23 June 2020

The Watts Riots, Rodney King and Me


by Paul D. Marks

The piece below has been published here at SleuthSayers before. But with everything happening in the country today I thought it might be worth another look. It’s mostly about a trip some friends of mine and I took down to Watts not long after the Watts Riots. It’s a day I remember well and that made a lasting impression on me. I don’t want to sound corny but what I really got out of that experience is that we are truly much more alike than different. And I’m sad to see that it looks like we’ve taken some steps backwards in how we relate to one another.

*          *          *



When people think of Watts they think of the Watts Towers – and the Watts Riots of August, 1965. That year, while the Beatles sang about Yesterday, another chant went up in South Central Los Angeles.

*          *          *

1965: "Burn, baby, burn!" is the anthem that many remember the Watts Riots by. It is the chant shouted by people as the city burns. The spark that sets off the riots is a black man being stopped for a traffic ticket. Long-simmering frustration boils over and the city ignites. Thirty-four people are killed, a thousand-plus are wounded and almost four thousand arrested. Tensions in Los Angeles are as high as the smoke rising from the smoldering city streets.

Los Angeles is burning.

*          *          *

1991: Another motorist is stopped for speeding and evading the police. His beatdown is caught on video:

1992: The cops accused of beating Rodney King are acquitted. People pour into the streets. Looting. Assault. Arson. Murder. Fifty-three dead. Twenty-three hundred injured and sixteen-hundred buildings damaged or destroyed.


Los Angeles is burning.

*          *          *

I was in Los Angeles in both ’65 and ’92. I remember the smoke, the fear permeating every quarter of the city.

During the Watts Riots, we were lucky to be able to watch it on TV and not be in the middle of it. My then-girlfriend's cousin was a National Guardsman assigned to patrol Watts during the riots and what he saw was so horrible he would never talk about it.

But I have a different memory of Watts. It isn't of the riots, but occurred during another hot summer, not long after.

I met a boy named Walter in class. Unlike everyone else in the class and just about everyone in the school, he was black. And he wasn't a local, but was on some kind of student exchange program from Jordan High in Watts.

I'm sure we were as much a curiosity to him as he was to us. After all, we were the privileged white kids and he was the angry young black man. Only he didn't seem angry. He seemed like just another nice guy with glasses. He invited a group of us to come down and see where he lived: Watts. A word that sent shivers down a lot of Angelinos' spines in those days.

We were a little apprehensive about going down there, especially as Walter had told us to come in the crappiest cars we had. No shiny new cars. There were six or eight teenaged boys and girls in our little caravan of two crappy cars. But crappy in our neighborhood meant something different than it did in Walter's.

Our caravan weaved its way through the Los Angeles streets until we were just about the only white faces to be seen. We finally came to Will Rogers Park (known today as Ted Watkins Park). Mind you, this is not the Will Rogers Park on Sunset where the polo ponies play on Sundays. This park is in the heart of South Central and I can say that all of our hearts were beating faster than normal.

We parked nearby and walked as a unit to the park, as if we were a military outfit. People looked at us – we didn't look at them. But maybe because we looked like hippies and we were young nobody bothered us.

We met Walter in Will Rogers Park in South Central Los Angeles and sat under a shady tree, a bunch of white kids and one black guy. We sat, just rapping – in the vernacular of the time – talking about music and houses and politics. We stood out like the proverbial sore thumb and people started coming over. Big dudes, little dudes. Cool dudes. Girls. No one seemed to resent our being there. In fact, they seemed glad to have us. Glad to be able to share with us and have us share with them. There was no sense of rancor or resentment. Just curiosity – a curiosity that went both ways. This was a time when people wanted to come together, not be separated. None of them knew Walter and they certainly didn't know us. But they joined our group and we rapped on.

After a while we got up and played a game of pickup basketball – try doing that in a pair of cowboy boots.

Then Walter said, "You want to see where I live?"


Of course we did. So he took us to the projects – Jordan Downs. We drove past burned out buildings and vacant lots that not so long ago had had buildings on them. And we saw how the other half lived.

"It's not the best place in the world to live," Walter said. "But it could be a whole lot worse."

Our last stop was a trip to the Watts Towers, those soaring spires of glass, steel and concrete built by Simon Rodia. They are a monument to what anyone can do if they put their mind to it.


We finally returned to our cars. And, corny as it might sound, I think we all learned that we're more alike than different, with the same aspirations, hopes and fears.

That day was one of the most memorable experiences of my life – one that I wouldn't trade for anything. It was a wonderful day and we all went home full of hope for the future. We just wanted to get to know each other. Ultimately I think Rodney King had it right when he said, "Can we all get along?"

Why the hell can't we?

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

The Blues Don't Care is getting some great reviews:

"It’s the first entry in what promises to be an entertaining and thoughtful series --- mysteries that not only have the requisite twists, turns, surprises and reveals, but also offer a penetrating look into our ubiquitous all-too-human flaws: greed, corruption, fear of the “other” and, especially, racism."
—Jack Kramer, BookReporter.com

"This is a beautifully noirish book, set firmly in the dark days of wartime and offering a sharp insight into the life and times of Los Angeles, 1940s style. Yes, it’s a mystery thriller, but The Blues Don’t Care is so much more than that, with historic detail, chutzpah, a cast of hugely entertaining characters, a really unusual protagonist and, best of all, a cracking soundtrack too."
—DeathBecomesHer, CrimeFictionLover.com



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

22 June 2020

A Matter of Trust


A few weeks ago, a novice writer reached me through my web site. He said he went to the high school where I taught, but I never knew him. He told me had done "lots of research" on a crime or crimes in our city and wanted me to help him turn it into a real book.

The email had lots of problems. First, he attached a word doc instead of simply writing the message. I suspected he was recycling the letter, but most of it was specifically aimed at me. He said his MS was 100K words long, but I couldn't tell if he had a non-fiction book or a novel, and it makes a difference because my comfort zone is fiction.

I asked a few questions for clarification and told him to send me a five-page synopsis of his entire MS, then a one-page synopsis of each of the three shorter sections he identified in his first message. I warned him that was very difficult, but I needed a clearer overview of what he had. He also mentioned podcasts, and I said if that was his choice, it might be a good idea, but he needed a scriptwriter or someone with more experience in radio. I quoted an estimate and told him that could change when I knew more, and that I wouldn't commit yet.

The next day, he replied and made my decision easy. He said his lawyer wanted me to sign a one-year non--disclosure agreement for our work together. I told him he had just closed the negotiations.

Everything in the creative arts, especially writing, is about trust, and the non-professionals don't get that. If you send a query or manuscript to an editor or agent, don't put the copyright symbol on it. They aren't going to steal it for several reasons, lawsuits and a ruined reputation topping the list. They have to keep working with other people, remember? Besides, if they can't do better than something they find in the slush pile, they're in the wrong business anyway.

