowded that day. The fans were all getting ready to rush the field at game's end.
       The score was tied 1-1 with two outs. A fellow by the name of McCormick was on first base at the time. Fred Merkle came to bat and wasted no time getting a base hit and advancing the runner to third base.
       The crowd was absolutely hysterical as Al Bridwell came to the plate. Bridwell singled to the outfield and McCormick scored what was the apparent winning run. The fans all rushed onto the field to celebrate the win as pandemonium filled the ballpark.
       It is a funny thing, but instead of watching all the people or the players, I kept my eye on the ball. It came to center fielder Solly Hofman on the second bounce. Realizing that the winning run was scoring as he fielded the ball, Hofman lobbed a rainbow into the infield. The third base coach Joe McGinnity, pitcher Christy Mathewson and a fan were all in a battle with second baseman Johnny Evers to catch the ball. After a brief skirmish, the fan came away with the ball and heaved it into the stands along the third base line.
       Meanwhile Merkle, who was so excited by his team apparently winning the game, jogged halfway to second base and then starting running towards the Giant's dugout. Mathewson or one of the other Giants in the dugout had yelled to Merkle and he began scurrying towards second base.
       Evers had somehow retrieved yet another ball from somewhere and touched second base ahead of Merkle and the umpire, at Evers admonishing, saw the event and ruled Merkle out, thus negating the winning run.
       So much has been said and talked about over the decades, about whether Evers had the ball that was hit by Bridwell. I saw it with my own eyes, Evers forced Merkle out at second with a ball which was thrown to him from the New York dugout.
       The chaos that ensued was one of the wildest things I have ever seen. The umpires were arguing with Cubs manager Frank Chance and Giants manager John McGraw in the infield. After being swarmed by fans and reporters, the umpires decided to assemble in the umpires quarters which was located behind home plate beneath the grandstand.
       After deliberating what seemed like an eternity, they came back to the field and advised everyone of their decision. They had decided that the force-out at second base negated the run scored, therefore the game ended in a tie, and would have to be replayed, pending a review by the National League President.
       If I forget everything else in my life, I shall never forget the look of sadness and helplessness in the face of young Fred Merkle right then.
       If Mr. Schwartz got it right, it was, indeed, robbery that sent Chicago on the road to the pennant and world series in 1908. After winning the World Series in 1908 the Cubs never again reached that prize, and now hold the dubious distinction of being the team with the longest World Series drought in the history of the sport. Some say this Cubbies curse began in 1945, when owner P.K. Wrigley ejected Billy Sianis, a Chicago tavern owner who had come to Game 4 with two box seat tickets, one for him and one for his goat. But others count that curse as having begun the day that the Cubs, through what may well have been sleight of hand, manufactured an out at the expense of Fred Merkle and the New York Giants. 

A cartoon depiction with its
own boner -- Fred in a Cubs cap!
       But fair or not, there is no two ways about it -- the whole mess would have never occurred if Fred had just tagged second. The Giants manager, McGraw, was steadfast in not blaming Merkle. Most everyone else, however, was not that charitable. Merkle played with a succession of teams through 1920, but always under the spectre of that blunder he committed when he was nineteen. By all accounts the blunder stalked him the rest of his life. The following is by Keith Olbermann, writing in Sports Illustrated: 
       It was nearly 30 years after the game—that game—and, Marianne Merkle remembered, even church wasn't a safe haven. One Sunday morning in the 1930s, Merkle and her family were attending services in Florida, when a visiting minister introduced himself. "You don't know me," he piped, "but you know where I'm from! Toledo, Ohio! The hometown of Bonehead Fred Merkle!"
       Little Marianne knew what would happen next. "The kindness drained from [my father's] face," she told me five decades later. Then Fred Merkle rose and wearily told his wife and daughters, "Let's go."

07 November 2011

Ideas R Us


Jan Grape by Jan Grape

Almost every time I talk to a group about writing and get to the Q and A portion, I’m asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”

I have a couple of stock answers which usually get a laugh. One is: “I belong to ‘Ideas of the Month Club’ and they send me ideas once a month.” (I think I stole that from mystery writer, Les Roberts.) The other is: “I just go to “Ideas R Us” and buy one when I need it.” (Am sure I stole that from someone, too.)

My own real answer is: Ideas are in the air, all you have to do is pull one down when you need one.

Deadly Allies III wrote two short stories that were inspired by songs. One story was “Scarlett Fever” in the Deadly Allies II anthology and my inspiration (idea) came from a song by Kenny Rogers, titled “Scarlett Fever.” In the song, this guy kept going to a club to watch a dancer named Scarlett and fell in love with her. One night he goes to the club and she’s not there anymore and he’s devastated. My idea was: what happened to this girl? Did she really leave for brighter lights as the club manager says or did something bad happen to her?

My second story is “Deathbed Confession” based on a song by a local Texas writer, Thomas Michael Riley. I can’t really say much about the song without giving away some of the story but it will be published next spring in ACWL Presents: Murder Here, Murder There. This will be the first Jenny Gordon, C.J. Gunn, story in several years and it was nice to find out how the female private investigators were doing. Nice to know that G & G Investigations still is in business. Murder Here, Murder There is the second anthology written by the members of the American Crime Writers League and is co-edited by R. Barry Flowers and myself and published by Twilight Times.

