ROBERT C. JONES – FORENSICS 186: MITOCHONDRIAL DNA

This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans. The ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section of this essay contains material found during research. It is not always closely related to the main subject of the essay, but is thought to be interesting.

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According to a recent, widely accepted calculation, some 13.82 billion years ago there was a Big Bang. During the following billions of years, among other things, tiny organisms known as mitochondria are thought to have been formed by complex chemical processes. Mitochondria earn their places among the cells of our bodies by supplying energy required by the cells to perform their specific functions. Mitochondria dwell within cells but outside the cell’s nuclei. Each of these mitochondria contains only 16,500 base pairs of DNA. Each cell’s nucleus contains some 3 billion.

As most readers probably know, DNA contains instructions that determine how we are to be constructed. Since DNA is unique to each person, it has played a key role in the field of forensics. Its uses include identifying persons who might have committed a crime, exonerating innocent persons, identifying unknown dead bodies, etc.

A murder case that included dogged investigation was opened following the kidnapping and murder of a 16-year-old girl in Yorkshire, England. Her body was found in a densely wooded area near a busy car park. Nine green, plastic bags had been wrapped about her body and tied with twine. A black bag had been placed about her head, and a leather dog collar and a dark scarf had been respectively fastened and tied around her neck. Her wrists had been bound with plastic ties and her body had been placed within a duvet cover that sported a floral pattern.

The investigation discovered that the dog collar had been made by a Nottingham manufacturer. Unfortunately, the collar had been sold to 220 different wholesellers. One hundred and twelve companies were contacted before the one sought was found. It had sold a collar to each of three persons in the area of the murder. One of the three persons lived less than a mile from the victim’s home, which made him a suspect in the murder case.

The type of twine that bound the green bags was found to be unique and to have been manufactured by an English company that sold it to the Ministry of Defense. A small number however, had been sold to the public for rabbit catching. Analysis revealed that the unique twine matched that of the twine used to bind the victim and also matched that found later at the suspect’s home. Pieces of green plastic were also found in the suspect’s home, and they matched the green plastic of the bags that had been used to wrap the body.

The ties used to bind the victim’s wrists were found to have been manufactured by an Italian company that sold 99 percent of them to the Royal Mail. The suspect’s employer was a subsidiary of the Royal Mail, and such ties were also found in the suspect’s home.

When investigators attempted to compare distinctive nylon carpet fibers found on the victim with those of carpets in the suspect’s home, they discovered that he had recently taken out and burned every carpet. Small bits of carpet fibers were, however, found clinging to nails in the floorboards; and they matched those found on the victim.

The suspect had a garden. A forensic pollen analysis expert demonstrated that the victim had been in the suspect’s garden just prior to having been killed. This was indicated by the finding of distinctive types of pollen still remaining on her skin and in her nasal passages and hair.

As if there was insufficient evidence to warrant an arrest of the suspect, yet another bit was to be added. A hair had been found caught in a knot in the scarf tied around the victim’s neck, and the hair had been submitted for analysis of DNA in its root. Unfortunately, conventional DNA tests were not able to extract a DNA profile from the root. Therefore, a mitochondrial DNA test was performed within the shaft of the hair. The DNA matched that of the suspect.

The detectives thus won an important murder case, and the suspect won a sentence of life in prison.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

In reference to the energy produced by mitochondria and mentioned in the foregoing, readers might recall that energy exists in two basic flavors: potential and kinetic. One of the forms of potential energy is chemical energy, which is stored in bonds of atoms and molecules. That is the type of energy provided by mitochondria.

Other forms of potential energy are gravitational, mechanical and nuclear. Forms of kinetic energy are electric, motion, radiant, sound and thermal

There have been studies that discovered correlations between biochemical properties of mitochondrial DNA and the longevity of species.

DNA is often used to confirm or disprove biological parent-child relationships.

Mitochondria are surrounded by two membranes. This supports a theory that they were once not inside other cells as they are now and that they gained a second, outer membrane by invaginating another cell.

Reportedly, if you were to unwind all the DNA you have in all your cells and connected them end-to-end, they would reach a distance 6000 times that of the distance from here to the Moon, but they would be only 50 trillionths of an inch wide.