Do session musicians sign an ADA before performing on someone else's recording? Do museum curators sign one before displaying someone's painting or sculpture? Do actors sign one while rehearsing the first production of a play, when the playwright may still be revising the script as they go along?

Nope, nope and nope.

The same is true of writers to agents, editors, and readers. Writers ask people to read their work, so they have to create something worth a reader's time and effort. A reader doesn't pick up a book to be bored by stale plots, cliched characters, or mountains of description. That's why editors and agents reject such submissions. The publishers trust them to bring quality (salable) products to the table, and if they betray that trust, it goes away.

Agents and editors read enough so they remember something good when they see it, especially when they see it again. Yes, we hear stories about plagiarism, but they're rare, especially with a well-known writer as either the victim or the perpetrator. There's too much at stake to take such a stupid risk.

I used to teach senior English classes with students who read four to six years below grade level. I always thought it was an oxymoron and that we should have helped those kids much sooner, but go figure. Those kids, who didn't know better, frequently handed in rap lyrics as their own poetry. They were always amazed when I caught them. They didn't understand that people who need a rubber stamp to spell their own name on the paper (Make sure it's right-side-up!) probably won't use a beautiful extended metaphor (Which they thought was a sports injury, anyway).

Those kids were trying to fool me, but it was how they tried to survive in a world where they'd been set up to fail. I never told them I found "their " poems by Googling the first line because I wanted to perpetuate the myth of the omniscient teacher. I made them rewrite the stuff into something more their own. These kids weren't aiming at Harvard or Oxford, they just wanted to get out of a really ugly building and find a full-time job. OK, no harm, no foul.

But it's different in the writing world, which is sort of like golf, where you call a penalty on yourself if you accidentally drag your club in the sand trap. There's a lot of money out there, but most of us aren't getting any of it, so it's all about the handshake and who buys the beer.

And, except on really bad days, not about the lawyers.

21 June 2020

Statues of Limitations


In the initial wave of Black Lives Matter, I was astonished how many moderates misunderstood the message, good-hearted but befuddled people who responded with “All lives matter.” The debate reminded me of a marital argument where husband and wife talk past one another, those moments when she just wants him to listen.

I hope it still doesn’t need spelling out, but supporting Black Lives Matter is hardly tantamount to, say, embracing the Black Liberation Army, that mirror image of the White Aryan Resistance.

Yes, of course all lives matter, but realize BLM is literally an existential issue for black folks, and by existential, I mean life…and…death. This year more people– not everyone but an accelerating number– begin to understand marginalization and how tenuous the life of a black man can be. I still haven’t got past the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice playing by himself in a Cleveland park on a snowy day. There’s no rationale, man.

Feet of Clay


A professional photographer I knew said, “The Klan does a lot of good. You know they feed children.”

“To what?” I said.

I’m not sure he got it. Hitler liked children too, very, very white ones.

Ten days ago, Brian Thornton wrote about monuments, D.W. Griffith, and the sanitizing and romanticizing of slavery in this country. I commented that a Jacksonville, Florida school only recently changed its name from a founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince, painting © Morry
The Happy Prince © Morry
Perhaps a balance should be sought about the value, equitability, and fairness of controversial statuary. A soldier doing his job, maybe. A murderous jayhawker or bushwhacker, nooooo. A founder of the KKK, nooooo, decidedly not. Just a thought.

Feat of Kaolin

Brian also mentioned Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’, which reminded me of a great short story by Oscar Wilde, one I thought infinitely sad when I was a small child.

In that classics spirit set forth by Brian, here is Wilde’s fable…

The Happy Prince

by Oscar Wilde

20 June 2020

A Movie Quiz for the Pandemic




Before I start, let me say a quick thank-you to all those who commented on my last two posts, on the Do's and Don'ts of writing. That can be a touchy subject, because all of us have our own ideas about the "rules" of writing fiction, and I was pleased that both posts seemed to kick off a good exchange of views about everything from grammar/style to the story-submission process. Thanks again.

As for today's column, I have noticed that my fellow SleuthSayers seem to be writing a lot of posts lately about the coronavirus and social injustice and other meaningful issues. Since I admire them and I admire that, I considered doing the same for my post today.

But didn't. The truth is, I'm sort of tired of the news.

So . . . today's offering is a quiz for movie lovers. If you fall into that group, try your hand at the following questions.
What do these movies have in common?


Example:

Top Gun / Iron Eagle / The Blue Max / Flyboys
Answer: fighter pilots


1. The Breakfast Club / Clueless / Napoleon Dynamite / Ferris Bueller's Day Off

2. Peggy Sue Got Married / A Sound of Thunder / Deja Vu / Back to the Future

3. On the Beach / Miracle Mile / These Final Hours / Melancholia

4. Rocky / Cinderella Man / Million Dollar Baby / Raging Bull

5. Dante's Peak / Krakatoa, East of Java / When Time Ran Out / The Devil at Four O'Clock

6. Hellfighters / There Will Be Blood / Boom Town / Oklahoma Crude

7. The Eiger Sanction / Touching the Void / Free Solo / K2

8. Terminal Velocity / Point Break / The Gypsy Moths

9. The Cincinnati Kid / Molly's Game / A Big Hand for the Little Lady

10. Victory / Kicking and Screaming / Bend It like Beckham

11. Match Point / Battle of the Sexes / Love Means Zero

12. Apocalypto / The Emerald Forest / Romancing the Stone / Mogli / Medicine Man

13. The Greatest Show on Earth / Water for Elephants / The Wagons Roll at Night

14. The Outlaw / The Left-Handed Gun / Dirty Little Billy / Young Guns

15. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral / My Darling Clementine / Hour of the Gun / Tombstone

16. The Gathering Storm / Darkest Hour / Into the Storm / The Eagle Has Landed

17. The Aviator / Rules Don't Apply / Melvin and Howard

18. Pearl Harbor / The Descendants / Diamond Head / From Here to Eternity

19. The Big Easy / Tightrope / Cat People (1982) / A Streetcar Named Desire

20. Mystic River / Gone Baby Gone / Patriot's Day / The Town / The Departed

21. Bullitt / Vertigo / The Rock / Pacific Heights / Dirty Harry

22. Crocodile Dundee / Mad Max / Walkabout / The Man from Snowy River

23. The Quiet Man / Ryan's Daughter / The Wind that Shakes the Barley

24. Death on the Nile / Evil Under the Sun / Dead Man's Folly / Murder on the Orient Express

25. Lady in the Lake / The Long Goodbye / Poodle Springs / Murder, My Sweet / The Big Sleep


Answers:

1. high school
2. time travel
3. the end of the world
4. boxing
5. volcanoes
6. oil wells
7. mountain climbing
8. skydiving
9. poker
10. soccer
11. tennis
12. the jungle
13. the circus
14. Billy the Kid
15. Wyatt Earp
16. Winston Churchill
17. Howard Hughes
18. Hawaii
19. New Orleans
20. Boston
21. San Francisco
22. Australia
23. Ireland
24. Hercule Poirot
25. Philip Marlowe



Now . . . What TWO things do the following movies have in common?


