13 February 2015

Cheap Christmas Leather Luxury


by Dixon Hill

Note:  I wrote this a few weeks ago, but then saw that Melodie had already loaded a much better (and far funnier) writerly chair story into our blog list.  At that time, I shelved this one.  Recently, however, I decided it never hurts to let folks know about the physical items directly supporting a writer's endeavors.  After all, someone may be interested.  So, here below is the article about my own chair.

My wife bought me a chair for Christmas.

I found out about it two days before Christmas, and three days AFTER she told me that she and I weren't getting each other presents this year.

She said the same thing last year, too -- which wound up with me out scouring a local 24-hour Walgreen's at around 10 am Christmas day.  So, I'd already gotten her a present for this Christmas, completely ignoring what she'd said.

Consequently, learning about the chair didn't phase me.

Dragging it from the store, bungee-cording it to the roof of our car and carrying it up the stairs, however, did.

Thank God for the assistance of our oldest son, Joe.  Without his help, I'd still be plodding up those steps.  Because that chair is heavy.  I mean, seriously: it probably weighs in with around the same mass as a nice leather-bound set of Hugh Hefner's Complete and Unabridged List of Personal Happy Memories . . . er, uh, I mean . . . his Personal Sins.

Anyway . . .  My wife got me the chair, as she explained, because I needed a better chair for writing.

I certainly wasn't gonna argue about that.  I write (as many of you know) out on our apartment balcony.  I've got a little rolling desk out there, comprising a short but hefty wooden cabinet that our son, Joe, built in shop class, which sits atop a 2x4 & caster device designed to move heavy furniture.

The way Joe built the cabinet, I've got a strong wide shelf about ten inches below the nice, flat top -- upon which perches my laptop when I'm working.  I keep cigars, tobacco, pipes, pipe cleaners, lighters, pens and other odds and ends down on that shelf.  The mouse sits on the arm of my chair, and the keyboard sits on my lap.  The caster wheels let me roll the "desk" up close when writing, and push it back when I stand up.

Until my wife bought me that chair for Christmas, though, I was sitting in a green, plastic, Adirondack-style lawn chair that didn't give me a lot of lumbar support.  Okay: It hardly actually gave me ANY support, being plastic and quite flexible.  Additionally, it was pretty low-slung, so I actually sat a bit too low to see my laptop screen very well.

Perhaps, therefor, you can understand why I wanted something a bit more comfortable.

Problem was: it also needed to be cheap and not too nice, because it would be sitting outside. Winters here in the Valley, might not be too rough on outdoor furniture, but summers are BRUTAL to them.

Madeleine's solution was brilliant.  She found a nice big red fake-leather cushy armchair at Goodwill. The chair was in great condition and had been priced at $25.00, but she got it on sale for 50% off.

So, I now sit in a $12.50 armchair to do my writing.

In fact, I'm sitting in it now. It's 11:11 pm (an auspicious hour, surely! LOL), and chilly enough that I've got a blanket over the chair to protect my backside (I'm wearing shorts) from the cool fake leather.  I'm wearing one zippered jacket in the normal manner, with a second open and spread over my legs.  And I'm quite comfortable.

As to my feet:  They're nice and warm too.  In a pair of house shoes my son, Quentin, gave me for Christmas.

See you in two weeks,
—Dixon

12 February 2015

Write What You Know


"Write what you know!"  That old cliche gets trotted out regularly.  Now usually it's meant as an encouragement, but it's also used to set up (and even justify) limitations. I've had people seriously ask how I could teach World History without having visited every country in the world.  I've talked to writers who seriously said that they couldn't write about a ski bum or a serial killer or a heartbroken mother of a dying child because they'd never experienced that.

My response to the first is, "Does a medieval historian have to go to the Middle Ages?"  [Perennial note to self:  get a Tardis.  NOW.]

And my response to the second is, Emily Bronte, Emily Dickinson, and Flannery O'Connor.

Or Terence:

"I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me."
                        --Terence, The Self-Tormenter (163 BCE)

Or Walt Whitman:

"I am large; I contain multitudes."
                       --Walt Whitman, Song of Myself (1892 CE)