Thomas Sullivan: THE POETRY OF SHAVING CREAM or SCATTING THE SOUL

Scat your prose! No-no…not rat scat, bat scat, cat scat – not THAT kind of scat. You know, jazz scat. Ella Fitzgerald type (or to put it in the modern idiom, Pentatonix – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mn3Zkq9PP_Y ). Scat your prose, only instead of vocalizing instruments, go for the rhythms and rhymes and alliteration – the repetitions or poetic effects. Just read your stuff aloud and put some music into your voice! Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow…hear that? Did you let the word flow FLOW-WWW? Did you triple down the repetition so that it cascaded like water? Well, that’s the difference between language that reads like a shop manual from Taiwan and the exquisite writing of a wordsmythe. The latter fashion stories that engage you not just with things & events but with the meaning, the emotional tone and the spirit behind them. The music. The poetry. The insights. The beauty and the soul.

Pity the half of the world that is tone deaf to that. Srsly. Roughly that many of us function at a mere literal level, grasping little beyond “and then and then and then…” as a story unfolds. Nothing wrong with that – God bless the popcorn readers. I do try to connect with them at the same time that I write for the other half. It doesn’t always work. Literal readers suspect I’m doing something behind the scenes, but they aren’t sure what. At best it annoys them and at worst it makes them uneasy about themselves. Sorry for that. Don’t mean to be condescending or effete or obscure for the sake of being obscure. Simplicity really is a virtue. But the simplest song is probably a Gregorian chant or a Buddhist “Ommm.” And when is the last time that topped the Billboard charts?

We speak or write to be understood, but there are grunts and scribbles and then there are communications layered with expressions of the heart, mind and soul. Somewhere between those two extremes is a line you cross as both a reader and a writer that separates the literal black-and-white story from an enchanting Technicolor universe. Communicating on the literal side of the line is like taking a vitamin pill: you get the nutrients but you never savor the flavor. Dining on the other side of the line will jangle your taste buds. There you will digest a 4-course meal that connects the dots of experience, insight and nuanced patterns. I try to cross that Rubicon. If I can convey the literal and still invest the description and characterization with some unobtrusive wit, beauty and wisdom, the story has a chance to reach out beyond narrowness and clichés. It’s never an unqualified win for any writer, however. You will always lose some readers just by rewarding others. Different strokes for different folks.

What’s dismaying, though, is the fact that tone deafness to language exists at virtually every level of readership. There are even editors who can’t hear the rhythm of language, and yet if you go into any elementary school classroom you’ll find that 50% of humans who pick it up in an instant. Read Edgar Allen Poe’s very literary story “The Masque of the Red Death” out loud to third-graders who won’t understand a thing of what’s going on and – if you read it right – they will still remain rapt to the music. For me the ideal in writing is to create something that can be accessed on either track without the literal reader being distracted or the broader reader being bored.

Here’s a simple example: one of my 2012 columns is titled WHITE CATHEDRAL, ROSE CATHEDRAL, GREEN CATHEDRAL, GOLD… Some readers will take that in simply as a list. They will understand when I explain in the column that for me those cathedrals are a metaphor for the seasons of the year as well as the seasons of life, and they may further connect the white with winter, the rose with spring, the green with summer, and the gold with fall. Ditto the metaphor itself – the ages of a person’s life from birth through physical prime, maturity and death. But still other readers will “hear” the rhythm of that title. They will unconsciously “hear” the fact that each color is one syllable and that the three-syllable repetition of “Cathedral” separates them. They may even connect it to the poetic, “One potato, two potato, three potato, four…” which is how I wrote it. I think the title works because the literal reader is not made to feel they missed something and the poetic reader feels enhanced.

OK, like I said…a simple example. But, of course, communication can be infinitely subtle, rich and textured. It depends in part on the depth and complexity of who is taking it in. And it’s not necessarily verbal. It has more to do with music, rhythm, and the ability to observe patterns – repetitions – that invest every detail of living from the sophisticated to the absurd. So, I want to ask you a question, if you don’t mind being part of a survey.