Example:

Sleepless in Seattle / Joe vs. the Volcano / You’ve Got Mail 
Answer: Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan


1. Field of Dreams / For the Love of the Game / Bull Durham

2. The Longest Yard / Semi-Tough

3. The Hustler / The Color of Money

4. Sully / Cloud Atlas / Cast Away

5. Alien / Aliens / Galaxy Quest

6. National Velvet / Thoroughbreds Don't Cry / The Black Stallion

7. The High and the Mighty / Island in the Sky / Flying Leathernecks

8. Crimson Tide / The Poseidon Adventure

9. The Shawshank Redemption / The Green Mile

10. The Jewel of the Nile / The Ghost and the Darkness

11. Rio Bravo / Texas Across the River / Five Card Stud / Four for Texas

12. Seven Days in May / Tough Guys / The Devil's Disciple / Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

13. The Odd Couple / The Front Page / Out to Sea / The Grass Harp / Grumpy Old Men

14. Good Will Hunting / Chasing Amy / Dogma / Jersey Girls

15. Heat / Righteous Kill / The Godfather, Part II / The Irishman

16. Eyes Wide Shut / Days of Thunder / Far and Away

17. Barefoot in the Park / The Chase / The Electric Horseman

18. The Wedding Singer / Blended / 50 First Dates

19. Serena / Silver Linings Playbook / Joy / American Hustle

20. Pretty Woman / Runaway Bride

21. Speed / The Lake House

22. Key Largo / The Big Sleep / Dark Passage / To Have and Have Not 

23. State of the Union / Desk Set / The Sea of Grass / Adam's Rib / Pat and Mike

24. North by Northwest / Notorious / Suspicion / To Catch a Thief

25. Rope / The Man Who Knew Too Much / Vertigo / Rear Window


Answers:

1. Kevin Costner and baseball
2. Burt Reynolds and football
3. Paul Newman and pool
4. Tom Hanks and plane crashes
5. Sigourney Weaver and outer space
6. Mickey Rooney and horses
7. John Wayne and airplanes
8. Gene Hackman and boats
9. Stephen King and prisons
10. Michael Douglas and Africa
11. Dean Martin and the old west
12. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas
13. Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau
14. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
15. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino
16. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise
17. Jane Fonda and Robert Redford
18. Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler
19. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper
20. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere
21. Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves
22. Bacall and Bogart
23. Hepburn and Tracy
24. Hitchcock and Cary Grant
25. Hitchcock and James Stewart


Bonus question:

What odd/unusual thing do the following movies have in common?

Example:

Presumed Innocent / Regarding Henry
Answer: Harrison Ford as a lawyer


1. Just Cause / Finding Forrester / Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 
2. Nighthawks / Cobra / Copland / Tango and Cash
3. Will Penny / The Big Country / The Last Hard Men / Pony Express
4. Bandolero / 100 Rifles / Hannie Caulder
5. The Devil's Disciple / Elmer Gantry 
6. The Cooler / The Juror / Fun with Dick and Jane / Motherless Brooklyn
7. Batman Begins / Immortal Beloved / The Dark Knight / The Prisoner of Azkaban
8. Awakenings / Patch Adams / Flubber / Good Will Hunting / Nine Months 
9. Deep Impact / Olympus Has Fallen / London Has Fallen
10. Hombre / Cool Hand Luke / The Left-Handed Gun / Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


Answers:

1. Sean Connery as a professor
2. Sylvester Stallone as a cop
3. Charlton Heston as a cowboy
4. Raquel Welch as a cowgirl
5. Burt Lancaster as a preacher
6. Alec Baldwin as a bad guy
7. Gary Oldman as a good guy
8. Robin Williams as a doctor
9. Morgan Freeman as the President
10. Paul Newman gets shot at the end




How'd you do? In my opinion, the first section was pretty easy and the second section and bonus items were hard. (But I sure had fun putting them together. As my wife could tell you, I'm easily entertained.)

Can you think of some I missed? Groups of movies with the same actors or acting duos or actors playing against type? Movies about the same topic or famous person or location, etc.? Let me know.

Next time, I'll get back to more serious matters. Maybe.


Everybody stay safe!




19 June 2020

Instant Expert


Prevailing advice to writers--be they newbie or seasoned-- is to write what they know. So, what's a crime writer to do?

Let's be honest, when was the last time you held up a bank? Shot someone at point blank? Solved an arsonist's attack? Tested the effects of poison? Foiled a villain hellbent on world domination?

Well, it's 2020, so I guess anything could be possible in our current state of crazy, but for most of us, I'm guessing the answer is never.

Me, too.

But--in my humble opinion--not being an expert in something is no excuse to not to write about it. Here are a few ways to get a leg up on experience:

Become a method author.  Want to know what would happen if a character ran out of a police precinct at full tilt?  Give it a try. Want to know about shoulder kickback from firing a certain gun? Mosey on down to your local firing range and reserve a lane. Want to do donuts in your car? Find an empty parking lot, throw on a helmet, and skid your heart out. You get the idea. If the activity is legal, go for it.

Caveat ~ consider giving someone a heads up before you try something even a little bit sketchy.

Location, location, location. Does your setting exist? Consider (re)visiting it. The best way to get a place's sensory vibe is to visit it, ideally during the time of day/year when you plan to feature it in your fiction.

My (unpublished) contemporary suspense novel is set at the University of Virginia during the deathly quiet of spring break. I'd planned to write a chase scene through Alderman Library's stacks, so when I visited UVA's grounds, I videoed myself running the exact path my main character would run around the floors crammed with shelves of old books, restocking carts, wooden carrels, and mini-stairs to access other half-floors. I figured out how my main character would encounter and use certain obstacles to her advantage to escape the antagonist's clutches.

Bonus ~ ask a local to give you a tour. If you're lucky, you'll find out out unique lore or details that will surprise (in a good way) even readers who know the setting well. In Alderman Library, my guide  took me to see a massive boulder that had been preserved in a tucked-away basement utility room.  Who knew? Not me, and I'd frequented the library during my four years as an undergrad student at UVA.

Interview an expert. Chances are, if you ask around, you can bank on six-degrees-of-separation to find those in the know. Make connections to build a resource network that includes an approachable police officer (though they might be preoccupied these days), a lawyer, a medical professional, a mechanic, a journalist, and a psychologist. Check in withe fellow crime writers to see if they'll share relevant experts to add your virtual Rolodex whenever you can. And when you tap into their knowledge, don't forget to thank them with a beverage of their choice and a mention in the acknowledgements section of your book.
Scattered Quotes

Read primary sources. When I wrote my short story of suspense, "Czech Mate," I was at a distinct timing disadvantage as the historical event I was depicting--Prague Spring--occurred while I was an infant. But I found some invaluable journal posts on international blogs with moment-by-moment accounts of how the Soviet invasion progressed and shared the authors' personal experiences as the tanks rolled in and the Czechs took to the streets to protest. This boots-on-the-ground insight was both personal and relevant, and I was able to use it to craft the emotional and historically accurate feel of the game-changing political event.