We are (almost) all born with the same emotional equipment.  Love, jealousy, envy, happiness, sadness, depression, joy, verve, hatred, need, greed, etc.  You want to know how someone else feels?  Pay attention.  To them and yourself.  Look inside and amplify (or de-amplify) as necessary. Everything that happens starts inside the human heart and mind.  If we're lucky, not all of it gets out, except in fiction.
NOTE:  "Just because it leaps into your head doesn't mean you have to DO it," is an observation I keep trying to share with my friends at the pen.  One of the main differences between (most) writers and (most) criminals is that writers have the ability to delay gratification.  (Per word, per piece, perhaps....) 
But seriously, think about writers:  Besides absolute loners like the Brontes and Emily Dickinson, there are many others who wrote amazingly atypical stuff.  In real life, Conan Doyle had far more in common with Dr. Watson than Mr. Holmes.  By all accounts Margaret Mitchell was neither a bitch nor lived during the Civil War.  Elizabeth George is neither a viscount nor a working class frump, and she's never lived in England.  Patricia Highsmith never actually killed anybody, although I understand that some people wanted to kill her.  Ray Bradbury never drove a car.  Rex Stout was happily married (at least the 2nd time), and fairly thin.  Our own Janice Law has never been a male gay artist of extremely unconventional genius with a liking for rough trade.  (That or she has the most fantastic disguise in history.)  It's called imagination.  And observation.  And mulling things over.  And wondering...  That's why we write.

Look, there's nothing new under the sun.  Humans are humans (including Neanderthals).  Everyone on Jerry Springer could be any of us, given the wrong circumstances and a complete lack of self-control in public.  There are really no new plots, which is a godsend to those of us who scramble to figure out not whodunnit but how the heck they did it.  My story "Sophistication" used a 4,000 year old plot device and I'm damned proud of it.  And if the news is quiet, and you just can't think of a reason why someone would commit a violent act, consider Steven Pinker's breakdown of the Five Inner Demons from his book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature":
  • Practical violence (means to an end)
  • Dominance violence (the quest for authority, prestige, power, glory, etc.)
  • Revenge 
  • Sadism 
  • Ideology 
There's a list to haunt your dreams.

James Joyce,
painted by Patrick Tuohy
in Paris, 1924
So we have all the emotions, we can crib the plots, what do we really need?  Education.  Facts.  And here's where we are the luckiest generation in history.  You can research almost ANYTHING on the internet.  I don't have to be James Joyce, sitting in Paris, writing frantic letters back home to Dublin, trying to nail down details of Dublin, June 16, 1904.  (Although there's worse things to be, that's for sure.  I wouldn't want his failing eyesight, but otherwise...)  I can find out almost anything I want to know about guns, poisons, crime, statistics, spyware, malware, anything-ware online.  I can read old diaries, old letters, old cuneiform, and go to an infinity of historical websites dedicated to Life In ___ (fill in the blank).  It's out there. And I have done it:  I am proud to say that my most recent sale to AHMM (thank you, Linda Landrigan!) is "Miss West's First Case", set in a tuberculosis sanatorium in post-WW2 Vienna, and I did ALL the research either on-line or amongst my books.  

Write what you know?  Honey, we can know anything we want.  We just have to put it together. Excuse me, I have to get writing!


11 February 2015

The Lovejoy Mysteries


Some time back in the late 1980's, when the A&E network was getting off the ground, they recycled a lot of Brit TV, and one of their shows was LOVEJOY. I watched it faithfully. It had a cool hook, in that the guy was an antiques dealer, and sometimes on the shady side of things. He wasn't averse to the occasional con.

LOVEJOY had a funny broadcast history in that its first season on the BBC pulled in viewers, but then there was a four-year hiatus before they brought it back for another five seasons, and then it picked up legs both in the UK original and in US syndication.

If you're unfamiliar with the show, the concept is that Lovejoy worked estate sales and auctions – and was often asked to give an opinion of value or to broker a deal – with an eye to the main chance, of course, but his saving grace is his fierce passion for the real thing. The mysteries often turned on questions of provenance and authenticity. Is such-and-such the genuine article or a forgery? A pair of eighteenth-century dueling pistols, a watercolor attributed to Constable, a manuscript copy of the Magna Carta that's fallen out of a library book, and each episode involved a learning curve. One's reminded of THE BRASHER DOUBLOON, say, or the story where one collector buys the last but one rare
stamp from another collector and then burns it, so he now owns the only one left in the world. (Can somebody help me here? I don't remember who wrote that story.) There's something obsessive about this hermetic crowd, too, the idea that you'd be willing to kill for a Queen Anne chamberpot or a Hogarth etching. 


I've been binge-watching the show recently, on DVD, and the first thing you notice is how well it stands up. The production values are high, for one, nice location shoots, stately homes and so forth, but the level of the scripts is consistently strong. If you look back on
some of your old faves, you can be disappointed. HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL is still terrific, but WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE is cheesy, Steve McQueen notwithstanding. Jack Lord's HAWAII FIVE-O is truly dreadful (with the exception of Khigh Dhiegh as Wo Fat), while MAGNUM, P.I. works well, in spite of its being something of a period artifact. LOVEJOY the series was put together by Ian La Frenais, and based on the Jonathan Gash books. La Frenais worked with a stable of writers that kept a very sharp tone, both mischievous and sinister. The stakes were often high. Antiques ain't small beer.