Another story was inspired by a name. A friend of mine, writes a newsy-about-town column in a local weekly newspaper and she writers under the nom de plume of “Ima Snoop.” I thought the name was funny and asked permission to use it in a story called, “The Crimes of Miss Abigail Armstrong.” That story is in the first anthology, from Twilight Times, written by ACWL members and co-edited by R. Barri Flowers and Jan Grape.

My Austin policewoman series was inspired by taking a ten week class, Austin Citizen’s Police Academy training which was offered by the Austin Police Department. In these classes we learned about different departments such as fraud, firearms, robbery homicide, SWAT, etc. After the training was over, I was involved in the alumni association and went out to the academy on numerous occasions to assist in the new cadet training. Training offers set up scenarios using alumni graduates as bad guys and the cadets would have to participate and discover the crime or non-crime committed. Cadets learn how to use their computers, the patrol car’s siren, their walkie-talkies and to quickly access a situation and act accordingly. That was fun because I got to role-play as a bad guy, which soon led to a voice I kept hearing in my head. Fortunately, I began writing Zoe Barrow’s story in Austin City Blue, published in 2000 by Five Star and wasn’t hauled off in a strait-jacket by the guys from the funny farm.

My latest novel, What Doesn’t Kill You, came from seeing a little girl with ears that stuck out like open taxi doors, who was in a bookstore with her grandfather. She wanted to buy a magazine, but gramps said they couldn’t afford it. Somehow that little girl stayed in my mind and eventually became the sixteen year old, Cory Purvis, in that book.

Just yesterday, a friend asked me to do some research on sleepwalking for her. Who knows– I may come up with a character who kills when sleepwalking or so he/she claims.

Today I read a short article in my Sunday newspaper about people selling lollipops which have been licked by children with chickenpox. The buyers are people who don’t want to vaccinate their children but want them to catch the childhood disease. People could go online and look for: 'Find a Pox Party In Your Area' the article said. Cost was $50 a pox-licked lollipop. The sellers are selling these all over the country, sending the candy by mail. Sending diseases and viruses by mail is a federal crime. So some arrest have been made and prosecutors warning parents. Can you imagine giving your child a lollipop, supposedly with chickenpox virus on it? What if it were AIDS virus, or hepatitis? What if it were a more deadly lollipop like Anthrax or something similar? That news article idea sounds like a great plot for a book and I’ll bet we’ll see that used in one very soon.

Newspapers, TV news reports, TV shows, songs, books or stories by other writers, something read on the internet all can give you ideas. So in my humble opinion, ideas are everywhere and all you have to do is pull one down. As a last resort, just go to the mall to IDEAS R US and buy an awesome idea.

09 October 2012

Framing the Pitch


by Dale C. Andrews

The art of framing the pitch in baseball gives the illusion to the umpire that a ball just off the plate actually crossed the plate. It also gives the impression that the ball 5 or 6 inches off the plate just missed. The umpire may get the impression that the pitcher has very good control which can influence his calling of balls and strikes.

    Having begun the baseball season with a SleuthSayers article inspired by spring training, it seems fitting to return to the nation’s pastime as we move into post-season play.  And what a season it has been here in Washington, D.C. 

The Washington Nationals -- 2012 NL East Champions!
     When I was still an undergraduate at George Washington University the Senators ran away to Texas, leaving the city without baseball for the next 33 years.  I had grown up with Cardinal baseball in my hometown of St. Louis, but, except for one year, after college I remained a D.C, resident.  Some in this city adopted the Baltimore Orioles as their team, but not me.  I spent every one of those 33 years resenting Baltimore, which steadfastly vetoed any attempt by Washington to secure a replacement team.  All of this finally ended in 2005, when the Montreal Expos were relocated to D.C. and re-christened the Washington Nationals.  It’s been a tough eight years between those first miserable years (when twice we had more losses than any other team) and the 2012 Nationals, who have now won the Eastern Division of the National League with the best record in all baseball.

    But in my enthusiasm I digress, and right here at the beginning of the article. 

    The point I do want to make for today’s purposes is that in those 33 years away from baseball – virtually all of my adult life – there were things that others learned about the sport that I did not.  One of those is the importance of the catcher.  As best I remember it, when I was in high school the catcher, well, . . . caught.  That was pretty much it.  But as I began to watch the Nationals over the last few years amazement dawned on me.  The catcher was calling the game, signaling to the pitcher the pitches that should be thrown. 

    And the catcher also had the clever task of framing the pitch.  As the quote at the top from QCBaseball.com indicates, one of the catcher’s challenges is to make pitches seem like those that they are not, to make the truth look like something altogether different to the umpire. When successful, framing the pitch can transform a ball into a called strike.  The sleight of hand that accomplishes this is not unlike that of the magician – hiding the obvious from the audience in whatever way is possible.

    The task is also not unlike that of the mystery writer, particularly a writer of “fair play” mysteries, where the goal is to fool a different sort of umpire – the reader.