When in doubt, Google it. Writing a street car chase? Check out google maps using their satellite view to see what landmarks and details your character will zoom by. Have a character who is a medical patient? WebMD.com offers symptoms of a wide range of medical disorders, diseases, and injuries. Need help analyzing the blood spatter your novel's victim left behind? Check out this Introduction to Forensic Science YouTube video <here> before engineering your crime scene. Or need technical details so your novel's forensic pathologist can determine your victim's time of death? This tutorial <here> itemizes how a body decomposes after death can help you accurately set the stage. In the age of information, the answers are out there somewhere. But be sure to vet your sources before relying too heavily on them.

How do you become an instant expert when you write crime?


PS ~ Let's be social:

18 June 2020

Adventures in Logic


At the entrance of the Temple to Apollo at Delphi were three maxims:
  1. Know thyself.
  2. Nothing to excess.
  3. Surety brings ruin.
All very logical, and God knows every philosopher from Cleobolus (c. 6 BC) to Aristotle (384-322 BC) hammered home the maxim "Moderation in all things." Along with the primacy of Man's Reason, and how that made Man superior to the beasts of the field, not to mention foreigners (all of them barbarians to the Greeks), slaves and, of course, women.  (Except the hetairai.)

But the Greeks also worshiped Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity and theater.  Their symposia were all male affairs (except for the high-class hetairai and the low-class musicians) at which they recited poetry, discussed philosophy, sing songs, give speeches, and get thoroughly drunk.  (Please, read Plato's Symposium HERE for one of the great discussions of love anywhere - interrupted by a very drunk Alcibiades and his buddies.)  

Decent women - wives and daughters - were kept at home, uneducated and working, in the women's quarters, where they were to never be seen or heard by any other man.  Except at weddings.  And their coming of age.  And the Dionysian Mysteries when all those well-hidden wives and daughters turned into Maenads, Bacchantes, and raced out into the hills, where they drank and danced and sang all night long, in the religious frenzy of Dionysus, tearing animals apart with their bare hands.  (And the occasional man who dared to look into their rituals.  See Euripedes' The Bacchae.)


That's the Greeks for you.  Logic, logic, logic, and the next thing you know they're screaming wild in the mountains.  Well, at least they had the gods to blame.  

So much for logic.  

"If we stop testing right now, we'd have very few cases, if any."  President Trump, 6/15/2020.  

In the world of Logical Fallacies, this is known as a False Equivalence - if THIS, then THAT - which always sound logical, and can work, but only if both parts are completely true.  

BTW:  Twitter has been full of other examples of such thinking:
"Yes, and if I stop weighing myself, I'll never gain any weight."
"If we stopped being poor, we'd all be rich."
"If I quit recognizing birthdays, I won't get any older."
Make your own:  ______________________ 

But God knows, that's not the first time that Presidents have said dicey things:

"When a great number of people are out of work, unemployment results."  Calvin Coolidge  
"While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have now passed the worst and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover." - Herbert Hoover, May 1, 1930
"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" —George W. Bush, Jan. 11, 2000
"I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself." - Ronald Reagan
"I was under medication when I made the decision to burn the tapes."—Richard Nixon

Meanwhile, there is no system of logic in any universe that will allow you to be both the Party of Lincoln and carry a Confederate flag.  The history is plain:  Lincoln and the Confederacy were on opposite sides of the Civil War.  

BUT the Appeal to Ignorance (argumentum ad ignoratiam)  can work a treat if people are determined enough to remain ignorant.



And let's not forget the classic misshapen logic of criminals, all of which - and more! - I've heard on the job at the pen:  

"Look, if they didn't want to be robbed, they shouldn't have had such nice stuff."  
"I don't have to follow the rules.  Rules only apply to losers." 
"No one has ever been mistreated the way I've been mistreated.  I'm amazed that I'm even alive."
"No one has ever done anything for me.  Everything I've got I've had to take."
"No matter where I am, I always know I'm the smartest person in the room."
"It's not my fault I got arrested:  my baby mama turned me in to the cops for dealing because I was cheating on her."  
"I've never done a thing wrong in my entire life.  It's just that people always have it in for me."
"I'm the messenger of God.  If you hadn't been such sinners, God wouldn't have sent me to punish you."
     (All right, all right, the last one's Genghis Khan.)

Also, see the wonderful Top Ten Criminal Thinking Errors HERE.

If the numbers don't fit, change things!

Back on May 13, two weeks after reopening, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the State of Georgia made it look like its COVID-19 cases were going down by putting the dates out of order - April 26th after May 2nd, and two Sundays in one week - on its published chart of COVID-19 cases, in order to prove that "new confirmed cases in the counties with the most infections had dropped every single day for the past two weeks."  (Link)  And to prove that the reopening was going great!  Huzzah!  Except it wasn't.  

What's that about All Lives Matter?

"A resurgent economy is seen as critical to boosting President Donald Trump’s reelection hopes and has become a growing focus of the White House coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence."  (AP)  

Which begs the question, why isn't preventing a second, third, or fourth deadly wave of COVID-19 seen as critical to boosting President Trump's reelection hopes?  Especially since the stock market that increased at the reopening dropped like a hot rock through ice cream - almost 2,000 points - on June 12, as COVID-19 spiked around the country.  Oh, and currently COVID-19 cases are increasing around 10,000 a day in the United States.  Doesn't look like we flattened the curve.

I know he says terrible things, but look at all the conservative judges...  Especially Neil Gorsuch...

Image


One of the accomplishments ascribed to President Trump is the appointment of conservative judges and Supreme Court Justices.  Meanwhile, two days ago, SCOTUS refused to hear review a ruling on California sanctuary laws, as well as a several Second Amendment Cases.  And then Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion in the above ruling.  “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.  As one might expect, many conservatives who now praised him as the country's moral salvation are now calling him "Deep State".  (And far more unprintable things.)

BTW, two things to remember:
(1) Judges don't always vote their party.  I grew up seeing "Impeach Earl Warren Signs" on trees because as Supreme Court Chief Justice, ultra-conservative Earl Warren decided that segregation, suppression of free speech (whether for Communists or protesters), and mandatory official school prayer were all unconstitutional.  
(2) Those who assume that Justices will vote their party (i.e., "dance with them what brung 'em"), are always going to be SOL somewhere along the line.  In fact, this is a damn good thing to remember as a general rule in life.  Otherwise, you're gonna end up crying over The Tennessee Waltz way too many times.


I'm not a doctor, but I play one in my mind

Among many other current arguments in what I like to think is the fringe (but is rapidly becoming the back and sides as well):

"It's no worse than the flu."  
Tell that to the people who, after 60 days, are still sick with COVID-19, the ones who have had major organs compromised (apparently for life), and what about the guy who got a 1.1 million dollar hospital bill?  Oh, and since we have neither treatment nor vaccine, the current mortality rate is averaging about 6%.  It's 0.1% for the flu.  (I know, percentages are hard... look it up.  There are websites that will explain it to you.)