The trick's in the casting. Lovejoy himself is played by Ian McShane, a guy I've been queer for ever since the Richard Burton gangster picture VILLAIN, not to mention SEXY BEAST and DEADWOOD, and McShane gives the character enormous charm. It helps that Lovejoy is also a little slippery.

He's not always a reliable narrator - Lovejoy often addresses the viewer directly, turning toward the camera - and you're never entirely sure whether he's only in it for himself, or answers to some higher persuasion. If not a bounder, certainly a rogue.

The appeal of a series character has a lot to do with how the audience relates to them, and where your sympathies lie. James Garner as Rockford, Tom Selleck as Magnum, or Bob Urich as Spenser. It's about your comfort zone, in large degree. How far can they push the envelope? You can't break faith. Network standards and practices aside, Jim Rockford isn't going to betray your trust in him, shoot an unarmed guy in the back, for instance, or leave a stray dog behind for predators. Lovejoy's cut from the same cloth. Maybe he's not the most upright, and he even spends too much time on the horizontal, but he plays fair, even if 'fair' is in the eye of the beholder. When he pulls off some complicated skin game, and takes a bigger fish to the cleaners, you get a lot of satisfaction out of it - payback.

One last note. I wasn't all that hip to the milieu, when I first watched LOVEJOY, but having spent the last fifteen years in Santa Fe, and somewhat on the fringes of the art world (a friend of mine owns a frame shop here), I find the details ring all too true, the narcissism, the competing egos, the schadenfreude. It's hard to exaggerate, or lampoon. You think LOVEJOY goes over the top? Believe me, you can't make this stuff up.

www.davidedgerleygates.com

10 February 2015

Everything That Rises


Flannery O'Connor once wrote a story titled, "Everything That Rises Must Converge".  Like most of her work it's brilliant.  The title alone I found remarkable and has always stuck in my mind.  There was something about those words.  The truth be told, even after reading the story, I still didn't understand the phrase; the choice of the title.  Generally happy in my ignorance, I was content to coast along for many, many years with only the occasional thought about it.  But still it bothered me--those words kept returning.
Georgia has been fortunate to have produced a number of notable writers, many of whom, most I would say, having been female.  First there's Margaret Mitchell of course, there's no getting around her.  You are not allowed to graduate high school in Georgia without at least knowing who wrote "Gone With The Wind".  That question is also included in college entry exams as per state law.  Carson McCullers, the most notable writer my hometown ever produced wrote "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter", "Ballad Of The Sad CafĂ©", "Member Of The Wedding", and a number of other great novels.  Of the male persuasion there is Erskine Caldwell, who penned "Tobacco Road" and "God's Little Acre" amongst others.  And of more recent note, James Dickey, of "Deliverance" fame.  All of them formidable talents. 

Then there's Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964).


Flannery made her reputation during the 1950's and 60's predominantly with short stories.  She is one of the reasons that I learned to love them.  Afflicted by lupus, she lived a brief life, succumbing to the disease at 39 and after spending many of those years on a small farm near Milledgeville--notable for being the home of the state's largest psychiatric institution.  She never married, and beyond the occasional lecture at a nearby women's college, lived quietly and obscurely.  Though she certainly achieved a great deal of critical recognition during her lifetime, neither of her two novels became best-sellers.  I like to think she wouldn't have cared.

Like Margaret Mitchell's fictional heroine, Scarlett O'Hara, Ms. O'Connor was a Catholic and of Irish descent.  The more astute of you may have intuited this last from her name.  Also like Scarlett, she was born in the beautiful city of Savannah.  I have stood outside her family's townhouse, but was unable to go inside as it was not open to the public.  Which was a shame.  Beyond these things, Scarlett and Flannery could hardly have been more different.  I doubt Flannery would ever have said, "Fiddle-de-dee!"  I could be wrong.

If you've never read Ms. O'Connor's works, you may be in for a surprise.  This quiet, unpretentious, and devout woman will shock you with the violence, both interiorly, and often, exteriorly, of her characters.  Her stories are often driven by grotesque people, and seemingly depraved behavior.  No one is immune from the mortal upheaval of life, no matter their station, their opinion of themselves, their personal ambitions; their gifts, or their handicaps.  In "Revelation" a woman is devastated by a vision that reveals she may have to share paradise with those she considers undeserving.  A grandmother learns she is willing to trade the lives of her family in order to continue living in "A Good Man Is Hard To Find".  Then there's "Everything That Rises Must Converge", the tale of a mother/son bus ride to the YMCA that ends badly, but may result in wisdom, however unwelcome.  If a single theme could be said to run throughout her writings, it is that all are eligible for redemption: black and white, male and female, saint and criminal, and that everyone, however imperfectly, and sometimes violently, is searching desperately for it. 