    The rules of a fair play mystery are simple:  All of the clues must be provided to the reader.  There can be no “deus ex machine,” no “new killer” or critical piece of evidence introduced in the final chapter or paragraph.  Everything must be capable of being worked out by the reader.  But the trick to the fair play mystery is to accomplish all of this in a way that hoodwinks the reader.  The writer’s task is to make the mystery capable of solution while at the same time ensuring that most readers will not, in fact, solve it.  Ellery Queen was a master at this – clues could be dropped right under our nose and we would miss them, slapping our foreheads later when the solution was ultimately revealed. 

    And that, as promised two weeks ago, brings us to the last article I posted – A Bouchercon Mystery.  The premise of the article is hardly original – the headache-inducing formula underlying the narrative is a favorite on many internet sites.  The version I offered changed a few things, and introduced some new red herrings – extraneous numbers and arithmetic grumblings between the characters.  But at base the story, and the trick to the story, are quite simple.  In this version three people share a hotel room.  The original price for the room is $300.  Each person forks over $100, they do not tip the bellhop, and the three check in.  The bellboy then returns to the room and tells the occupants that there is a special rate of $250, and hands them five ten dollar bills.   They tip the bellhop twenty dollars and each of the three then pockets ten. 

    So there are two basic ways to look at this transaction.  The original price for the room was $300.  Since there is no tip, the total price is $300 and each occupant pays $100.  That math works. 

    Alternatively, if you look at the scenario from the perspective of the revised price, it works out like this:  $250 for the room, plus that twenty dollar tip to the bellboy, means the room costs a total of $270.  Since each of the three occupants originally paid $100, and since each got back ten dollars the total paid by each was $90, and $90 times three equals $270.  That works too.  Simple.  No magic.  Anyone could figure this out.

    So what does the writer do to obfuscate those clues in a manner that will confuse the reader?  How does the writer, in other words, make the reader lose track of all those fair play clues?  The answer is you blend the two prices, and you do it fast.  .
    Leigh’s eyes narrowed, and it was obvious he was working something over in his head.  “Wait a minute,” Leigh finally said, a look of incredulity spreading across his face.  “When we checked in, and the room was $300, we each paid $100.  And now, with the special rate, we each got $10 back.  This means we each paid $90, and. $90 times three men equals $270. John just tipped the bellhop $20. That only equals $290!”
    All of the sudden we are left to ruminate over what happened to a seemingly missing ten dollars.

    What’s wrong with this?  As we can now see, quite a bit.  $90 times three is, indeed, $270, but as noted above $270 is the price of the hotel room after the twenty dollar tip has been included.  What Leigh did was add the tip in another time, to reach $290, and then compare that to the wrong number – the $300 price that was paid before the $50 discount.

    As I said earlier, the trick in this story is not mine.  It is borrowed from other internet pages.  Why do I like it?  To my mind, it is a great example of how words can be used to distract the reader, to entice them to reach wrong conclusions.

    It is, in other words, a clever "fair play" example of framing the pitch. 

04 October 2019

Beatniks and Bad Guys: Barry Gifford and David Lynch



David Lynch's Wild at Heart, based on
the novel by Barry Gifford.
Beatniks and Bad Guys was nearly the sole title of this piece, but I felt it just wasn't cool to leave Barry Gifford off the headline. Gifford is, after all, the Kerouac of crime fiction.  David Lynch's connection to Gifford's Sailor and Lula crime-novel series, beginning with Wild at Heart, also warrants room on the marquee. Though I like the way Gifford's writing blows Beatnik riffs in a film noir world, it was Gifford's non-fiction that grabbed me first.

Before cable, film noir (and crime film in general) was all over TV. If you we're a kid planted in front of the small screen,  you we're bound to come across films like The Big Sleep or The Big Heat or The Big Knife. If you weren't put off by black and white, and you liked the dirty dealings, the thrilling bad-assery of it all, likely you were hooked. Those movies kick-started my interest in film, and like most film buffs, I read what I could about how these flicks came to be. When I came across Barry Gifford's love letter to crime cinema, The Devil Thumbs a Ride, I knew I'd come across a kindred spirit.

It wasn't just the subject matter of Gifford's The Devil Thumbs a Ride that intrigued me; it was the soulfulness of his writing, the off-kilter way he came at crime films. When I discovered that Gifford's first non-fiction book was Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac, it started to make sense. Gifford had one foot in Birdland and one in Chinatown. He was a Beatnik who dove deep into crime fiction. Technically, he was a little late on the scene to be a real Beat, but he had the heart of one. I wasn't the first kid to read On The Road and have it stick with me for life. Finding an author who mashed up two of my great interests into one unique vision was a big deal.

Author Barry Gifford
Barry Gifford was born in 1946, just a couple years prior to Jack Kerouac's actual road trip that would be the basis of On the Road. Gifford's father was associated with the Chicago mob, and Gifford spent his early years living out of hotel rooms. Regular schooling wasn't in the game plan. "He learned from late-night noir movies and the strange characters that passed through the hotel lobbies," The Paris Review wrote. A stint in the merchant marine (Kerouac did time in the merchant marine, too) sent Gifford to swinging London in the mid-sixties, where he partied with the likes of John Lennon and Eric Clapton.