"I don't wear a mask because masks make you sick!  You breathe all that CO2 and you're gonna die!  You've got to have as much fresh air as possible!"  
My dears, if masks make you sick, then every surgeon, physician, nurse, and lab technician must die extremely young.  And they should all, obviously, be in ICU right now, as patients.  BTW, you don't have to wear masks in your own home, or in your car, or when you're taking a (socially distanced) walk outside.  

"If masks were so good for you, why didn't they tell us to wear them from the beginning?  Huh?  How can you trust the doctors if they keep changing their minds?"
So, if the antibiotic isn't working on your gangrene, you shouldn't listen to your doctor when she changes your medication in search of something that might work?  

If you think I'm exaggerating, check out this video of Orange County residents protesting against a requirement to wear masks.  Notice the reference to "I am a sovereign citizen" (and read my 2012 blogpost - https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2012/08/sovereign-citizens.html - about this unmerry loose rubberband of hoaxers and victims).   


The gist of the anti-mask crowd is: "It's so inconvenient etc. for me to wear a mask, so rather than protect the elderly, or those with pre-existing conditions, or even my own family & friends, EVERYONE ELSE STAY HOME FOR MY CONVENIENCE!"  (At least they're easy to avoid - they're the ones not wearing a mask.)
And when they say, "I'd rather die of COVID-19 than live in fear and wear a mask all the time", all I can say is (1) death is far more inconvenient, and (2) if you're scared of dying of CO2 poisoning from wearing a mask, I think you're going to be terrified when your lungs and kidneys collapse from COVID-19.  

Also, scientists change their minds after experiments and research have proved that their hypothesis was faulty.  They don't keep doing the same damn thing over and over again, even when it's proved ineffective, expecting different results.  That's why the call it science, instead of magic.  

A Great Number of Logical Fallacies Revolve Around Bulls&8t.

Ad Hominem - or the Personal Attack.  From Crooked Hillary to Racist Clementine, Sleepy Joe to Moscow Mitch, we've heard a ton of them.  Most of us will have been on the receiving end of them, especially in junior high.  The key is to ignore them all.  

A subgroup of this is Guilt by Association - where a person is vilified for "associating" with someone else.  Thus the 75 year-old protester Martin Gugino (peace activist with Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker Organization) was called "Antifa" by our President.

Another subgroup of this is Guilt by the Past.  Example: After Tamir Rice, the 12 year old black boy was shot by a Cleveland cop for playing in a park with a toy gun, "The Northeast Ohio Media Group investigated the backgrounds of the parents and found the mother and father both have violent pasts." Which has nothing to do, of course, with a little boy playing in a park.

Strawman Argument - where one attacks a position the other doesn't really hold.  

“You're against the death penalty. You want to set murderers loose to kill again.” (Instead of arguing what punishment murder should get, this accuses you of wanting murderers to be allowed to run amok in society.)  

Pars Pro Toto, or "The Part Taken for the Whole" - Used - often extremely successfully, to divert attention away from, and even to ridicule, a particular case.

"We must save the children in Yemen."  "No, first we must stop all abortion."
“We must save the whales.” “No, we must save all the creatures in the sea.”
“Black lives matter.” “No, all lives matter.”

(My favorite response to the last one was when a conservative acquaintance announced his birthday on Facebook only to have someone - not me, sadly - respond #AllBirthdaysMatter.  Really pissed the guy off.)  
Slippery Slope - This is used over and over and over again.  Among the most popular in the US are:

"Same-sex marriage leads to bestiality."  (Louie Gohmert, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson, among others, have all used this argument.  - HERE)
"If marijuana is legal, everyone will become heroin addicts."  (Classic, going all the way back to Richard Nixon.)
"If you give the poor money, they won't work because they are feckless and lazy, and that's why they're poor in the first place, so you should never just give the poor money because it won't help them, it will just make them lazy." (This one is a double decker of Logical Fallacies, because it combines the Slippery Slope with Circular Reasoning.  Used frequently to gut SNAP, etc.)
"Give teenagers birth control and all they'll do is have sex and get pregnant." (Actually, the opposite is true - see HERE)

False Dilemma - You're given two options, black or white, which do you choose?  Except that there is probably at least a third option, if not a lot more.  

“Either we go to war, or we appear weak.”  (Ever hear of diplomacy?)
"The only economic options are unfettered capitalism or communism." (There used to be a wide range of economic theories and practices - remember mercantilism? - but that was back in the 18th & 19th centuries when, apparently, people had time to think about such things.)  
"Either we open the country to restart our economy or we keep everything shut down."  (How about if we increase our testing and contact tracing abilities first?  How about if we mandate certain rules for how we open and what we have people do?)  

Meanwhile, all of these, and many more can be found at the following websites:


Good reads. After all, it's always good to know what kind of bulls&&t's being handed to you, and how to refute it.

† "We have courtesans [hetairai] for pleasure, concubines for the daily tending of the body, and wives in order to beget legitimate children and have a trustworthy guardian of what is at home." Appolodorus, Speech Against Neaera (Link HERE)

17 June 2020

Fancies and Goodnights


The July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine hit the newsstands yesterday (are there still newsstands?) and I am delighted to report that I have a story  in it.  (After I typed that I saw the cover.  Wow!  AHMM has really been on a roll the last few years with great covers.  I am proud to benefit from that again.)

"The Library of Poisonville" is full of literary references, appropriately enough.  The title refers to Jorge Luis Borges' great story "The Library of Babel," which inspired my piece, and also to a work by Dashiell Hammett.  Most of the references are obvious, but I thought I would write about an author who my story only touches on tangentially.

John Collier was born in London in 1901.  He was reading Hans Christian Andersen by age 3.  As a teenager he told his father he wanted to be a poet.  Believe it or not, that was fine with dear old Dad, who never required him to get a job or even go to university.  (His work contains several  odd father-son relationships.)

By age thirty he had switched his emphasis to fiction which gave him the chance to show off his, um, unique imagination.  (In what way unique?  Well, his first novel was entitled His Monkey Wife, or I Married A Chimp.)  His story collection Fancies and Goodnights won both the Edgar Award and the International Fantasy Award.    And how often has one book scored both of those?

My favorite Collier story - which I list among my all-time favorite fifty crime tales - is "Witch's Money." In spite of the title this is no fantasy, but rather a tale of cross-cultural misunderstanding in which the arrival of an American painter in a village in southern France leads, with the inevitability of Greek tragedy, to utter destruction.

His writing style tended toward the flowery and sardonic, reminding me of Saki, Roald Dahl, Avram Davidson, and James Powell.  His work has been adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and Tales of the Unexpected.  He also wrote screenplays for the Hitchcock show and movies; most importantly he was part of the team the wrote The African Queen.