Which brings me back to the beginning--what about that title?  Well, when you consider the body of O'Connor's work as the sum total of who she was, the answer may not be so surprising.  It refers to a work by the French priest, philosopher, and scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin titled "Omega Point".  Here is the pertinent quote: "Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love!  At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent.  For everything that rises must converge."  Remarkable words from a remarkable (and controversial) man, and embodied in a truly gifted writer. 

Father de Chardin (1881-1955) probably did not know that his theological and philosophical works were influencing a writer in rural Georgia.  On the other hand, most people at that time could not have told you who Fr. de Chardin was (As a side note: Fr. de Chardin was the model for Wm. Peter Blatty's Fr. Merrin in "The Exorcist").   Yet, he was one of those rare and luminous souls whose insight and brilliance have influenced millions of people, while the man himself has largely been forgotten.  Though a priest, he was also a scientist, and participated in the discovery and study of Peking Man.  And it was through his study of science, that he offered an alternative theory to the biblical origins of man--a theory that was controversial at the time and remains so.  *He posited that the  theory of evolution was entirely compatible with the Church's long-held belief that God created man; that, in fact, there was no conflict when one considered that God provided the essential spark to creation itself.  The actual mechanics leading to man's advent should not trouble us, as they were guided by our Creator.  Though many of Fr. de Chardin's teachings do remain unendorsed by the Church, and are suspect in many ways, it is worth noting that Pope Pius XII agreed that the theory of evolution was not incompatible with the Church's teachings, so long as it encompassed man as possessing a soul granted by God Himself, a view  repeated recently by Pope Francis.   

Less known, perhaps, was Fr. de Chardin's more subtle contribution in his capacity as theologian.  **Taking on a long-held belief that only the work of the religious (read priest, nuns, monks, etc...) contributed to the glorification of God, he held that all peoples, in their everyday endeavors, had it within their power to contribute to the sanctification of the world (Opus Dei--the boogeyman of "The Da Vinci Code" holds to this belief, as well--after all, Jesus was a carpenter).  In other words, he contended that by offering up their labors to God, anyone could serve in His glorification. In essence, that we should all be striving to move up, to rise up together..."For everything that rises must converge." 

It seems that Flannery O'Connor and Fr. de Chardin, each in their own way, did exactly that.

*Please note that this interpretation of Fr. de Chardin's theory is my own, and probably poorly represents his intentions.

**Again, I take full responsibility for whatever damage I do here. 

          









             
     


09 February 2015

Harper Lee and Me


Okay, the picture on the left is not current.  It's my very first author photo used by Berkley Prime Crime in 2007.  It's even my natural hair color which is rare because I began experimenting with solutions to get away from being red-haired when I took the city bus downtown and bought my first package of hair dye from Silver's Dime Store at age ten.

Between then and my current "platinum blonde," a product of age and getting tired of touch-ups every few weeks, I've had brunette, auburn,
strawberry blonde, honey blonde, platinum blonde and even a pinkish mauve.  No, I wasn't ahead of the times.  That pink was a big mistake--the result of attempting an at-home color job.

What's the point of telling you all this?  Or to be blunt about it, what the heck does anyone care how many countless times I've changed my hair color?  I'm trying to show you that I've always embraced change.  That is until I signed the contract to release Kudzu River.

My readers were accustomed to the cozyesque Callie Parrish mysteries, and I feared I would offend some of them with Kudzu River, but it was a story I'd felt compelled to tell for years.  It was also a story that Bella Rosa Books, my most recent publisher, would not print because they only publish "family-friendly" writing.  When Odyssey South Publishing, a new southern company, accepted it, I grabbed the chance regardless of the reactions I might receive, but I feared those reactions..



The above quote from Harper Lee sums up what I felt I'd need when Kudzu River was released. I was positive that my usual readers would not like its grittiness and those who liked Kudzu would all be a different population from Callie's fans.  

Speaking of Harper Lee (and who isn't this week?) it ticks me off that this woman, who wrote a classic of our times and has had her one and only book required reading for students for years, has taken more than her share of flak through those years.  Regularly, some critic claimed that Lee's friend Truman Capote must have written To Kill a Mockingbird because anyone who writes that well would have written another one.  Now, "another one" is being released in July.  Reports are that though this book takes place from Scout's pov twenty years later than Mockingbird, it was written first.  The commentator stated that readers will probably be disappointed because Lee had not yet developed her skills when this was written.  I wanted to reach into NPR through my car radio and snatch that man right into the seat beside me so I could demand to know if he's read the coming release.  I'm sure this book will be a smashing success financially, but I don't know how Lee could need the money with the royalties she must receive every year from all those students having to buy Mockingbird. However,  if the coming book is "bad," why, at age eighty-eight, would she want it published? 

