11 November 2012

Red, White, and Blue


by Leigh Lundin

Today is Veterans Day. Saying "Happy Veterans Day" doesn't seem right, but like Thanksgiving, this is a day we say thanks, especially to those who didn't survive to see a Veterans Day of their own.
 Bish
© Bish
Florida Fallout

The election is over, thank God. We can clap ourselves on the back for yet another peaceful transition of power. The year was long and the invective sometimes nasty, but I admired the symbolism of Chris Christie and President Obama. They stood shoulder to shoulder helping storm victims, reminiscent of days when opponents respected each other. Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman were known for hiring their admirable adversaries, which is the way it should be.
 Wiley
© Wiley Miller

I'm grateful we had decent candidates. Despite differing political persuasions, both were decent family men, both well educated, both moderate, both dedicated to improving the country, and both seemed better than their parties. (I know, I know… opinions vary.)

But in Florida, we have a problem. The past half year alarmed me. I gathered news clippings– 55 to date– about my home state's attempts at voter suppression. As an independent, I disdain both parties, but coming up to the election, how could I document voter suppression without seeming to zero in on one party? I couldn't; the only solution was to let the problem become so evident it could no longer be ignored.

By now you know Florida's governor and legislature made it difficult to register and vote. Changes in state law reduced the number of days to vote by 43%, reduced the number of hours, and reduced resources. Worse, the law provided harsh, harsh penalties for the simplest of mistakes when helping others to register.

League of Women Voters– out of Florida

Penalties were so draconian, the League of Women Voters– sneered at in Florida as 'leftist'– abandoned its registration drives for the first time in 72 years.

What we took for granted was no more: Civics teacher Jill Cicciarelli headed New Smyrna Beach's student government association, which encouraged students to take part in democracy. She tripped over the new regulations and found herself subjected to prosecution and 'massive fines' for helping qualified students to register.

Why restrict new registration? Florida is a magnet for several groups, including retirees and Hispanics. Florida's percentage of voters past a certain age tends to top other states. Health care is of great concern to the elderly as insurance premiums and outright rejections shoot up while income plummets. The aged was only one minority group targeted by strategists, but that was where another part of the new restrictions kicked in.

Not Just Any ID


Originally an applicant's details were gathered during registration including address and signature. On voting day, we once simply identified ourselves in the book, we signed in, precinct workers matched the signatures and addresses, and we were free to vote. The new law required not merely ID, but Florida photo ID. An out-of-state license would not do, nor would student ID, or a utility bill to prove residence, or even a passport if it still had an address from 'up north'. On election day, hundreds of new residents were turned away because, as per the new law, they hadn't updated their IDs.

By the end of October, former governors Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush had had enough and spoke out. Charlie Crist sharply chastised Governor Scott reminding him he was supposed to serve all Florida citizens, not just his own party.
Voting Overseas

Although I've often lived and worked in other countries, this is the first time I've filled in a ballot overseas. The process takes two steps.

For federal election, you can request a mail-in package from your embassy or consulate, or visit the nearest consulate, in my case Durban, South Africa. Before 911, a reception center might have looked like an old-fashioned drawing room where avuncular employees called you into wood-paneled offices for conversations. These days consulates are found on secured floors in secured buildings with lexan and more lexan, rather like banks. Once you're admitted, you wait at a teller-like window until an employee comes to help.

The federal package contains questionnaires and identification forms, then a couple of envelopes and a ballot, or 'smart ballot' if you vote by party rather than candidate. What that means is if you don't happen to know your congressional candidates or senators, as long as you select a president, the rest will be filled in automatically by residence and party affiliation. To split a ticket, fill in your candidates as you please.

Place your ballot in the small envelope and seal it. Place the small envelope and the questionnaire in the large envelope and write your county and state upon it. Your ballot is delivered, presumably by diplomatic pouch.

For state, county, and local, you have to contact your county elections office and request a packet well in advance of elections. Fill in the questionnaires, fill in the ballots, and mail them before election day. Florida ballots are huge as is the postage required.

Sim-Florida

The Speaker of the House of the Florida Legislature ducked acknowledging the obvious when he said he'll investigate what went wrong during the election. Cynics perhaps unfairly say the investigation will be how his party failed to deliver his party's vote. For his part, Governor Rick Scott still insists the election worked exactly as planned– precisely what most people feared.

Who is Governor Rick Scott? He engineered the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in US History. The fines alone were $1.7 BILLION. That didn't touch the great wealth Scott socked away. Records show he spent $71 million of his own money to acquire the governorship– actually $71 million of our money.

Florida should feel embarrassed even if Scott isn't. Since then, he's run the state like he's playing a Sim-City game. In doing so, he's managed to become one of the most unpopular governors ever.

Meanwhile in America

I once lived in a forest in the distant north. I got to know two men– one young, one not– each who caused fatal DUI accidents and spent time incarcerated. Each petitioned the state for restoration of civil rights including the right to freely travel and vote.

We're taught in civics classes once a felon pays his obligation to society, he's free to rejoin and live his life as normal. But that doesn't always happen. Some people endure continuing punishment: sex register lists, restrictions on foreign travel, and often curtailment of voting rights. Not all states restore civil rights when a sentence ends.

A California sheriff is taking a different approach. He encourages inmates in his jail to integrate into society by voting. And, as long as an inmate isn't a convicted felon, he helps inmates register.

Who knows how that might work out? I admire lateral thinking and any experiment that offers a chance of reducing our exploding prison population deserves a shot.

On this Veteran's Day, I'm pleased this election year is behind us. For many of us, a shorter election season now looks attractive. Whatever your political party, whoever your candidate, we owe a debt to others who can't be with us. Have a good, good Veterans Day.