In 1967 Gifford moved to San Francisco and befriended the Beats who were still living there, including Allen Ginsburg. It was a momentous relocation. He was soon writing for Rolling Stone, and he met his future wife there. Many of the Beats he met provided their stories for Jack's Book. Novels, poetry collections, and more non-fiction followed. He even started Black Lizard Press, through which he published many of his favorite-though-forgotten pulp authors. I'll bet the first Jim Thompson book I ever read was a Black Lizard edition. Black Lizard was a big part of the neo noir boom of the 1980s. This noir comeback included films like the Coen Brothers Blood Simple and David Lynch's Blue Velvet.

When David Lynch asked Gifford to write the screenplay for Wild at Heart in 1990, based on the first of Gifford's Sailor and Lula neo-noir novels, Gifford initially refused. Gifford was busy writing the sequel to Wild at Heart (titled Sailor's Holiday) when Lynch called.  Lynch was fascinated by Sailor and Lula, who keep their love light alive in a dirty rotten world. "It was like looking into the Garden of Eden before things went bad," Lynch later wrote.

David Lynch at Cannes in 1990
with Wild at Heart
Gifford told Lynch to write the Wild at Heart screenplay himself, and then send it back to him for notes. They eventually shared credit for the screenplay. Wild at Heart was a success, winning the Palm d'Or at Cannes and planting its freak flag into the head of the '90s. It made Gifford's book a best seller. The Sailor and Lula series ended up running eight novels long.

The next time Lynch came calling, he wanted Gifford to adapt  one of the stories from Gifford's book Night People. Southern gothic meets the Lynchian edge of darkness in Night People. It might be for the wild at heart, but not for the feint of heart. It's also smartly hilarious. 

Gifford didn't want to adapt one of the Night People stories, though. He wanted to create something new, featuring a character who wakes one day as a totally different person.  Lost Highway's non-linear structure makes it a more difficult film than Wild at Heart, and one viewing isn't enough. It's bizarre and unique, a perfect pairing of two one-of-a-kind storytellers. I don't think Lynch ever had a more perfectly attuned collaborator than Barry Gifford.

I recently finished Barry Gifford's Writers (2015), a collection of short one act plays that feature famous authors in vulnerable situations. I felt he really got to the heart of these scribes in a deceptively quick and fun read. You have to be good to say so much in a such a thin tome, and Gifford succeeds.  "The Last Words of Arthur Rimbaud," featuring the dying moments of the French poet, is haunting and sad. The same can be said about "The Nobody," about Emily Dickinson's relationship with her sister.

"Spring Training at the Finca Vigia" is a masterful portrayal of Ernest Hemingway and his wife, the writer Martha Gellhorn. Along for the ride are Hugh Casey and Kirby Higbe, real-life pitchers for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It's 1941, and the setting is the Hemingway household outside Havana, Cuba. Hemingway comes off as a moody knucklehead, having drunken sparring sessions with the jocks while the cool-headed Gellhorn delivers Martini-dry insults.

At night a hammered Hemingway shoots at imaginary Cuban rebels who he believes are trying to rob him. Gellhorn pleads with him to stop, but Hemingway goes so far as to booby trap his yard with explosives. It's both funny and scary, a combo Gifford specializes in. For me, this mirrored Hemingway's belief that the US government was spying on him. This paranoia is one of the things that's suspected to have driven Hemingway to suicide.  The kicker is that is was revealed that the FBI really was spying on Hemingway, even going so far as to read his mail. Hemingway was right all along. Gellhorn took her own life years after Hemingway did. The same with pitcher Hugh Casey.

Jack Kerouac meets infamous New York mobster Joey Gallo in "One Night in Umberto's Clam House." It's as literal a representation of the Beat-meeting-the-noir that Gifford could have written. Gifford's whole unique vision is kind of summed up in thirteen pages. It also feels like a moment in a Lynch film when there's a snatch of dialogue that's casual and dangerous, past and future, with darkness and murder tiptoeing all around a diminishing edge of light.

For more Barry Gifford, take a trip down that lost internet highway to BarryGifford.Net.

The following articles, excellent all, helped me prepare for this piece: Michael Bible's "Still Weird on Top"; Jim Ruland's "Barry Gifford's Lifetime of Outsiders"; J.W. McCormack's "Barry Gifford is America's Offbeat Dostoevsky"; and Ron Wells' "Interview: Lost Highway Screenwriter Barry Gifford."

I discuss Gifford's The Devil Thumbs a Ride in my earlier two-part Sleuthsayers blog "My Dinner with Lawrence Tierney," from February 8 & 29. Tierney threw punches. Check it out.

I'm Lawrence Maddox, author of Fast Bang Booze, available at Down&Out Books. You can reach me at Lawrencemddx@yahoo.com. Tweets welcome at Lawrence Maddox@MadXBooks. 

13 December 2015

Sherlock Holmes meets O Henry, 2


O Henry
by Leigh Lundin

If you thought last week’s story featuring O Henry’s Shamrock Jolnes was dull, er, droll, wait until you read this week’s clunker.

I admire O Henry’s stories, I really do, but his heavy drinking shows, drinking that led to an early death by liver failure. But that’s just my opinion. These turkeys managed to get published posthumously.