This is purely speculation, but perhaps Harper Lee is like so many of us writers less successful than she.  Maybe she just wants to see her first born in print.  Or, thinking like the mystery writer I am at heart, could it be that the manuscript has not been lost all these years as news reports claim?  Did Harper Lee not want this published but was manipulated into it at her advanced age?  I'm hoping to see an interview with her.  If any of you have seen a recent interview with Ms. Lee, please send me a link.

Back to my first born, Kudzu River was begun before the first Callie Parrish mystery, and it has gone through three name changes.  Teacher, Teacher became Red Flag which is now Kudzu River. An established writer who has been on the N Y Times Best Seller list told me years ago (when Teacher Teacher received its first rejection) that nobody's first book sells.  Just count it as "practice."  Instead of shoving it into a drawer and forgetting about it, I've spent years "practicing" on this book.

So far, Kudzu River has four reviews on Amazon, and I love and appreciate every one of them, but here are two from FaceBook that were posted with their full names.  I repeat these because they are from regular Callie readers:

From  Brenda:  Fran Rizer . . . My book review of Kudzu River . . . loved it.  It was my kind of book.  Mystery, murder, and love all entwined together.  I couldn't put it down.  You need to write a Book II.

From Watson:  Just finished reading Fran Rizer's Kudzu River  Can books keep you on the edge of your seat?  This one did==all the way through.  I've read a lot of books--probably thousands.  This is one of the best.

The reviews on Amazon are longer.  I invite you to check them out at Fran Rizer, Kudzu River, Amazon.com.  Also, if you're not familiar with kudzu, check out Youtube, Phil Ruff, "Kudzu video."  He tells all about kudzu in a song that he has authorized us to use in the trailer for Kudzu River.

Until we meet again, take care of . . . you.

Continuing to embrace change, my next book is horror, and I'm currently writing a children's book.




  





08 February 2015

A Death a Day


Imagine a prison system in which a person a day diesone man every day of the year. This unsurprisingly takes place in a land with the highest incarceration rate in the world.
This isn’t North Korea or Iran.

Florida DoC
Hearses waiting at Florida DoC © WFSU
We’re talking Florida, a state that incarcerates 75% more per capita than the next highest competitor… Cuba.

We’re talking Florida’s lucrative privatized prison system in a land that competes in executions with Texas and a couple of other states, but this isn’t about capital punishment…

We’re talking about ordinary prisoners who hoped one day to get out but died at the hands of other prisoners or … commonly… prison guards. Indeed, a Santa Rosa Correctional Institute inmate complained in letters to his family and in legal filings he’d been sexually assaulted by guards and his life had been threatened if he talked. He talked. He died. And so have others.

FDLE Gerald Bailey
Gerald Bailey © Bill Cotterell
State Archives of Florida
Inmates have written their families that if they’re found dead, it wouldn’t be by suicide but homicide by guards, guards who obscure their name tags to evade identification, who inmates could only identify as, for example, Sgt. Q. Many prisoners have complained about being sexually assaulted and ‘gassed’ into compliance with a noxious chemical agent. State inspectors have investigated and found for the prisoners. Florida's death statistics are so far off that the US Department of Justice is now investigating.

In September, more than thirty guards were fired for sexual assault, physical abuse, starving, poisoning, gassing, or beating inmates to death and in one case, killing a prisoner who'd soiled himself by steaming him alive. The Governor’s office and the Attorney General dismissed the allegations. Not one guard has been arrested or indicted.

Maybe you’re one of those people who thinks prisoners deserve all they get. They deserve rancid, moldy, vermin-infested food. They deserve rape. They deserve beatings. And damn it, if they get killed in prison, they deserve that too. Or perhaps you simply believe in the right of a company to protect the bottom line and not the general population.

Because Florida

I staunchly support free enterprise, but there’s a problem here. Traditional prisons were subject to oversight by its citizens. Not now. A corporation owes responsibility only to its stock holders… and perhaps the political cronies who landed them the contract.

Beatings, rapes, and killings are taking place in your name and mine. Not everyone approves. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey thought that was a problem.

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Fl. Gov. Rick Scott © Miami New Times
Governor Rick Scott disagreed. Because Florida, because America. Because of a governor who committed the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in the country, who’s never seen the inside of a prison although he deserved to.

Remember that name, Commissioner Gerald Bailey, the head of Florida’s law enforcement. Because Rick Scott brought the private sector corruption he was infamous for into the public realm.

Good Cop, Bad SOP

Under Bailey, the FDLE was investigating those suspicious prison inmate deaths, assisted the search for juvenile remains at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, and was looking into the destruction of emails following Scott’s transition into office in 2010. The Governor was not pleased.