10 November 2012

Cowboys and Aliens


by John M. Floyd


Since it's been awhile since we've had a column just on movies, and since I love movies, and since my wife's been out of town again (during her absence, I wound up once more watching a bunch of oldies from my DVD stash and a bunch of newies from Netflix), I thought I'd spend some time talking about stories on the screen rather than stories on the page.  Bear with me--I promise I'll reprogram my GPS and get back on the mystery/literary freeway two weeks from now.

As fate would have it, I ran into an old friend from my IBM days in the supermarket earlier this week (yes, I was in there buying more TV dinners) and he asked me if I could suggest any good movies.  Movie maniacs love to hear that question, and I dutifully rattled off a few titles.  Afterward, it occurred to me that some of the films I had recommended to him might not be considered great--or even good.  They were just movies I happen to like.  Sure, sometimes the ones I like are good, in terms of critical acclaim, but sometimes they're not.  A lot of my favorites never took home an Oscar or even came close, but they remain my favorites.  Know what I mean?

I'm sure Rob and Leigh will know what I mean when I say that all this gave me the uncontrollable urge to make a list.  A list, in this case, of what I consider to be the best movies I've seen.  All are based on my opinion only; as they say on the news, this study is not scientific.  In fact, the word "favorites" here simply means "the ones I found most entertaining."  (Can you spell "guilty pleasures"?) 

Enough excuses.  Here are my thoughts regarding bests and favorites:


Mystery/Crime

Best known: The Godfather
Best crafted: The Silence of the Lambs
My favorite: Die Hard


Western

Best known: High Noon
Best crafted: Shane
My favorite: Once Upon a Time in the West


Sci-fi/Fantasy

Best known: Star Wars
Best crafted: Blade Runner
My favorite: Aliens


Romance

Best known: Gone With the Wind
Best crafted: Casablanca
My favorite: The Graduate


Horror

Best known: Halloween
Best crafted: Psycho
My favorite: Silver Bullet


If you go beyond the basic five categories and wander into the murky forest of other genres and subgenres, I like To Kill A Mockingbird (drama), Raising Arizona (comedy), The Natural (sports), Dumbo (children), Apocalypse Now (war), It's a Wonderful Life (classics), Holes (young adult), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (adventure).

And don't forget cross-genre movies.  My personal favorites are probably Blazing Saddles (comedy/western), Witness (mystery/romance), Galaxy Quest (sci-fi/comedy), Somewhere in Time (romance/fantasy), Sleepless in Seattle (romance/comedy), and yes, Cowboys and Aliens (sci-fi/western).

Taste test

What are some of your favorite films, by genre?  What are some that you consider well constructed, and/or well written?  Do you find that the ones you enjoy the most are seldom the ones that got the best reviews?  Or even the best comments by your friends and neighbors?  For some reason, everyone I know (including critics) hated Lady in the Water.  I loved it.  And everyone I know (including critics) loved the remake of The Thin Red Line.  I hated it.

I must confess that the above list would probably have been different a year ago, or even a month ago, and would probably be different next month or next year.  I change my mind more often than a presidential candidate.  But I do have a pretty reliable litmus test for which movies I think are good and which are not.  The good ones are the ones I will happily watch over and over again.  (I need to be educated--or bored silly--only once; I need to be entertained constantly.)

I feel the same way about novels and stories.  Which reminds me--

Recalculating route

09 November 2012

A Different Band of Brothers


by R.T. Lawton

Many ideas start off with good intentions, but end badly. You could say that's what happened to the Cossacks in their roughly 550 year existence. While no one knows for sure where their name originated, some say it came from kazak, the old Turkish word for "free man" or "adventurer."

During the late 15th Century, Ukrainians suffering under the yoke of feudalism began running away to the south and settling along the lower reaches of the Dnieper River. Here, they lit the candle of their own freedom, setting up their own government and electing their own officials. If the community didn't like the leadership they were getting, then an open meeting was called, current officials resigned and new ones were elected.

Even though most of the Cossacks came from Slav heritage, anyone arriving at the settlement could become a member. His name might be Ivan or Ali in the morning, but all it required was being baptized with a name change and a profession of belief in Christianity to make him a Cossack before night fall. Each new arrival was issued a musket, lance, saber and dagger from the local armory of weapons seized from enemies. After that, the new Cossack was expected to become self sufficient and to contribute towards the good of the community.

They sustained themselves with fishing in the rivers, farming small plots for vegetables and grain, hunting deer, boar, ducks and pheasants, raising cattle for meat and leather, and growing vineyards and orchards for fruit and wine. Surrounded by enemies, they designated the four winds by Moscow and the Russian Tsar to the north, the Polish King and his holdings to the west, the Sultan and his Turkic empire to the south and the Tartar and Mongol tribes in the east. Constantly beset by one or more of these enemies at a time, the Cossacks quickly learned the art of warfare. Knowing that static defense would not protect their small settlements, they carried the war to their enemies. Raiding and plundering became a means of survival. In their time, various Cossack Hosts either knocked on the gates of Moscow or captured several Turkish cities on the Black Sea, going so far as to take the Spanish city of Saragossa. They formed alliances with the four winds as was necessary and broke those same alliances as was also necessary.


Courage in battle was one of the highest virtues a Cossack could display. And the highest form of courage was the rescue of a downed comrade in the face of enemy fire. Unwritten laws of the Brotherhood did not allow them to leave a comrade in trouble. In time, the Cossacks grew to become a military caste. Around the age of fifteen or sixteen, as needed, each male was equipped by his family with a horse, weapons, a quantity of food and an extra set of horse shoes before being sent off to the main Host or the local military cordon.

With the Cossack's great expansion, their sense of freedom and bravery began to work against them. Having no central government, each Host responded only to its own ataman or hetman. As they spread along the Dnieper, Don, Volga and Terek rivers, their politics splintered. Being of the same religion, they mostly aligned themselves with Moscow and the Tsar, however even that alignment of faith suffered when the Russian church changed the method of crossing oneself, plus a few other religious matters. Those conservative Russians who resisted the changes became known as the Old Believers and went south to eventually join the Terek and Greben Cossacks.