The ‘O’ in William Sydney Porter’s O Henry pseudonym originally stood for Olivier. He used that pen name only once and changed it to simply ‘O’ to disguise the fact he was writing while in federal prison for bank embezzlement. A friend forwarded manuscripts to publishers to further obscure Porter’s whereabouts.

Athol, Margaret, William Porter, 1895
Without doubt, he loved his wife, Athol. Porter married her knowing she suffered from consumption, the disease tuberculosis that would eventually take her life.

Athol encouraged her husband to write, which he began while working in Austin and Houston. After a boy who died in childbirth, Athol bore a daughter, Margaret.

After Porter’s indictment for bank fraud, he fled the country, arriving in Trujillo, Honduras. Porter planned for his wife and daughter to join him, but upon learning she was dying of tuberculosis, Porter returned and gave himself up. While serving three years of a five-year sentence in an Ohio federal prison, he wrote short stories to help support his young daughter, Margaret.

After prison, Porter moved to New York where he commenced his literary career in earnest. These Shamrock Jolnes stories were written shortly before his 1910 death at age 47.

The Sleuths

by O Henry
(© 1911)


In the Big City a man will disappear with the suddenness and completeness of the flame of a candle that is blown out. All the agencies of inquisition – the hounds of the trail, the sleuths of the city’s labyrinths, the closet detectives of theory and induction – will be invoked to the search. Most often the man’s face will be seen no more. Sometimes he will re-appear in Sheboygan or in the wilds of Terre Haute, calling himself one of the synonyms of ‘Smith’, and without memory of events up to a certain time, including his grocer’s bill. Sometimes it will be found, after dragging the rivers, and polling the restaurants to see if he may be waitng for a well-done sirloin, that he has moved next door.

This snuffing out of a human being like the erasure of a chalk man from a blackboard is one of the most impressive themes in dramaturgy

The case of Mary Snyder, in point, should not be without interest.

A man of middle age, of the name of Meeks, came from the West to New York to find his sister, Mrs. Mary Snyder, a widow, aged fifty-two who had been living for a year in a tenement house in a crowded neighborhood.

At her address he was told that Mary Snyder had moved away longer than a month before. No one could tell him the new address.

On coming out Mr. Meeks addressed a policeman who was standing on the corner, and explained his dilemma.

“My sister is very poor,” he said, “and I am anxious to find her. I have recently made quite a lot of money in a lead mine, and I want her to share my prosperity. There is no use in advertising her, because she cannot read.”

The policeman pulled his mustache and looked so thoughtful and mighty that Meeks could almost feel the joyful tears of his sister Mary drooping upon his bright blue tie.

“You go down in the Canal Street neighborhood,” said the policeman, “and get a job drivin’ the biggest dray you can find. There’s old women always getting’ knocked over by drays down there. You might see ‘er among ‘em. If you don’t want to do that you better go ‘round to headquarters and get ‘em to put a fly cop onto the dame.”

At police headquarters, Meeks received ready assistance. A general alarm was sent out and copies of a photograph of Mary Snyder that her brother had were distributed among the stations. In Mulberry Street the chief assigned Detective Mullins to the case.

The detective took Meeks aside and said:

“This is not a very difficult case to unravel. Shave off your whiskers, fill your pockets with good cigars, and meet me in the cafĂ© of the Waldorf at three o’clock this afternoon.”

Meeks obeyed. He found Mullins there. They had a bottle of wine, while the detective asked questions concerning the missing woman.

“Now,” said Mullins, “New York is a big city, but we’ve got the detective business systematized. There are two ways we can go about finding your sister. We will try one of ‘em first. You say she’s fifty-two?”

“A little past,” said Meeks.

The detective conducted the Westerner to a branch advertising office of one of the largest dailies. There he wrote the following “ad” and submitted it to Meeks.

“Wanted, at once – one hundred attractive chorus girls for a new musical comedy. Apply all day at No.–- Broadway.”

Meeks was indignant.

“My sister,” said he, “is a poor, hard-working, elderly woman. I do not see what aid an advertisement of this kind would be toward finding her.”

“All right,” said the detective. “I guess you don’t know New York. But if you’ve got a grouch against this scheme we’ll try the other one. It’s a sure thing. But it’ll cost you more.”

“Never mind the expense,” said Meeks; “we’ll try it.”

The sleuth led him back to the Waldorf. “Engage a couple of bedrooms and a parlor,” he advised, “and let’s go up.”

This was done, and the two were shown to a superb suite on the fourth floor. Meeks looked puzzled. The detective sank into a velvet armchair, and pulled out his cigar case.

“I forgot to suggest, old man,” he said, “that you should have taken the rooms by the month. They wouldn’t have stuck you so much for em.”

“By the month!” exclaimed Meeks. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, it’ll take time to work the game this way. I told you it would cost you more. We’ll have to wait till spring. There’ll be a new city directory out then. Very likely your sister’s name and address will be in it.”

Meeks rid himself of the city detective at once. On the next day some one advised him to consult Shamrock Jolnes, New York’s famous private detective, who demanded fabulous fees, but performed miracles in the way of solving mysteries and crimes.