Of all of his works the one that has been adapted for other media the most is probably "Evening Primrose," about a poet who rejects society by living what might be the ultimate consumer dream: dwelling secretly in a department store.  It was even turned into a TV musical starring Anthony Perkins, with songs by Stephen Sondheim!

"I sometimes marvel," Collier once wrote, "that a third-rate writer like me has been able to pass himself off as a second-rate writer."

Here are some of my favorite lines from this first-rate writer:

"Alice and Irwin were as simple and as happy as any young couple in a family-style motion picture.  In fact, they were even happier, for people were not looking at them all the time and their joys were not restricted by the censorship code." - Over Insurance

"How happy I might be if only she was less greedy, better tempered, not so addicted to raking up old grudges, more affectionate, with slightly yellower hair, slimmer, and about twenty years younger!  But what is the good of expecting such a woman to reform?" - Three Bears Cottage

Actress and screenwriter: "I think I'd like to play Juliet."
"It's been done."
"Not as I shall do it.  You shall write a new script, especially for me." - Pictures in the Fire

"So Mrs. Beaseley went resentfully along, prepared to endure Hell herself if she could deprive her husband of a little of his Heaven." - Incident on a Lake

"Annoyed with the world, I took a large studio in Hampstead.  Here I resolved to live in utter aloofness, until the world should approach me on its knees, whining it apologies." -Night! Youth! Paris! And the Moon!

"As soon as Einstein declared that space was finite, the price of building sites, both in Heaven and Hell, soared outrageously." -Hell Hath No Fury

"The young man was greatly taken aback to hear a gorilla speak.  However, common sense reminded him that he was in a city in which many creatures enjoyed that faculty, whom, at first sight, or at any hearing, one would hardly credit with sufficient intelligence to have attained it." -Variation on a  Theme

"It is the fate of those who kiss sleeping beauties to be awakened themselves."  -Sleeping Beauty

"The first cognac is utilitarian merely.  It is like a beautiful woman who has, however, devoted herself entirely to doing good, to nursing, for example.  Nothing is more admirable, but one would like to meet her sister." - Old Acquaintance

If you have read this far I have an offer for you.  As I said, my reference to Collier's work in "The Library of Poisonville" is obscure, but it should ring clear to any fan of the man.   If someone can tell me which of his stories I referred to - and where - I will send that person an autographed copy of the magazine or something of equally dubious merit.  First responder only!


16 June 2020

News From the Dark Side


A year before I joined SleuthSayers, I wrote “Tales From the Dark Side,” a guest post about editing that included some information about my editing background and several tips on how to please editors.

I’ve touched on editing in some of my subsequent posts, but this time I’m sharing news.

BLACK CAT MYSTERY MAGAZINE

Those of you who have read the recently released Black Cat Mystery Magazine #6—or have used Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to read the issue’s editorial—will already know this, but I am now the editor of BCMM.

I joined the BCMM staff at last year’s Malice Domestic, replacing Carla Coupe as co-editor upon her retirement. Earlier this year, after working together on the forthcoming special issue Black Cat Mystery Magazine Presents Private Eyes and reading through all the submissions from last fall’s open call, Wildside Press Publisher John Betancourt asked me to step into the editor’s role while he concentrated on his duties as publisher.

So, I did.

Our goal is to publish quarterly, with three numbered issues and one special issue each year, and John has charged me with ensuring that BCMM is home to the full range of subgenres within our field.

BCMM #6—filled will new stories by Michael Bracken, Trey R. Barker, Patricia Dusenbury, Robert Guffey, John Hegenberger, Laird Long, and Robert Lopresti, and a classic reprint by Bryce Walton—is the last issue in which all the stories were selected by John and Carla. John and I selected the stories for the private eye issue, and subsequent issues 7–10 contain a mixture of stories selected by John and Carla, John and me, and me.

As you likely gathered from the previous paragraph, we have filled the next four regular issues, so it could be as much as a year before we again open for general submissions. Even so, our next special issue—Black Cat Mystery Magazine Presents Cozies—will open for submissions later this year. Keep a close watch at https://bcmystery.com/Guidelines/ for guidelines and information about the short submission window.

DOWN & OUT BOOKS

A few years ago I began work on my first anthology for Down & Out Books—The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes From the Panhandle to the Piney Woods—and the number of projects I’m doing with D&O continues to grow.

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes From the Panhandle to the Piney Woods

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods
was released just before the 2019 Bouchercon in Dallas. In addition to strong reviews and an Anthony Award nomination for Best Anthology or Collection, stories from The Eyes of Texas have been singled out for award recognition:

Sandra Murphy’s story “Lucy’s Tree” earned a Derringer Award.

Richard Helms’s story “See Humble and Die” was nominated for a Derringer Award and was selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2020, due out later this year.

Michael Pool’s story “Weathering the Storm” has been short-listed for a Shamus Award.

Guns + Tacos

Guns + Tacos, the serial novella anthology series I co-created and co-edit with Trey R. Barker released its first season in 2019. Six novellas, released as ebooks one episode each month July–December constitute a season, and, after each season ends, that season’s novellas are assembled into a pair of paperbacks, each containing three episodes.

Season 2—with novellas by Ann Aptaker, Eric Beetner, Alec Cizak, Ryan Sayles, Mark Troy, and a collaboration between Trey R. Barker and me—begins next month. Each episode can be ordered individually, but subscribers receive a special bonus story that non-subscribers don’t. Last season I wrote the bonus story; this season Trey wrote it.

And—good news!—we’ve been approved for season 3.

Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir

Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, the first in what we hope will be an annual anthology series, is set to release this fall. After all the contracts are signed and we get a bit closer to publication date, I’ll share the list of contributors.

Mickey Finn 2, slated for publication fall 2021, is in the last stages of the editing process and the manuscript will soon be delivered to the publisher.

Jukes & Tonks

Jukes & Tonks, which I am co-editing with Gary Phillips, is scheduled for publication in spring 2021. Gary and I are awaiting delivery of the last few stories and then copyediting begins.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

In addition to the above, I remain editor of a bi-monthly consumer magazine for gardeners and a weekly electronic newsletter for gardeners.

BUT WHAT ABOUT SOME WRITING NEWS?

My story “Best Be the Tie that Binds” appears in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #6.

You might say I have a vested interest in two of this year’s Anthony Award-nominated anthologies. Crime Travel (Wildside Press), edited by fellow SleuthSayer Barb Goffman, contains my Derringer Award-nominated story “Love, Or Something Like It.”

15 June 2020

Heartbreaks & Half-Truths


by Steve Liskow

That's the anthology coming out June 18 with one of my stories in it. John Floyd has one in it, too, along with several other people I know. Kate Flora, who founded Level Best Books, accepted my first short story for publication fifteen years ago. K.M. Rockwood suggested the name of a band that appears in one of my novels. Crime writing is a small world.