Also, upon the death of the old Tsar or Tsarina, contention for the throne further split the Cossack's alliances. Some Hosts backed one contender or pretender, depending upon how their leaders felt about the candidates, while another Host rose up in rebellion, and they fought each other. Moscow royalty soon saw the danger of having such uncontrollable large military groups on their southern doorstep. Eventually, the Muscovy throne crushed each Host and brought them under subjugation.

By the mid-1800's, the Cossacks were relegated to to the role of frontier guards and had Russian troops quartered in their Cossack villages along the Terek and Greben Rivers. This produced a mix of cross emotions within those communities. Whereas the Cossack male had long emulated his Chechen enemy in clothing, weapons, mannerisms, courage and warfare, he also respected this same enemy who lived in the Wild Country south of the Terek. Conversely, he found his ally, the Russian soldier, to be contemptible. Seems no one likes an occupation army. This 1850's time period during the decline of Cossack power is where I set my Armenian series of historical mysteries, a time and place which had been visited  and written about by Leo Tolstoi who left Moscow in his 20's to see Russia's southern frontier.

For those of you who remember Yul Brynner in the 1962 movie Taras Bulba, based on Nikolai Gogol's short novel of the same name, here is a clip from the Hollywood version.

or, if you prefer, a trailer from the 2009 Russian remake in the Ukraine.

Both movies were set in the 16th Century, when Poland was invading the Ukrainian Cossacks.

During the Russian Revolution, the Cossacks split between the White Armies and the Red Armies. The losing White Cossacks ended up emigrating to other countries, else suffered under the Bolshevik's rule. Twenty years later saw Red Cossack units on horseback charging into invading German tanks on the field of battle. In time, Stalin, not being one to let a perceived problem get ahead of him, forbid the Cossack brotherhood to exist.

Poof!

The candle went out.

The Cossacks had begun with noble ideas of freedom, courage and brotherhood, but history also shows times and places where they went off the track. In the end, they were overwhelmed and ceased to exist. Only in the last decade have some Cossack families openly tried to revive their heritage, much as other ethnic groups have done.

08 November 2012

Notes from the Eurozone


by Eve Fisher

My husband and I went on vacation for two weeks and it went quickly.  We were on a cruise to the Canary Islands, which left from and returned to Barcelona, and then we spent a couple of extra days in Barcelona before heading back.  This meant we were lucky on many counts:

(1) We had a great time.  Great food.  Warm weather.  Incredible flowers and fruits.  Great seafood.  And we got to spend time in Barcelona, which was so fantastic that Allan (who's been an artist all his life, primarily sculpture) said that if he'd known at 20 what Barcelona was like, he'd have moved there.  I'll include, at various stages, some of the reason, mostly Gaudi.  (When I first saw his cathedral, I thought, like Dennis Hasset in "Oscar and Lucinda", "many things at once... that it was a miracle... a broken thing... a tragedy... a dream..." I loved it.)

(2) Because our flight was from Amsterdam to Minneapolis, we managed to miss Hurricane Sandy, thanks to flying over Greenland.  Some turbulance, but no cancellations!

(3) Because we were gone for 2 weeks, we missed 2 weeks of election coverage, spin, advertisements, campaigns, and the whole nine yards.  May God be praised.  And I am not going to say another word (no matter what the results) about it.  :)

(4) I got to watch, once again, European TV.   After a long day's hiking around a foreign city, I love to kick off my shoes and turn on the tube.  For one thing, it's so comforting to know that it's not all like it appears on PBS.  In fact, most of it's shlock - bad sit-coms, worse game shows, really boring news shows, and endless cop shows.  Just like America.  Except that in Europe, the women are sometimes actually naked, and the cop shows mix in a lot of humor, mostly slapstick, with their grit and gore.  Oh, and we do have some sense of reality in America.  For example:  (and, in case you're wondering, no, I don't speak Spanish - but I could get the gist of it, and most of it was practically in pantomime.)

Only on European TV would the cop's wife show up at the office to discuss things with the mistress (who is also a cop), and then go home to her lover. 

Only on European TV would another female investigator, dressed in the mandatory skimpy clothing, skid off a bridge during the mandatory car chase, have her car sail out and then crash land twenty+ feet below, UPSIDE DOWN, on top of a bunch of other cars, crushing the roof, without any damage to her hair, body, make-up, or clothing.  Instead, she managed to climb right out of that car and walk.  In fact, I think later that evening she had sex. 

Only on European TV would the slapstick partner have no idea that there's an illegal substance in that gift pillow and, at the party later that night, get everyone at the party so stoned that they all pass out.  The next day, everyone had a good laugh but not, I noticed, any investigation of either the drugs or the partner.

All of this was on the same episode, in which the main investigation was of a middle-aged female serial killer whose victims were elderly women she met at bingo, befriended, and, after smoking a ritual cigarette in their bathroom (don't ask me why), came out and killed them with a wet towel.  She was also the cook at the local cafe, and fed every cop on the show her world-class tortilla (Spanish omelet with potatoes and onions), and it broke their hearts when it turned out she was the killer.

Love that Euro-TV!

07 November 2012

Repossessed


by Robert Lopresti

I have been thinking about Joe Gores this week for reasons I will get to later.  Gores was in a special category of mystery writer along with Dashiell Hammett, Joseph Wambaugh, and come to think of it, John LeCarre. These were people who took "write what you know" seriously, because each of them had done the crime-solving job they wrote about.

Gores wrote a series of short stories and novels about DKA, the Dan Kearny Agency, a San Francisco firm that specialized in repossessing cars.  Inevitably the novels usually involved murders -- although Dan Kearny was firm that his people shouldn't be wasting their time on mere homicide when their importantant task was to get that car.