“The most shocking thing was being ordered to target another individual without any justification. I don't know why this woman was in the cross hairs.”
FDLE's Gerald Bailey
The governor’s office, in an attempt to deflect criticism of the prison system under the governor’s control, instructed Bailey to frame an Orange County Clerk of Court, stating she was the target of criminal investigation who allowed inmates to use forged papers from her office. Bailey refused, saying she wasn’t a suspect at all: the forged papers came out of the prison complex. A governor’s press aide asked Bailey if he was refusing a direct order, to which Bailey replied in the affirmative. The Governor was not pleased.

The Governor’s office expressed concerns that State Representative Alan Williams of Tallahassee was fomenting student sit-ins at the state capitol and asked Bailey’s office to keep them posted about Williams’ activities in incidents reports. Williams complained he was politically targeted and singled out by name, and that the governor’s office was trying to shape the protests as being organized not by students but by his political opposition.

After the FDLE discovered a Los Angeles criminal investigation of a Scott campaign donor and Miami businessman suspected of money laundering, a man the governor wanted to groom for a political appointment, Rick Scott personally asked Bailey to help bring the investigation to a close. Bailey refused to get involved. The Governor was not pleased.

Bailey received solicitations to contribute to the governor’s campaign through the state’s email system. Bailey informed the governor’s legal counsel this was inappropriate, in fact, illegal. The governor’s office said “Then ignore it. Delete it.” Bailey pointed out to the governor’s lawyer that’s illegal too: You can’t lawfully delete official communications from state computers. The Governor was not pleased.

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Florida Gov. Scott © ABC News
In his first weeks in office, Governor Scott worked with the new legislature to pass a bill legalizing illegal campaign donations. At the time called a “Whore of Babylon” by a St. Petersburg Times reporter, they okayed payoffs, directing them into a political slush fund, a corrupt practice that had been banned two decades earlier.

The governor ordered Bailey to a summer conference for Scott’s election campaign. Bailey refused, saying it was inappropriate for a law officer to engage in partisan politics. The Governor was not pleased.

The governor continued to treat the FDLE as his own private security force. His campaign instructed the Department of Law Enforcement to provide transportation for campaign workers. Bailey’s office refused, saying their sole responsibility was the safety of the governor and first lady, not campaign staffers. Bailey also refused a $90 000 check from Scott’s campaign, saying it wasn’t appropriate for law enforcement to accept funds from a political party. The Governor was not pleased.

Governor Fires Chief Cop For Not Breaking The Law

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Florida Gov. Rick Scott © Politico
Scott calls the above incidents ‘petty’. So petty he fired the FDLE head, Gerald Bailey.

What hasn’t been mentioned here is that the FDLE reports not only to the governor, but also three cabinet members. Governor Jeb Bush and the three cabinet members unanimously voted Gerald Bailey into the post nineteen years ago and presumably only the cabinet can fire him. None of the cabinet apparently took part in Bailey’s termination as required by Florida law. Rick Scott merely says they didn’t object.

I’ll give the last word to former FDLE commissioner Jim York. He said the firing could create a lasting perception that politics has compromised the independence of the agency amid investigations of corruption.
“If it’s perceived that the agency is under the thumb of any politician, particularly this governor, it’s going to be devastating to the morale of the agents. They wouldn’t be interested in doing investigations where they felt that the governor was looking over their shoulder, looking out for his donor friends.”
Thus we have further corruption in the Governor’s office and prisoners dying at the rate of one a day.

What is your take?

07 February 2015

Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen . . .






by John M. Floyd



Pet peeve: a minor annoyance that an individual identifies as particularly annoying to himself, to a greater degree than others may find it. (Wikipedia)

All editors, publishers, and agents have pet peeves. When we're lucky, we as writers find out about these things somewhere along the way, and try to avoid using or causing them. When we're unlucky, we don't find out, and in that case they almost certainly contribute to the some of the rejections we receive when we submit manuscripts to these mysteriously aggravated editors/publishers/agents.

When I began writing today's column, I intended to stick to those things that annoy these editorial decision-makers--this is, after all, a blog about writing--but the more I thought about it I decided I wanted to talk about more than just that. Although I am indeed a writer, my own pet peeves extend to other areas of my life as well: things that I read, see, and hear, every day of the world.

Here are a few that make me grind my teeth: 

The spoken word

People who constantly say "You know what I'm saying." You know what I'm saying?

People who talk during a movie. I can't think of a better use for stun guns.

The overuse of "awesome." The Grand Canyon is awesome. The Twilight series isn't.

The overuse of "amazing." Be honest. Unless you're Lois Lane, your boyfriend is NOT amazing.

The overuse of "all about." I heard a politician on TV the other night say he was all about the economy. Arrrgh.

The misuse of "like." She was like, "Seriously?" And I was like, "Totally."

Air quotes. Okay, bub, put those fingers away unless you intend to use them.