After waiting for two hours in the anteroom of the great detective’s apartment, Meeks was shown into his presence. Jolnes sat in a purple dressing gown at an inlaid ivory chess table, with a magazine before him, trying to solve the mystery of “They.” The famous sleuth’s thin, intellectual face, piercing eyes, and rate per word are too well known to need description.

Meeks set forth his errand. “My fee, if successful, will be $500,” said Shamrock Jolnes.

Meeks bowed his agreement to the price.

“I will undertake your case, Mr. Meeks,” said Jones, finally. “The disappearance of people in this city has always been an interesting problem to me. I remember a case that I brought to a successful outcome a year ago. A family bearing the name of Clark disappeared suddenly from a small flat in which they were living I watched the flat building for two months for a clue. One day it struck me that a certain milkman and a grocer’s boy always walked backward when they carried their wares upstairs. Following out by induction the idea that this observation gave me, I at once located the missing family. They had moved into the flat across the hall and changed their name to Kralc.”

Shamrock Jolnes and his client went to the tenement house where Mary Snyder had lived, and the detective demanded to be shown the room in which she had lived. It had been occupied by no tenant since her disappearance.

The room was small, dingy, and poorly furnished. Meeks seated himself dejectedly on a broken chair, while the great detective searched the walls and floors and the few sticks of old, rickety furniture for a clue.

At the end of half an hour Jolnes had collected a few seemingly umintelligible articles – a cheap black hatpin, a piece torn off a theatre programme, and the end of a small torn card on which was the word “Left” and the characters “C 12.”

Shamrock Jolnes leaned against the mantel for ten minutes, with his head resting upon his hand, and an absorbed look upon his intellectual face. At the end of that time he exclaimed, with animation:

“Come, Mr. Meeks; the problem is solved. I can take you directly to the house where your sister is living. And you may have no fears concerning her welfare, for she is amply provided with funds – for the present at least.”

Meeks felt joy and wonder in equal proportions.

“How did you manage it?” he asked, with admiration in his tones.

Perhaps Jolnes’s only weakness was a professional pride in his wonderful achievements in induction. He was ever ready to astound and charm his listeners by describing his methods.

“By elimination,” said Jolnes, spreading his clues upon a little table, “I got rid of certain parts of the city to which Mrs. Snyder might have removed. You see this hatpin? That eliminates Brooklyn. No woman attempts to board a car at the Brooklyn Bridge without being sure that she carries a hatpin with which to fight her way into a seat. And now I will demonstrate to you that she could not have gone to Harlem. Behind this door are two hooks in the wall. Upon one of these Mrs. Snyder has hung her bonnet, and upon the other her shawl. You will observe that the bottom the hanging shawl has gradually made a soiled streak against the plastered wall. The mark is clean-out, proving that there is no fringe on the shawl. Now, was there ever a case where a middle-aged woman, wearing a shawl, boarded a Harlem train without there being a fringe on the shawl to catch in the gate and delay the passengers behind her? So we eliminate Harlem.

“Therefore I conclude that Mrs. Snyder has not moved very far away. On this torn piece of card you see the word ‘Left, the letter ‘C,’ and the number ‘12.’ Now, I happen to know that No. 12 Avenue C is a first-class boarding house, far beyond your sister’s means – as we suppose. But then I find this piece of a theatre programme, crumpled into an odd shape. What meaning does it convey? None to you, very likely, Mr. Meeks; but it is eloquent to one whose habits and training take cognizance of the smallest things.

“You have told me that your sister was a scrub woman. She scrubbed the floors of offices and hallways. Let us assume that she procured such work to perform in a theatre. Where is valuable jewellery lost the oftenest, Mr. Meeks? In the theatres, of course. Look at that piece of programme, Mr. Meeks. Observe the round impression in it. It has been wrapped around a ring – perhaps a ring of great value. Mrs. Snyder found the ring while at work in the theatre. She hastily tore off a piece of a programme, wrapped the ring carefully, and thrust it into her bosom. The next day she disposed of it, and with her increased means, looked about her for a more comfortable place in which to live. When I reach thus far in the chain I see nothing impossible about No. 12 Avenue C. It is there we will find your sister, Mr. Meeks.”

Shamrock Jolnes concluded his convincing speech with the smile of a successful artist. Meeks’s admiration was too great for words. Together they went to No. 12 Avenue C. It was an old-fashioned brownstone house in a prosperous and respectable neighborhood.

They rang the bell, and on inquiry were told that no Mrs. Snyder was known there, and that not within six months had a new occupant come to the house.

When they reached the sidewalk again, Meeks examined the clues which he had brought away from his sister’s old room.

“I am no detective,” he remarked to Jolnes as he raised the piece of theatre programme to his nose, “but it seems to me that instead of a ring having been wrapped in this paper it was one of those round peppermint drops. And this piece with the address on it looks to me like the end of a seat coupon – No. 12, row C, left aisle.”

Shamrock Jolnes had a far-away look in his eyes.

“I think you would do well to consult Juggins,” said he.

“Who is Juggins?” asked Meeks.

“He is the leader,” said Jolnes, “of a new modern school of detectives. Their methods are different from ours, but it is said that Juggins has solved some extremely puzzling cases. I will take you to him.”

They found the greater Juggins in his office. He was a small man with light hair, deeply absorbed in reading one of the bourgeois works of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The two great detectives of different schools shook hands with ceremony, and Meeks was introduced.