The back cover copy gives you a good sense of what's in store:

Lovers and losers. Whether it's 1950s Hollywood, a scientific experiment, or a yard sale in suburbia, the twenty-two authors represented in this collection of mystery and suspense interpret the overarching theme of "heartbreaks and half-truths" in their own inimitable style, where only one thing is certain: Behind every broken heart lies a half-truth. And behind every half-truth lies a secret.

According to my spreadsheet, "Ugly Fat" received fourteen rejections between the end of 2008 and early this year when Judy Penz Sheluk selected it for the anthology. One market told me to re-submit it--and rejected it again. That did wonders for my self-esteem. I assume another market rejected it because I sent it in April 2018 and haven't heard from them yet. That's not unusual, though. I still have seventeen unanswered queries from agents to whom I sent The Whammer Jammers in 2011. That's a major reason I started self-publishing my novels.

I've always loved short stories but never felt comfortable with the form until I attended the Wesleyan Writer's Conference in summer of 2004. Alex Chee, Roxanna Robinson and Chris Offutt were all excellent teachers. Chris also gave me helpful feedback on an early version of what eventually became Blood on the Tracks (Interestingly enough, so did Kate Flora at Crime Bake a year or two later, on a very different draft). I wrote eight or ten short stories in the months after that one-week workshop, and four stories that have seen print came from writing prompts or other suggestions I picked up there.

"Ugly Fat" is different from many of my stories, but similar to a lot of them, too.

Like many of my stories, it has a female protagonist. I worked theater with strong, organized, creative stage managers for thirty years, and most of them were women. My wife is smarter than I am, too (Yes, I grant you, that's no big deal). My novels feature strong women like Valerie Karr, Megan Traine, "Shoobie" Dube, and Svetlana Melanova. Weak or dumb women don't do it for me, and that bias shows up in my writing.

Connie, the protagonist in "Ugly Fat," has been dumped by her cop boyfriend and is now visiting the gym to get back in fighting trim. She stops at a tag sale and finds that her problems are nothing compared to the woman running the sale. Molly's husband dumped her for his secretary and they eloped to Mexico. Now Molly is selling all the guy's clothes, books, and sports gear. She divorced his sorry ass and refers to it as a great diet, in which she lost 170 pounds of ugly fat in one day. Connie sympathizes, but figures out there's more to the story than meets the eye.

The story has dark humor, which I like, and a few music references, also a staple. Telling more would spoil it.

Now, you ask, how is it different from my other stories?

If you don't ask that, you missed your cue.

Well, it's only 2400 words long, one of my shortest published stories. My comfort zone seems to be about 3500--or, if you include my two novellas--about 4300. Excluding the novellas, my two longest stories are roughly 6000 words.

I've always been a process kind of guy, maybe because I taught for so long. More often than not, I know when, where, why, and how I got the idea for a story. I've discussed that before. I try to help people in my workshops realize that ideas come from anywhere and everywhere, sometimes several places and ideas at once.

I remember nothing about when or where this story came to me. The draft I sent for the anthology is "Version S," which would be the 19th version. That's far more than usual, and I don't know why there were so many. I usually do five or six drafts over a span of three or four months. Since I sent the story out the first time around Thanksgiving 2008, I probably wrote the first draft in July, most likely after seeing a tag sale or ten within walking distance of my condo any given weekend.

Who knows? Who cares?

Connie's found a home. And she's in good company.

14 June 2020

Please Don't Upset Racially Mixed Children


The protests in the United States has people in many countries including Canada asking, “What can I do to help end racism?” My approach has been to listen to the stories from south of our border and within our borders: this is the birthplace of the solutions we need. However, I’ve realized that these stories weren’t addressing my concerns about my children and that’s a story I want to write.

My husband is white and our son and daughter are mixed race. I would say bi-racial but that isn’t true. My parents were from Sri Lanka—my mother’s grandfather was French, somewhere in my father’s family there was someone African but we suspect other ancestors as well, including a Chinese one. My husband has roots in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

There is absolutely no doubt that people are suffering in the United States and—to a lesser extent in Canada—from racism. I have no interest in diminishing this suffering—we should all be amplifying those stories. However, the way we discuss these stories are adversely impacting children of mixed marriages and that is where I want to focus: I want you to imagine being one of those mixed children while you read.

The research on implicit racial biases, often based on the Implicit Association Test (IAT), has provoked some people to state—with puzzling confidence—that all whites harbour implicit racist attitudes. To be clear: for my children, this is their father that we are talking about. When our children have their feet in at least two worlds, sometimes many worlds, telling them one of their parents could dislike them because of their race is not merely the height of cruelty, it is also untrue.

But the IAT, that measures beliefs and attitudes people may be unwilling or unable to report, has numerous problems. For a test to be relevant it has to be replicable—give the same result each time you take it—and valid so measuring what it purports to measure: “Greg Mitchell, a law professor at the University of Virginia (stated) the replicability of the IAT is extremely poor. If the test suggests that you have a strong implicit bias against African Americans, then ‘if you take it even an hour or so later you’ll probably get a very different score’. . . . More fundamentally, there appears to a very tenuous relationship between the IAT and behaviour. That is to say, if your colleague, Person A, does worse in the IAT than another colleague, Person B, it would be far too hasty to conclude that Person A will exhibit more discriminatory behaviour in the workplace. In so far as there is a link between the IAT and behaviour generally, it is shaky.”

If we ignore the fact that IAT is neither reliable nor valid and look at the results—even they do not show that all whites have implicit biases: 18% don’t. Since there are serious methodological questions about this test in the first place, it shouldn’t be used as a justification for saying stuff that would upset mixed race children.

Like most mixed race children, my children have a wide range of looks: they get very dark in the sun and by the end of a long Canadian winter, they look almost white. Once my son and I were grocery shopping at the end of a long winter and we encountered one of his high school classmates. My son told me that this young man asked him afterwards what race he was. My son cheerfully listed my husband’s European roots and my Asian and African ones. When he was finished his classmate said, “No wonder you’re an alpha male in our school. You’re seriously the master race.” Never before had I heard this horrible term being used in this way and it tells you a great deal about the hope I have for this new generation.

This young man—who is white—might go on and have racially mixed children. I can guarantee you that many of this generation will do the same.

For them, and for my children, I have a simple ask: don’t tell racially mixed children that one of their parents is biased against them. It’s cruel.

What my children know, to the core of their being, is that their father would lay down his life for them without a second thought. His love for them is unconditional, deep and one of the most important truths of his life.

Please don’t make generalizations that mess with the family we have created and the children whom both my husband and I love. You can’t stop the damage of racism by ignoring the reality of mixed race children. Keep them close to your heart and don’t say anything to suggest that both their parents have anything but deep, unconditional love for them.

13 June 2020

No Zombies Here


Clickbait Secret Tips

I was reading the news online the other day, and a well-known writer used the word “zombie” in his headline. I figured if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me (see above), although it was probably his editor who made up the headline. The author himself might hate it.