Gores had done that work for years himself in a similar agency.  The bizarre people he met gave him plenty of material.  I remember him describing a minister who would drive the overdue car to his church when he went to preach, but would leave his baby in the back seat, so the repo men couldn't touch the car.  Nowadays, of course, they would just call the social workers and get the kid removed, but those were less enlightened days.

My favorite book in the series is probably 32 Cadillac (1992), inspired by an actual event in which a dying Gypsy or Roma leader got his family to swipe the titular cars for his funeral.It is hilarious, suspenseful, and a lot of fun.

Going upscale

Now, the reason I was thinking of Gores was an article I read in Bloomberg's Businessweek.  (Unsolicited testimonial: there are probably budgerigars who care more about business news than I do, but I find this magazine consistently interesting, surprising and brilliantly designed.  Their election issue, a few weeks ago, was amazing.)

The article by Matthew Teague, entitled Dude, Where's My Yacht?, is about an inevitable fallout of the Great Recession.  People who got rich in the housing or high tech bubbles found themselves not as rich as they thought they were and become the targets of crews who specialize in repossessing private jets and luxury yachts.  I guess that makes the rich defaulters job creators.  (Rimshot)

Cage's office manager, for example, is a bright, tough woman named Glenda Shelton.  When she's tracking down a vehicle on the phone she becomes "Stacey," an effervescent. bleached-blonde giggler deeply curious about big-ticket modes of transportation.  At one point, Cage needed to verify the location of an obscure plane and knew a direct approach wouldn't work; airport operators, protective of their rent-paying clients, don't like to give out information.  But when talking to Stacey, met tend to feel superior and drop their guard.  

"Hi! I heard y'all have a cute -- what is it?" she said.  "A Snoopy plane!"

"The airport official thought a moment.  "Snoopy plane?" he said.  Then he burst into laughter.  "You mean that Beagle?  Oh, man."

Case solved.

Gores didn't write that particular scene, but if you read his novels you will find that essentially he did. 

Let's get metaphysical

One more interesting thing about Gores.  In one of his early novels Dan Kearny runs into a man he recognizes as a robber named Parker.  Parker is busily planning a heist and gives Kearny the information he needs, essentially to get him to leave.

Now, in Plunder Squad, by Richard Stark (alias Donald E. Westlake) the robber Parker is planning a crime when he runs into P.I. Dan Kearny -- it's the same scene from the other character's point of view.

A decade later the friends did it again.  In 32 Cadillacs one of Kearny's employees traces a car that was stolen by the Dortmunder gang.  In Drowned Hopes the gang is astonished to have their stolen car repossessed.

But here is where it gets interesting.  In Westlake's Jimmy the Kid, Dortmunder bases a caper on the novel Child Heist by Richard Stark.

So (take a deep breath) In Drowned Hopes Dortmunder meets a man whose boss has met a fictional character.

Makes you think your senses have been repossessed. .




06 November 2012

Election Day


by Dale C. Andrews

    Whew! 

    What can make you long for an otherwise insufferable commercial hawking ginsu knives?  (But wait – call in the next ten minutes and we will double your order!  Operators are standing by!) The answer, at least in areas within and surrounding eight so-called “battleground states” in our fine (but now frayed) union is the political commercial.

    We live in Washington, D.C., safely Democratic.  And we are close to Maryland, also safely Democratic.  But our television channels broadcast south as well, across the Potomac River to decidedly purple Virginia.  So we have been bombarded with political hawking now for months, and that seems to the captive viewer like years. 

   Commercials grant politicians the license to be a bit freer with the truth than they are in person.  (“Freer with the truth” being a euphemism for “lying.”)  Actual in-person accusations of lying are rather infrequent now-a-days.  But this was not always the case.  Theodore Roosevelt once roared at a presidential opponent that he was “atrociously and wickedly lying.”  And good old Abraham Lincoln had this to say about Stephen Douglas during the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates:  “I don’t know what to call you except you are a liar.” 

    According to those keeping tabs on such things the current candidates to lead the country for the next four years have largely eschewed the use of the “L” word.  Instead of accusing each other of lies here is what we have instead by proxy (as collected in The Washington Post, October 24, 2012 at page A19):

    Mitt Romney: 
  • “I don’t concur with what the president said about my own record and the things that I’ve said. They don’t happen to be accurate.”
  • “You got that fact wrong.”
  • “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
  • “You’re wrong.”
President Obama:
  • “The math doesn’t work, but he continues to claim that he’s going to do it.”
  • “This has been probably the biggest whopper that’s been told during the course of this campaign. And every fact checker and every reporter who’s looked at it, Governor, has said this is not true.”
  • “And the fact is . . . ”
  • “Governor Romney, that’s not what you said . . . ”
  • “I think anybody out there can check the record. Governor Romney, you keep on trying to, you know, airbrush history here. . . . That wasn’t true."
    But the simple fact is, if you credibly don’t want to be called a liar the easiest approach is this:  Don’t lie.  The problem with the approach is, that like many simple solutions it doesn’t work.  Bending the truth has a long history of getting candidates elected in the United States.  But for one of the best solutions that honors telling only the truth while still maintaining the capacity to sway the unsuspecting electorate one can look back to 1950 and the fabled Florida senatorial race between Claude Pepper, a liberal New Dealer previously swept into the Senate for what turned out to be only one term, and George Smathers, who took Pepper’s seat and served as Florida’s senator through 1969. 

    Smather’s challenge, in attempting to unseat his fellow Democrat Pepper, (back then in Florida the Democratic primary was the election) was to sway the upstate (for want of a better phrase “educationally challenged”) Florida populace.  Recorded speeches were a rarity in 1950, particularly stump speeches, and what Smathers said and what he did not say in his Florida panhandle campaign addresses has been roundly debated for years.  But according to many reports his stump speech included a clever use of paronomasia, a form of word play that utilizes words that suggests two or more meanings and then relies upon the resulting confusion for rhetorical and persuasive effect.  In any event, here is what Time Magazine in its April 17, 1950 edition had to say about some of the things Smather’s north-Florida stump speech may or may not have contained:
Time, April 17, 1950
Smathers was capable of going to any length in campaigning, but he indignantly denied that he had gone as far as a story printed in northern newspapers. The story wouldn't die, nonetheless, and it deserved not to. According to the yarn, Smathers had a little speech for cracker voters, who were presumed not to know what the words meant except that they must be something bad. The speech went like this: "Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper before his marriage habitually practiced celibacy."