“State the facts,” said Juggins, going on with his reading.

When Meeks ceased, the greater one closed his book and said:

“Do I understand that your sister is fifty-two years of age, with a large mole on the side of her nose, and that she is a very poor widow, making a scanty living by scrubbing, and with a very homely face and figure?”

“That describes her exactly,” admitted Meeks. Juggins rose and put on his hat.

“In fifteen minutes,” he said, “I will return, bringing you her present address.”

Shamrock Jolnes turned pale, but forced a smile.

Within the specified time Juggins returned and consulted a little slip of paper held in his hand.

“Your sister, Mary Snyder,” he announced calmly, “will be found at No. 162 Chilton Street. She is living in the back hall bedroom, five flights up. The house is only four blocks from here,” he continued addressing Meeks. Suppose you go and verify the statement and then return here. Mr Jolnes will await you, I dare say.”

Meeks hurried away. In twenty minutes he was back again, with a beaming face.

“She is there and well!” he cried. “Name your fee!”

“Two dollars,” said Juggins.

When Meeks had settled his bill and departed, Shamrock Jolnes stood with his hat in his hand before Juggins.

“If it would not be asking too much,” he stammered , “if you would favor me so far – would you object to ––”

“Certainly not,” said Juggins, pleasantly. “I will tell you how I did it. You remember the description of Mrs. Snyder? Did you ever know a woman like that who wasn’t paying weekly instalments on an enlarged crayon portrait of herself? The biggest factory of that kind in the country is just around the corner. I went there and got her address off the books. That’s all.”



Trivia: Kids of yesteryear might remember The Cisco Kid, a popular movie and western television series. The name, although not the plot, was taken from a short story by… O Henry.

23 November 2015

Know Your Terrorist


by Jan Grape

Most of us are still reeling over the mass murders in Paris and in Mali this week. I'm upset by the Americans of all nationalities and religions and races wanting to close our borders and keeping anyone who is Muslim from entering especially refugees from Syria. But I don't think this forum is a place to get too political because we talk about mysteries and writing.

However, a friend of mine named Sharan Newman is a mystery writer who writes historical mysteries usually set in Medieval Times. She also writes non-fiction books. She researches her books meticulously and when I read anything she has written I feel I can understand and also trust her research is as true as possible. She has written several articles on Know Your Terrorist. One she had written this week caught my eye and I asked if I could use it for my blog. She agreed. Then in trying to locate that article, she found one she had written earlier and I think is more informative. So following is a wonderful article on the known terror groups who are in our immediate headlines and does a lot to explain who is who.

Know Your Terrorist

The recent tragic events in France have made it clear that most of us are a little vague on the different terrorist groups operating in the world today. Even the terrorists there weren’t sure who they were working for. When I realized that even they were confused, it seemed like a good idea to give a simplistic explanation of the major non-governmental terrorists so that the next time someone takes you hostage and says that they are from the Broccoli Liberation front, you can explain to them why they should kill you for another reason, rather than to free oppressed broccoli.

Here are the most active free-lance groups. In my next essay, I'll consider the governmental and corporate terrorist organizations that have created the more openly violent cadres.

BOKO HARAM
As the link below and all the news reports seem to agree, Boko Haram, operating in Northeastern Nigeria, is the most brutal and least comprehensible of the active terrorists. They love mayhem, murder and rape and don’t seem to be making any ideological demands apart from a fuzzy connection to Islam. Originally a non-violent group that protested oppression by the Nigerian government, it grew to oppose any form of what it considers Western influence. This is why even Muslim children are killed or kidnapped at western-style schools. They say they are Islamic but, as with another group, ISIS/DAESH, they are imagining a mythical Islamic past. Actually, I think they are also imagining a mythical Africa derived from western films seasoned with Lord of the Flies.

For connected topics see: Nigerian Army, Nigerian Government, International Oil Cartels, Koch Brothers. A more academic explanation is here:
http://ijpr.org/post/nigeria-boko-haram-continues-its-campaign-terror

AL-QAEDA
This is not the oldest group but one of the most visible. It began in the late 1980s in the wake of the years of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. “With Soviet forces withdrawing …, the idea of a global jihad suddenly seems possible, and al Qaeda, literally “the Base,” is born. “We used to call the training camp al Qaeda,” bin Laden would later recall. “And the name stayed.”´ [sic] (http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/03/17/al-qaeda-core-a-short-history) Doesn’t that sound cozy?