Using certain nouns as verbs (let's meet and fellowship, I'll gift my wife with flowers, we should dialogue about that). Don't do this.

Our players always deliver 110%. Gosh--I wasn't even aware that one could deliver more than 100%.

The mispronunciation of "short-lived." The "lived" should have a long i, as in "arrive"--not a short i, as in "give." The storm was short-lived because it had a short life, not a short lif.

People who talk on cell phones in waiting rooms, restaurants, checkout lines, etc. Enough said.

- The incorrect use of "I" instead of "me." This really bugs my editor and I.

Everyday life

Drug ads on TV that list a hundred terrifying side effects. After listening, why would anyone take these medications? For that matter, if your doctor is competent, why should you have to tell him what he should prescribe to treat your condition?

- "Teasers" during otherwise professional news broadcasts. Coming up after the break, on Nightly News: You won't believe what Miley does in this next video . . .

People who are rude to waitresses. Guess what you're getting on your salad today, sir.

Telemarketers. If I ever meet them in person, Heaven help Rachel at Cardmember Services and William at Great Vacations.

Tennis players who grunt every time they hit the ball. I once heard this from the other room and thought Planet of the Apes was on. The MUTE button helps, but still.

People who park their cars across two spaces. I've heard the cure is to park two cars alongside the space-hog, leaving him about an inch of clearance on both sides.

People who bend their arms high and pump them furiously back and forth when they walk. This might be good exercise, but one should try to maintain at least some measure of dignity in life.

Too much perfume. Get back, get back--give him some air!

People who can't stop checking/playing with their cell phones. Hey, remember me? I'm sitting right here. (I heard last night on NPR that this is called "phunning"--shunning others with your phone.)

Movie sequels. Let's face it: Terminator 2Star Trek II, AliensThe Dark KnightThe Road Warrior, and The Godfather: Part II were the only ones that were better than their predecessors.

Black shoelaces on black sneakers. They're hard to see when you try to tie your shoes.

Not enough legroom in cars, theatres, airplanes, etc. Not everyone is average height.

Cashiers who give you your change with the coins on top of the bills. How many times have you spilled everything while trying to put it into your purse or wallet?

The writing life

Its vs. it's. This one just isn't that hard--and editors expect you to know the difference.

Possessive vs. plural. If your characters are Mr. and Mrs. Baker, the name on their mailbox should say THE BAKERS, not THE BAKER'S. Even though the mailbox belongs to a Baker.

People who turn down the corner of a page as a bookmark. Don't make me come over there and throw you out of the library . . .

- The overuse of exclamation points!

- Misplaced modifiers. We make combs for people with unbreakable teeth.

Your vs. you're. Good grief.

The incorrect punctuation of "y'all." We who live in the south see this a lot.

Readers who sneak a look at the ending of a story or book. Yes, I'm told these people do exist.

Dumb-looking photos/illustrations of hunky guys on the covers of romance novels. See above: Even we authors should strive for some level of dignity.

People who say, "You know, I'd write a book, if only I had the time." Right.

The misuse of "ironically" and "literally." It's not ironic that your character was late for a meeting because she ran into a pothole, unless the meeting was about highway improvements. And the mishap did not--unless the pavement caved in on top of her--literally put her between a rock and a hard place.

- The overuse of adjectives. He drove his old blue rusted-out pickup truck down the hot, dry, rough, dusty road.

- The overuse of adverbs. He stomped heavily on the brake, slowly cranked the window down, stared blearily at the patrolman, and finally said, "I'm disgustingly drunk."

Too-long bios. Authors who put the longest bios on their book jackets (and in their query/cover letters) always seem to be the ones who have accomplished the least.

The overuse of substitutes for "said." "Why?" he queried. "Why not?" she retorted. "Because," he declared. "Okay," she agreed.

Blog columns that talk about pet peeves. I mean, really, who cares?

Nonexistent aggravations

Oddly enough, some of the things that seem to run other people crazy don't bother me:

Babies who cry in public places. No worries. It's one of those things I can just tune out.

Shortened words: tote, limo, tux, fax, mayo, etc. Why not?

Squeaky, unoiled chains on a porch swing. I think the sound is kind of rhythmic and soothing.

Allowing food on one side of your plate to get mixed up with food on the other side. So what? It's all going to get mixed up soon anyhow.

People who go around whistling or singing all the time. I believe we could use more of that kind of thing.

Watching a ballgame on TV without sound. Who needs an announcer to tell you what just happened on the field?

Combined but unhyphenated words: handpicked, superheated, cardplayer, smartphone, doublewide, etc. Again, why not?

- Comma splices, split infinitives, sentence fragments, etc. To use these is to boldly go where my English prof wouldn't--but in fiction, I love 'em.

Overuse of movie quotes. To me, it's hard to overuse anything involving movies.