    It was also reported that Smathers bellowed to the crowds that in order to attend college Mr. Pepper was forced to matriculate.

    True or not, the story became one of which legends are made.  So much so that 20 years later Bill Garvin in issue 139 of Mad Magazine, December, 1970, offered up the following wonderful example of how to nail your opponent without stooping to lying:

Mad Magazine, Dec. 1970
    My fellow citizens, it is an honor and a pleasure to be here today.  My opponent has openly admitted he feels an affinity toward your city, but I happen to like this area. It might be a salubrious place to him, but to me it is one of the nation's most delightful garden spots.

    When I embarked upon this political campaign, I hoped that it could be conducted on a high level and that my opponent would be willing to stick to the issues. Unfortunately, he has decided to be tractable instead -- to indulge in unequivocal language, to eschew the use of outright lies in his speeches, and even to make repeated veracious statements about me.

    At first I tried to ignore these scrupulous, unvarnished fidelities. Now I will do so no longer. If my opponent wants a fight, he's going to get one!

       It might be instructive to start with his background. My friends, have you ever accidentally dislodged a rock on the ground and seen what was underneath? Well, exploring my opponent's background is dissimilar. All the slime and filth and corruption you can possibly imagine, even in your wildest dreams, are glaringly nonexistent in this man's life. And even in his childhood!

       Let us take a very quick look at that childhood: It is a known fact that, on a number of occasions, he emulated older boys at a certain playground. It is also known that his parents not only permitted him to masticate in their presence, but even urged him to do so. Most explicable of all, this man who poses as a paragon of virtue exacerbated his own sister when they were both teenagers!

       I ask you, my fellow Americans: is this the kind of person we want in public office to set an example for our youth?

       Of course, it's not surprising that he should have such a typically pristine background -- no, not when you consider the other members of his family:

       His female relatives put on a constant pose of purity and innocence, and claim they are inscrutable, yet every one of them has taken part in hortatory activities.

       The men in the family are likewise completely amenable to moral suasion.

       My opponent's uncle was a flagrant heterosexual.

       His sister, who has always been obsessed by sects, once worked as a proselyte outside a church.

       His father was secretly chagrined at least a dozen times by matters of a pecuniary nature.

       His youngest brother wrote an essay extolling the virtues of being a homo sapien.

       His great-aunt expired from a degenerative disease.

       His nephew subscribes to a phonographic magazine.

       His wife was a thespian before their marriage and even performed the act in front of paying customers.

       And his own mother had to resign from a women's organization in her later years because she was an admitted sexagenarian.

       Now what shall we say about the man himself?

       I can tell you in solemn truth that he is the very antithesis of political radicalism, economic irresponsibility and personal depravity. His own record proves that he has frequently discountenanced treasonable, un-American philosophies and has perpetrated many overt acts as well.

       He perambulated his infant on the street.

       He practiced nepotism with his uncle and first cousin.

       He attempted to interest a 13-year-old girl in philately.

       He participated in a seance at a private residence where, among other odd goings-on, there was incense.

       He has declared himself in favor of more homogeneity on college campuses.

       He has advocated social intercourse in mixed company - and has taken part in such gatherings himself.

       He has been deliberately averse to crime in our city streets.

       He has urged our Protestant and Jewish citizens to develop more catholic tastes.

       Last summer he committed a piscatorial act on a boat that was flying the U.S. flag.

       Finally, at a time when we must be on our guard against all foreign isms, he has cooly announced his belief in altruism - and his fervent hope that some day this entire nation will be altruistic!

       I beg you, my friends, to oppose this man whose life and work and ideas are so openly and avowedly compatible with our American way of life. A vote for him would be a vote for the perpetuation of everything we hold dear.

       The facts are clear; the record speaks for itself. Do your duty.
    Well, enough of this.  Be sure you vote today.  Unless you are voting for that other guy.  In which case,  stay home.

05 November 2012

November Already


Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT!  Congratulations to Elizabeth Dearborn, the winner of our first monthly contest at SleuthSayers.  She will receive a copy of David Dean's exciting new novel THE THIRTEENTH CHILD as soon as we learn her snail-mail address.  Stay tuned later this month for another giveaway!  Back to Jan...

I can't believe it's November already. We had that silly time change this morning at 2 AM. Did you get to church an hour early or get to the football game early. Oh yeah, I guess if you got to the Pro game early that was a good thing.

I can't believe it's November already. It's only hours until we will have a final vote and tally for a President. All I will say here is PLEASE vote. I voted early the other day which is the best way to do it. No line and it only took a few minutes. Thank goodness it's almost over, I'm sick of politics. I'm definitely sick of the negativity, the vitriolic words and the racist overtones from some people.

I can't believe it's November already and it's only two and a half weeks until Thanksgiving. Have you bought your turkey yet? Made out your menu? Invited all your in-laws and out-laws? Gosh, I haven't even taken down my Halloween decorations. And before I can turn around twice it will be time to put up the yuletide items.

I REALLY can't believe it's November already and it's only fifty-two days until Christmas. Yikes! Have you got any shopping done? I haven't but I'm not worried about it, I give money. One size fits all and the color is always right.

One thing I can admit is I love holidays and I hate holidays. I love seeing family and enjoying good food. But I hate trying to travel any distance and all the hoop-la that the stores and television bombard us with. I saw on facebook the other day that Nordstrom's say they won't put up any Christmas decorations until AFTER Thanksgiving. Way to go, Nordstrom's. Wish other stores would follow that example. I actually heard X-mas music in a store the other day and I thought, NOOOO! Not ready for X-mas music yet. Not even ready for November yet, but here it is. Rolling along.