Al-Qaeda was founded by Osama bin-Laden, born in 1957 to a Syrian mother and Yemeni father. The senior bin-Laden was a self-made millionaire contractor who became the major builder for the Saudi Arabian monarchy. PBS Frontline has posted a fascinating biography, written by one of bin-Laden’s followers, portraying him as a pious young man who was doing contracting in Afghanistan when the invasion of Kuwait began: “While he was expecting some call to mobilize his men and equipment he heard the news which transferred his life completely. The Americans are coming. He always describes that as a shocking moment. He felt depressed and thought that maneuvers had to change. Instead of writing to the king or approaching other members of the royal family, he started lobbying through religious scholars and Muslim activists.”  [sic]

(http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/bio.html)

Al-Qaeda was born because of the American support of the Saudis and vice-versa. Osama was considered a terrorist by the Saudis and, under him, A-Qaeda organized mutual support with the Taliban. “The leader of Taliban Mulla Omer was keen to meet Osama. He met him early 1997 after two TV interviews, Channel 4 and CNN.[!?] Mulla Omer expressed respect and admiration but requested him to have low profile…. Bin Laden noticed that the driving force in Taliban were Ulema (religious scholars). He made very good links with them and lobbied specifically for the subject of American forces in the Arabian Peninsula. He was able to extract a fatwah signed by some 40 scholars in Afghanistan sanctioning the use of all means to expel the American forces from the Peninsula. The issue of that fatwah was an asset to him inside Taliban domain. He felt that Ulema were at his back and he could go high profile after long silence.” (ibid)

“His relation with Taliban would best be understood if Taliban themselves are understood properly. First of all Taliban are not simply another Afghan faction supported by Pakistan. Taliban are sincere to their beliefs, a religiously committed group unspoiled by political tactics. They would never bargain with what they see as matters of principle. Bin Laden for them is a saint. He is a symbol of sacrifice for the sake of jihad. They see him as very rich Arab from the Holy Land who gave up his wealth and luxury to fight for the sake of his brother Muslims in Afghanistan.” (ibid)

I wish there were more such biographies.  It is essential for us to comprehend the rationale of the many people who support the terrorists. One problem we have is understanding why these terrorist leaders are so protected. If you read the whole article, it continues explaining why the Taliban and Osama were so revered. The author doesn’t mention bombings, murder, or the oppression of women and minorities, of course.

Even before Osama bin-Laden was killed, his grip on Al-Qaeda was slipping. Other groups in the Sudan, Nigeria and Syria, were not looking to them for leadership. Many, such as ISIS and Boko Haram, do not have a firm theological base other than, West and Jews = bad; our Islam = good.
See Taliban, George W. Bush, Oil Cartels

THE (so-called) ISLAMIC STATE
Of the Muslim-associated terrorist groups, this is the most interesting to me because, unlike the others, there is a medieval flavor about it. Sadly, as I mentioned above, they don’t seem to have any historians among them, so that the caliphate they plan is drawn from fantasy. They do appear to have some serious and competent Muslim scholars in their ranks, but they haven’t made it clear what school of Shari’a law they are working from. Of course, few people outside of fundamentalist Islam know that there is more than one branch. Have you ever noticed how many problems occur because no one thought to consult an expert in history?

ISIS grew from the Syrian al-Qaeda sector as a result of the Syrian civil war. The reasons for that war, beyond the Arab Spring, have been minutely dissected without any consensus. Suffice to say that ISIS is the richest and best-organized of the Islamist groups operating today. As with the first two groups, they succeeded because a dictator or other person in power was tormenting a minority group and they were able to come in and fill a vacuum. In this case, they began as rebels against the government of Bashir al Assad, which is not only dictatorial but heretical in their eyes. They state that they have set up is an Islamist Caliphate. The last Caliphate in the area was defeated by the Ottoman Empire over 600 years ago so the blueprint is rather old. Both the Abbasid and Umayyad Caliphates in the 8th through 11th centuries tended to be fairly easy going about minorities, even Islamic ones. I believe that, like Boko Haram, ISIS has been taken over by the psychopathic wing of the party. Their treatment of the Yazidi is an example of this. It’s not likely that their Caliphate will resemble the ancient ones.

Much has been made of the foreign volunteers coming to fight for ISIS. Some of these fighters arriving from other countries are devout Muslims who may be horrified by what they find. Indications are that others come in a spirit of adventure or from a feeling of failure at home. But too many recruits have come because they love having power and not having any rules of behavior. For historians out there, think French Revolution.

There are many other terrorist groups that have no religious attachments. Most of these are political or territorial. ETA, or Basque liberation, has been attempting to find a peaceful solution recently as has the socialist FARC, in Columbia. Greece has the far-right Golden Dawn; Ireland, the reformed Sinn Fein. All of these have used violence and terrorism in their quest to achieve their goals.
There have been many explanations for the success of the recent Islamist terrorists. Some say that it is a relic of European colonialism. Others that the terrorists are a reaction to oppressive governments and cultures of corruption and bribery at every level. Well, I don’t think any of these things helped. Certainly, many of the most violent groups are fighting against leaders who have ignored and oppressed sections of the society.

After much consideration, it seems to me that we and much of the media are looking at the problem from the wrong direction. We see the horrific actions of ISIS and Boko Haram, but these are distracting us from much more widespread and pernicious terrorism.

As I was working on this, I began to realize that, while we are busy trying to stop murderers, rapists and torturers, the people who are really responsible for their actions are thousands of miles away, moving pieces on metaphorical chess boards.
I do think it's fantastic to know quite a number of mystery writers, especially when you know one who has already done the huge amount of research that you thought you were going to have to do.

Thank you, Sharan, for allowing me to use your hard work here. Sharan is off to spend a month is Paris, doing research and although some folks ask if she might rethink going to France now, she reminds everyone...if we stay home and hide, the terrorists win. We can't let them rule our lives.