Okay, that's it. Literally. Ya'll know what I'm saying?

Its ironic, but now I'm like, "What are YOU'RE pet peeves?" 







06 February 2015

Freakonomics


The cover is a green apple
with the wedge of an orange
During my early years of university attendance, I quickly learned the subject of economics was not my favorite, not even close. Its only theory which seemed comprehensible at the time, and the only one to stick with me through the years, is The Law of Diminishing Utility. You know, the one where the first candy bar tastes great, the second is good, the third is okay and by the time you get to the sixth one, your stomach doesn't feel so good. That one I understand, perhaps because of a personal sweet tooth. The rest of economics was dry, boring and I had no taste for the subject.

Then, along comes Steven D. Levitt and writer Stephen J. Dubner with their book, Freakonomics.  Levitt is a rogue economist, has won several awards in his field and has a way of asking questions that makes economics interesting. Two of my favorite discourses come under the headings of What do School Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common, and Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms.

School Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers

Having compiled data on Chicago school teachers who gave the required standardized tests for the program of Leave No Child Behind, and also on sumo wrestlers competing in the required six tournaments held each year to establish ranking and therefore their annual salary based on that ranking, Levitt determined that a significant portion of the subjects in each category cheated. Well, this is a blog on crime and criminals, cheating for position and financial benefit is surely a crime, and I have long been interested in how to prove a crime.

Briefly, for the Chicago teachers, Levitt figured out the simplest way to cheat in the short time teachers had the "multiple guess" test sheets in their possession after the test was to fill in the same block of answers correctly on most of students' answer sheets before the sheets were electronically graded. Let's say the same block of about ten answers somewhere in the later section where the answers were more difficult for the students to get right and the teacher could easily remember the sequence of correct answers. Comparing all the test sheet answers for each class room, Levitt discovered an answer pattern in some classes. To further check his results, Levitt compared this same grade's scores with their scores from the previous year. Some student's scores in the pattern answer classes had somehow skyrocketed. Thus, a few weeks later, the same test was given again to the same students. Normally, you would expect the scores to stay about the same or even improve slightly, but this time, the teachers were not allowed to even touch the answer sheets. The scores of pattern answer students plunged. A dozen teachers lost their jobs for cheating. Why cheat to begin with? The incentives of recognition, promotion and financial gain versus potential censure, and loss of funds.

In his book, Levitt keeps coming back to numbers and incentives for the study of economics. Maybe I would have had more incentive in my university classes if I'd had Levitt for a teacher.

As for the sumo wrestlers, those on the bubble with a 7-7 win/loss record needed to win one more to stay within the elite 66 high rankings. Levitt's data showed that those on the bubble frequently won that one more needed win from those wrestlers who already had high enough win records not to need that last win, even though in previous matches, the wrestler who had acquired the better record usually beat the wrestler who ended up on the bubble. Kind of an "I'll scratch your back, if...," whether the payoff was monetary or a promise to "throw you a match in the future if you need it." Incentives. At the time, the top 40 wrestlers earned at least $170,000 a year, while the 70th ranked wrestler made only $15,000, plus the lower ranks had to do the laundry of the top ranked wrestlers. Incentives.

Drug Dealers and Their Moms

This one was right up my alley. Levitt wondered why crack cocaine drug dealers in Chicago were still living with their moms. Wasn't there a lot of money in the crack business? Didn't this big money mean they could move out from mom's and into luxury apartments?

Through a set of fortunate circumstances (for him), Levitt ended up with a four-year set of business transaction books for a ranking member of the Black Gangster Disciples in Chicago. The leader of a branch of this gang, later promoted to the Board of Directors, had kept a ledger of every crack sales, dues charged, protection fees and costs of doing business before his promotion to the board.

Levitt compiled the data. Yes, there was a lot of money coming in from crack sales, however the organization was comprised of a large pyramid chart and the big money floated to the top. The top twenty bosses in the Board of Directors each stood to make half a million dollars a year, while the leaders of a branch earned about $100,000 a year, but the rank and file standing on the corner were better off flipping burgers at McDonald's. Some of the lower ranks even maintained secondary jobs at low-wage legitimate jobs in order to make enough money to get by. They couldn't afford to move out from mom's place.

Not only could they not afford to move, but the rank and file were the ones taking daily chances on  being arrested or killed. During that same four year period on the streets, the members supervised by that branch leader each had an average of 5.9 times of arrest, 2.4 times of receiving injuries or non-fatal wounds (does not include gang administered beatings for rules infractions), and a 1 in 4 chance of being killed. So why do the job? The incentive was to climb up the pyramid to a leader's job or to sit on the Board of Directors where the really big money was.

Freakonomics and Levitt make economics interesting. Now I have to read Super Freakonomics to find out about Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. Whaaat?