I do want to bring a blog and interview to your attention. The Maine Crime Writers had a blog today that's an interview with an expert, Jayne Hitchcock, on cyberstalking and cyberbullying. This is a must read for all of us who use social media as much as we do and importantly it's important for our children and grandchildren. This is fantastic information. So head to www.mainecrimewriters.com

I don't know if any of our writers or readers were in the path of the storm. I hope if so, then hope that you are safe and warm. I do have writer friends who were without power for several days but are now electrified and warm and safe.

This is about all I know to write about today. Real life seems to take up a lot of my day...like vegging out on the sofa and watching Texas Longhorns yesterday and tonight Dallas Cowboys.

Take care all and keep writing and reading.

04 November 2012

faceless



facebook button
by Leigh Lundin

facebook— People have a love-hate relationship with facebook. I have a hate-hate thing going. It doesn't like me and I don't like it.

Although I maintain a professional profile on LinkedIn and CrimeSpace, some of us aren't particularly geared toward social media. The phrase "my life is an open book" isn't my cup of tea; I value privacy too much.

But authors must reach out to fans, right? 'Yes' is the obvious answer and John Floyd advised me to give facebook a try. That… didn't… work out so well.

I signed up. It asked for my address book and I refused– I always refuse to allow programs access to my address book– too many ways trust can be misused and facebook is notorious for abusing trust. It has one of the worst reputations when it comes to privacy and security of information. It frowned at that.

Next thing it wanted me to join 'apps', things like the Birthday Book and Farmville. I carefully read the fine print which gave them and the 'app makers' rights to do pretty much what they want with my personal information. Not cool; I refused. The face of facebook glared at me.
block

I started looking for people– family members, friends, Criminal Briefers, SleuthSayers… I found a few. facebook looked at those people and offered me 'friends' of friends. So sure, I knew Margery Flax, James Lincoln Warren, Lee Goldberg, and I sort of knew J.A. Konrath.

face to faceless

So I picked out dozens of authors I'd met at through MWA and Bouchercon and blithely clicked them as they popped up. Then I clicked on Rhys Bowen. It asked "Are you sure you know this person?"

Well, yes. I hadn't danced with her or been there during childbirth, but I sat next to her at a conference and we chatted. I'd made her acquaintance, hadn't I?

I clicked 'yes'. Moments later facebook sent a message it was banishing me for claiming friends I don't know.
shattered

Uh-oh. They offered her as a suggestion, and now they took her away?  Maybe it had been a trick question. Did I know she was English but lived in California? Did I know her real name is Janet Quin-Harkin? Did I know about the mole above her third rib? But they didn't ask me.

Not for a moment do I think Rhys Bowen hovered over her keyboard waiting to pounce when I clicked her name: "There's that damn Leigh stalking me again, first at conferences and now facebook. I'll show him, ha ha!" *poof*

faceless Bureaucracy

I'd heard stories of facebook booting people off for little or no reason. The problem of such one-size-fits-all software is it has no 'heuristics', no sense of judgment, no way to fit square pegs into round holes. I don't take well to being told what to do and a peremptory decision by a software program galled me. It felt like a parental smack by an arbitrarily awful parent.

thumbs down
But okay, I'd try one more time with a different eMail address. I set up again but it must have picked up cookies from my previous attempt. It asked me if I knew my own niece. I clicked yes, and this time found myself terminated.

My niece! A facebook page said I could appeal but they don't have to give a reason for their decision, and they didn't. At least I didn't have crops spoiling in Farmville. Do people pay for that game? Does anyone pay for things they can't access when barred, banned, or terminated?

Well, fu2

Months went by and someone suggested I try facebook again. I tried to log in and there was that page saying I could appeal, but I'd already appealed and arrived nowhere.

But Velma could join! And so she did. She experimented and learned about using facebook. She's flip-lip, funnier and more gregarious than I am and she built a solid circle of friends. A few times a week new people clasp her to their bosom in digital friendship.

Naked Animosity

Vicariously, I followed Velma's exploits. Because anyone could say anything, odd conversations took place. For example, a woman berated an art page blathering on how offensive it was and that children were present. She complained about a mix of monochrome art prints, pin-ups, and romantic pics with less skin than Vero Beach.
art erotica

A couple of things struck me. When she first 'Liked' the page, what did she expect? It reminded me of the woman who said, "But officers, if you climb on the chair and peer over the hedge with binoculars, you can see he's stark naked!"

Frankly, hysteria more than nudity will damage kids, but I grew up in a family where art was understood and appreciated. If children were present, why wasn't the woman supervising them? Initially she claimed she'd lined up 600 people to complain to facebook then later said she'd formed a petition with 389 names to ban the page.

Okay, facebook was started for college students, but sometimes adults like to have adult discussions. For reasons beyond me, that woman didn't agree. I would come to remember that incident…
'F's

face-2-face

These days, facebook boils with election tirades. My eMail inbox overflows with political rants that when scratched, turn out to be falsehoods, dozens upon dozens. I hate lies but some people buy into them.

I find it equally offensive when people claim either candidate is a liar. While their facts might be a bit wobbly, a difference of opinion doesn't make a candidate a liar. If we wrongly over-use a word, the word become meaningless.

Upon rare occasions, a message crops up where Velma can't keep her mouth shut. Most are good things: How can you not applaud Margery Flax volunteering to help others in need? How can you not appreciate the Hair Plus Day Spa in Hillsborough, New Jersey offering free shampoos and showers? How can you not like a Republican governor and a Democrat president working together?