Then I decided to gather some of the information I’ve found over the last couple of years about using SEO (Search Engine Optimization) keywords to entice readers to click on articles in newspapers, blogs, and every other platform writers use nowadays. I was amazed to realize when I keyed SEO in this paragraph, I actually knew what the letters stand for without looking it up. I looked it up anyway, to be sure.

I’m no expert. Before I wrote this, I’ve never intentionally used clickbait. I’ve read about how to use it, why to use it, and why not to use it, though. And how to find it.

So, what is clickbait and SEO? In case you don’t know, they are words or short phrases that computer people use to entice people to click on an article. Or better yet for them, an ad.

You may have heard of algorithms, too. Those are the computer programs used to figure out which words are clicked the most. And other things.

You will find lists of these words all over the internet.

But before I continue with that, there’s this part of an ad:

“7 reasons why your dream pant is here” with a picture of trousers

Wait, what? Do you wear a pant? Or do you wear pants? Personally, I prefer two legged pants. And I have never dreamed of pants before, let alone a dream pant. What am I missing, besides a pant leg?

You may be, or not, surprised that I found this ad in the same publication where the author wanted to discuss zombies.

Next I found an ad for “one short, every sport.” Picture of a man running in a short, I mean in shorts.

Anyway, the question is, are some of the words in these ads clickbait? Did the writers figure out that pant and short worked better as bait then when the “s” is added? Inquiring minds (well, mine) want to know.

You know what the most common word for Twitter used as clickbait is… Twitter?

Or did you at least guess that?

Here are some examples of clickbait. Have fun filling in the blanks:
  • “How to Get Results Using this…”
  • “You’ll never believe…”
  • “This happened, then this happened.”
 Suggestions
  • Ask a question
  • Use a number
  • Be brief
  • Go ahead, be negative
Secret Tips
  • The Ultimate Guide to…
  • How to…
  • # of the Best…
  • # of the Worst…

My eyes just widened. I realized that by listing all these clickbait words and phrases, this article, when published, should show up near or at the top of many Google searches.

Or maybe not.

You can be sure I’m going to click to check it out. When I stop thinking about pant and short. I suspect that’s going to be hard to do now.

12 June 2020

Where Have You Gone, Edgar Sengier?


Edgar Sengier was a Belgian engineer who operated a mine in the then-named Belgian Congo at the early 20th century. His employers, the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, initially mined copper, but at some point the firm discovered a vein in a settlement called Shinkolobwe that yielded two substances of astonishing purity. One was radium, a radioactive element which was so infamously used in the dials of wristwatches, with horrifying results. The other? Well, let’s just say that when Sengier’s people informed him how Substance #2 could be used, the world was on the brink of World War II. French scientists wanted Sengier’s ore, but then France was swallowed by Germany. Sengier quietly packed half his stock—about 1,000 tons of this mysterious ore—in barrels and had them shipped to a warehouse in Staten Island, New York. The barrels sat idle for two years. Nine months after Pearl Harbor, Col. Kenneth Nichols—No. 2 in command of the Manhattan Project—paid a visit to Sengier’s New York office, asking if it was true the firm had located ore that could be processed into U-235. The Belgian engineer smiled. “I’ve been waiting a long time for your visit!”

"Where can I get U?" — Actual text message from Col. Kenneth D. Nichols, circa 1940.
(Atomic Energy Commission file image)
That, in a nutshell, is how the US and not Hitler ended up with a critical stockpile that ensured its success in the race for the bomb. Sengier, a man who went down in history simply by waiting for others to catch up to his foresight, popped into my head this week when I interviewed someone about the US’s medical preparedness for our protracted Covid future.

The fellow on the phone was an exec at a major international firm that manufactures medical supplies. (Yes, I am intentionally being vague.) Not ventilators. Not masks or gowns. But nearly everything else a medical office or hospital needs to do its job. By one estimate, this firm produces more than half of a specific medical tool used on the planet.

The corporate headquarters are based in the US, but operates factories over the globe. The execs have been largely quarantined at home for the last three months, but the firm has been running their assembly lines the whole time, tweaking how they do business to keep employees safe and the endless stream of supplies coming. In some cases, they have actually re-routed employees from areas of the business with low demand—making, say, kits for various types of elective surgeries—to areas with high demand.

Moving employees like this is easier said than done. For example, they arranged visas for employees to travel 100 miles from their homes and places of work in one Asian nation to another nation across a border. “ Commuting” was deemed impractical, so the firm is putting these folks up in hotels in the second nation so they can work in shifts. Anything to meet demand.

“First, every hospital in the world needed supplies,” the exec told me. “So we ramped up production to meet that demand. And when we caught up with that, then the federal governments of various countries started contracting with us directly to beef up their national stockpiles. So now we’re doing that.”

For another writing project, ages ago, I interviewed a former military doc who told me that most military stockpiles he’d seen were always in need of upgrading or replacement. Supplies expire and go bad. Medical tech, especially, becomes obsolete or deteriorates sitting unserviced in warehouses, waiting for a use date that never comes. No one wants to have product sitting around in a warehouse. But it’s what you do if you want to be prepared. You rotate in, you rotate out. If you're organized, that is.

But what was troubling our biotech executive the day we talked?

“There’s one country that hasn’t asked us to stock their national stockpile yet,” he told me, his voice dropping. “A big one. Can you guess which one that is?”

I didn’t have to guess. Both of us are Americans, and we both chuckled awkwardly at the same time. And then the naive little man inside me piped up: “Couldn’t you do it on your own? Just make ‘em and store ‘em somewhere?” Even before the words were out of my mouth, I felt stupid. This is why I’ll never be a businessperson; I cling too much to hope.

“Can’t,” the exec said. “We have enough trouble keeping up with demand as it is. And we’re sure as hell not gonna do it for free.”

Duh. Logical me understood that completely. But naive me, writer me, fought against it. And my brain kindly coughed up the name of that Belgian engineer.

To be sure, Sengier’s firm was paid. So far as I’ve been able to determined, they supplied the US with 4,200 tons of uranium, and plutonium as well. (The price for the uranium was $1 a pound. I have not located a price for the plutonium, enriched at Hanford.) After the war, Sengier received the Medal of Merit from the US, its highest civilian honor, and other accolades—Honorary Knight Commander, OBE, from the UK, the Legion of Honour from France, five distinct medals from Belgium alone—from nations grateful that he’d kept that uranium out of the hands of the Nazis.

Sengier (center) receives his medal from Manhattan Project director General Leslie Groves (right).
(Atomic Energy Commission file image)

And yes, we can spend days debating the wisdom of creating those first nuclear weapons. I have had those conversations. My wife spent seven years writing a nonfiction book about the Manhattan Project, and for seven years the faces and voices of the few surviving chemists, engineers, and rank-and-file workers she interviewed were in my mind nearly every day. We can also spend an equal amount of time talking about the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources and its people by centuries of colonizers.

But...

Those bombs, and the ones that followed them, were tools of death, but medical supplies are tools of life. Call me crazy, but US stockpiles have been known to dwindle. And it dismays me to learn that Sengiers are apparently in short supply.