In Your face

But not everyone likes the positive. From crime writing, I developed a nose sensitive to bullshit. Thus it came to pass, a picture popped up that offended sensibilities. The photo from an account called 'Tax Payer' purported to show Muslims rioting in Michigan with comments ranting about freedom versus satanism and the usual tripe that the liberal or libertarian press is covering up this important story. A familiar alarm went off: another lie, photographic hate speech.
Dearborn fake

It took only a few minutes to discover the photograph was not taken in Dearborn, Michigan but from news agency file footage shot three to eight years earlier in Afghanistan. In fact, there's a recent Radio Free Europe Afghanistan story using that same file photo.

Velma posted a single comment, one and only one: "This is hokum. The photo is real, but taken more than 3 years go in Afghanistan, not the USA. Check your photo source, you may be in copyright violation."

Before they deleted that comment, one guy actually wrote back: "It may not be accurate but it represents truth."

What? How can compounded lies reveal truth?

thumbs down
Velma's comment was quickly eradicated as I suspect were others inconsistent with the lie, deleted and barred from further commenting.

And then a funny thing happened. A facebook message popped up saying due to complaints about spamming, Velma was barred from sending messages and contacting people she didn't know.

Okaaay. That punishment thing again, for what? Daily messages about colleagues surely didn't imply spam. One single message to 'Tax Payer' didn't constitute spam, did it?

face-off

But I remembered an article about author Deborah MacGillivray and her coven who manipulated Amazon with 'clickies', negative reports of abuse they used to ban critics. facebook has a similar 'click abuse' button. I recalled the woman who claimed she'd gathered 389 people to take down the art page. Had 'Tax Payer' and his sycophantic cronies ganged up and clicked the abuse button to silence the truth?

Due to facebook's lack of transparency I'll never know for sure, but the site certainly doesn't treat people like adults, especially those who act adult. It's ironic that the teens facebook was created for are fleeing to other social networking sites where they can converse out of the shadow of parents while we're stuck on a site with rules for children.
facebook

face down

I sometimes see messages like "I'm back from my most recent 30 day ban." This raises at least three questions: Why were they banned? Why did they return? Why do I suspect they're going to be quickly banned again?

SleuthSayers readers are fine, upstanding citizens but have you faced facebook problems? What is your experience? Tell us face-to-face.

03 November 2012

Not Being Preachy



by Elizabeth Zelvin

The theme of my mystery series is recovery from alcoholism, other addictions, and codependency—a lot harder sell than, say, man against nature or puppies and kittens. Over the years, I’ve been asked to participate in panels with other authors whose crime fiction tackles various social issues, from the environment to human rights violations to animal rights.
(I also had the memorable experience of being assigned to “the booze panel” at Bouchercon, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say I declined to do it a second time.) The one point on which all such authors agree is that it’s crucial to avoid any taint of preachiness while getting their point across. Storytelling trumps theme or issue—always.

Authors sneak their point of view into their mysteries in a variety of ways. The most popular way to avoid preachiness is revision. Put all the pet peeves, hobby horses, and heavy-handed passages that come to mind into the uninhibited first draft, by all means—and then delete them.

As I’ve become a more experienced writer, I’ve become more willing to slash, slash, slash. Ever since a powerful workshop a number of years ago, I’ve found the offending passages leap out at me when I reread the first draft. And when I review each revision, even more cuttable preaching pops up. Most recently, I’ve realized there is more to why these passages must go than simply to avoid irritating the reader. Preachiness is the enemy of pace. My biggest temptation is to overexplain the recovery process and try to demystify the twelve-step programs. When my protagonist Bruce muses about AA, it stops the action. I have to find ways to make the AA principles serve the action, build character, and advance the story.

My point of view is that alcoholism is a disease and recovery is transformative. But Bruce would be unbearable if he constantly plugged that point of view. Instead, I’ve given him a sardonic ambivalence that is much more palatable to the reader. Bruce’s mixed feelings about recovery create internal conflict, one of the key elements in building a fictional character, while they also get the point across. A T-shirt expressing Bruce’s attitude toward recovery might say: “Gimme a break!” He is constantly rolling his eyes over some AA platitude—and then experiencing its inner truth.

My sidekick character Barbara carries another theme that is important to me, that of codependency. Barbara is addicted to rescue and control and to minding everybody’s business out of an excessive desire to help. Barbara is a helping professional as well as an Al-Anon member. She understands that becoming overinvolved with or even giving advice to others is a way of distracting herself from her responsibility to manage her own life. She knows that fretting over what other people think undermines her self-esteem, that she can’t “fix” anybody but herself, and that she can’t blame others for her feelings or choices. If Barbara had all the virtues she’s striving toward, she’d be insufferable. So I’ve made her a chronic backslider. She is constantly being derailed by nosiness, embarrassment, and a desire to run the lives of others. Her T-shirt would say: “Oops!”

One way for the author to gain some distance from the character who represents an issue is to put that character in third person rather than first. That’s what happened with Barbara. In the early drafts of my first book, she was a co-protagonist who alternated first person chapters with Bruce. Bruce’s voice is sardonic and clever, with a lot of feeling underneath. He’s a New York smartass with a heart of gold. The original Barbara was self-conscious and digressive and, yes, preachy, no matter how much I revised the manuscript. The result was alienating to readers. Demoting her to third-person sidekick made her much more palatable and more successful as a character. Reader reactions to Barbara vary: some find her endearing, some hilarious, some inspiring, and some annoying. But they don’t forget her, and I think they come away knowing more about codependency and why codependents need recovery.

I’ve learned a few additional techniques for avoiding preachiness from authors with whom I’ve discussed this challenge. “Show, don’t tell” serves not only the roundedness of characters but also the integration of serious themes. It also helps not to make the the Cause and the Opposition too absolute. Readers may come to the story with a variety of experiences and points of view, and we don’t want to alienate everybody but the True Believer who doesn’t need convincing. The same goes for heroes and villains. It’s good technique to present flawed good guys and let the reader empathize a bit with bad guys. Maybe what saves the character-driven mystery from turning into a sermon is simply: Nobody’s perfect!

02 November 2012

Mysterious Signs


by Dixon Hill

Well, it's the first Friday in November. And, if you're reading this, you've  managed to survive another Halloween (and the accompanying storm, if you're on the East Coast).

We've got just one more night of terror to come, this year:  Election Eve.

That's right, come next Tuesday night -- no matter who wins -- polls indicate about half the nation will be upset about it, certain that we're entering a new era of a "long national nightmare."  But, there's also something fun going on .  And, that fun stuff involves not only elections, but also a real-life mystery of sorts.

Signs of the Times





Mysteries come in many shapes and sizes.  So do political campaign signs.








Those signs seem to multiply like rabbits!  Don't they?  They sprout up just about everywhere -- at least around my town.







Here's a mystery for you:  Which of these campaign signs isn't really campaigning for the candidate on the sign?






























If you picked the sign below, you're right!




















But, you may ask, if it's not campaigning for Mitt Romney, who or what is this sign campaigning for? And, Dixon Hill, how do you know it's not campaigning for Romney?


To answer the last question first, let me show you another sign put out by the same group.  This sign clearly does not support Romney.















Now . . . To answer that first question, let's do a little investigating.  Shall we?

Since a fairly recent Supreme Court decision, Political Action Committees (PACs) have been granted much freer range for advertisement associated with political campaigns.  The PAC behind this sign is shown below.

Citizens for Sushi?

Who the heck are they?  Are they really a Political Action Committee?  Or are they something a little different?


The Answer is BOTH

They're a real PAC, but the members are people in the restaurant industry.  Very particular members, in fact.  To see what I mean, let's take a closer look at part of that Obama sign.  You see, the Stingray Sushi restaurant uses this logo -- complete with the anime girl -- on much of its advertisement.


Below is a shot of the Stingray Sushi restaurant, here in Scottsdale.  See any signage similarities?


Stingray Sushi is a sushi bar for young, hip kids with lots of cash to drop.  The owners have worked like crazy to promote their restaurant, using an anime girl -- the same one you see on the political signs -- on signs around town, for several years.

Scottsdale and most towns in The Valley, however, have very strict sign codes.  There are almost no billboards in The Valley of The Sun.  So, Stingray Sushi opted to plaster their signs on city buses and other locations that they could buy access to.

The problem is, that little anime gal sometimes gets a bit risque.  Note the look on her face (and the use of her hand) to lend a slightly different meaning to the words "Mitt bit my sushi!" in the Romney ad.

She wound up being too risque for city buses in at least one instance -- resulting in the restaurant having to pull their ads.

What's a restaurant owner to do???

Well, in this case, they take advantage of a fairly recent Supreme Court Decision and create their own PAC.  Then they go out and make signs supporting both candidates, and post them all over town.

This is a type of guerrilla marketing -- meaning that it's low-key, and relatively unregulated.  It flies beneath the radar of most cities, because state law doesn't permit cities to mess with campaign signs.  In fact, federal law is pretty strict about what you can do to limit campaign signage and advertisement, I believe (some of you feds might lend a correcting voice here, if needed).  And, this permits companies like Stingray Sushi to make a little advertisement "hay" while the political "sun shines".

Maybe you don't think that's a sort of fun idea, but I do.  I think it lends a bit of whimsy to a political season filled with scare tactics and negative advertisement, dumping virtual gallons of garbage into my living room every day.

And Stingray Sushi isn't the only business engaged in this practice.  A few more local samples are pasted below.

















 These guys are giving away free gelato -- all you have to do is cast your text-vote!!



And, you might want to note: KJZZ is our local NPR station.  
If you've been thinking this practice is "low brow" maybe this shot lends a different feeling to the idea.


So, have any of you seen examples of guerrilla marketing masquerading as campaign signs in your neighborhood?  Let us all know -- in the comments section.





























See you in two weeks,
--Dixon

01 November 2012

Falling into a Story



by Deborah Elliott-Upton

The weather is cooling, the leaves are falling and hopefully, the East coast is drying out from Sandy. We come to the time of year when we stop and catch our breath and remember our blessings and the reasons we give thanks near the end of every November in the United States. It's a perfect time to fall face-first into a novel or collection of short stories.

My subscriptions are up-to-date and I find happy surprises in my mailbox to help me fill a more slow-paced couple of weeks before the holidays pluck us into tizzies of wild living with parties, get-togethers and all those answers of "What do I give to people on my list?" questions. But before we delve into all that hustle and bustle, let's find something to take us away from it all ala Calgon for a bit of time we can call our own.

I am an avowed lover of short stories. In fact, my bookshelves are literally overflowing with collections of short works of fiction. When I first started writing, I was advised that short stories didn't sell as easily as novels and no one wanted anthologies of short works unless they were authored by someone with the background of a Stephen King or Joyce Carol Oates.

Let's be polite and just say they were partly wrong. I own several anthologies of short fiction (and my stories are included in a few, too) or writers who have yet to bust through to a mention in Forbes magazine. That doesn't mean the stories aren't just as good. Returning movie videos, I ran into a friend who was raving about a movie she'd just watched that neither of us had heard of before. It must have been straight-to-video, which used to mean second-rate. Now it seems to mean less than stellar backing. Marketing isn't everything for movies and books, but it does make a difference. Movies have a shot at gathering additional backing and promotion when they are presented at film festivals like Sundance and Cannes.

Books are judged somewhat by their covers, meaning not just the illustration, but also the name of the publisher promoting them. Short story collections are not always in high demand by publishers, unless -- yes, it's true -- they are authored by a brand name. That doesn't mean the stories aren't worth your time, and yes, money.

One of the best written short story collections I've read recently belong to our own John M. Floyd, published in CLOCKWORK. This isn't exactly a plea to buy his book. It's a head's up to alert those who don't already own a copy, you are missing out on some excellent reading.


But John's is not the only short story collection worth reading!
    

Try just one and let me know if you agree short stories are fabulous.