Whenever I shake a bottle or a can, I’m aware of the rhythm of the sound and invariably I will avoid stopping on the wrong beat. And it isn’t as simple as just shaking the can an even number of times as opposed to odd. I know a dozen shakes ahead of where I’m going to stop. Every day in the shower or bath I shave my head, and shaking the shaving cream can is like the percussion of a song. Moreover, what’s in the can matters. As my tight-lipped pharmacist used to note, I sometimes buy shaving gel more suited to shaving legs. And as it turns out, gel doesn’t have the same song as the cream. No need to call in Taylor Swift for a chorus of “Shake It Off,” but does ANYONE ELSE OUT THERE IN THE WHOLE KNOWN UNIVERSE do this?

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage or follow me on Facebook:

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Robert C. Jones – FORENSICS 185: PRACTICALITY OR CRIMINALITY

 

This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans. The ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section of this essay contains material found during research. It is not always closely related to the main subject of the essay, but is thought to be interesting.

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The 1930s were banner years for crime in the United States. Newspapers were filled with details of the exploits of criminals. They often included pictures of the most notorious, and St. Paul readers sometimes thought they saw the worst of them walking their hometown streets and eating in their restaurants. The gangsters included Alvin ”Creepy” Karpis, “Babyface” Nelson, John Dillinger, “Machine Gun” Kelly and even some of Ma Barker’s sons.

Minnesota was a state that was hit hard by criminal activities. It had suffered four straight years of unbridled crime. In 1932, it was host to 20 percent of all bank robberies in the United States. There was, however, a period during which, in spite of there having been a large number of bank robberies across the country, St. Paul had not experienced even one.

John J. O’Connor, former detective, chief of the St. Paul Police Department and then mayor of the city, had much to do with that record. Under pressure to rid the city of crime, he reorganized the police force and, in 1900, had hatched a bizarre, but apparently effective plan that quickly reduced major crime … at least temporarily.

He spread the word throughout the Midwest that criminals were welcome to use St. Paul as a safe refuge without being arrested if they committed no major crimes within the city limits. They had merely to check in when they arrived and pay required bribes. The plan was referred to as the O’Connor Layover Agreement. It brought an almost immediate end to serious crimes within St. Paul. In one of his autobiographies, gangster, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, stated, “If you were looking for a guy you hadn’t seen for a few months, you usually thought of two places. — prison or St. Paul. If he wasn’t locked up in one, he was probably hanging out in the other.” So, some of the newspaper readers’ sightings that looked like infamous criminals might well have been sightings of the real infamous criminals.

One can only imagine the amount of crime this deflected to neighboring cities. In addition, although other crimes were discouraged within St. Paul, gambling and prostitution were not. Reportedly, O’Connor’s wife, Annie, was the owner of a bordello.

Aware of what a good deal they had in St. Paul, visiting criminals policed each other. No criminal wanted to bring down the wrath of other criminals by being responsible for putting an end to the O’Connor Layover Agreement.

Under such a system, the police were free to respond to petty crimes while criminals policed each other. While O’Connor was in charge, he managed to minimize crime within the city, but he retired in 1920 and died in 1924. His successors were either not able or not disposed to maintain his record, and crime crept back.

Ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment in 1933, marked the end of prohibition. It also cut off the flow of money made from illegal liquor, which resulted in criminals having to make money by other means.

Criminals making and distributing illegal alcohol had often been regarded as modern Robinhoods who provided what a respectable portion of the public craved. For example, even Al Capone was greeted with applause when he attended a major-league baseball game. When crimes got more serious, however, the public got increasingly outraged and demanded that something be done about it.

Crimes that contributed to the outrage included the infamous 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, when seven persons were lined up against an inside wall of a North Clark Street cartage garage in Chicago and riddled with bullets. One victim, namely, Frank Gusenberg, had 14 bullet wounds, but survived for some three hours, maintaining that he had not been shot.

The 1929 attack was reportedly meant to kill only a Capone rival gang leader, George “Bugs” Moran. Ironically, Moran was the only one who managed to survive. Upon nearing the garage, he had spotted what appeared to be a police car parked outside and had retreated to a nearby coffee shop.

In 1932, details of the infamous kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s, baby became headlines of a vast number of newspapers. The abduction and murder of his son resulted in Congress enacting the Federal Kidnapping Act, often referred to as the Lindbergh Law. It enabled federal authorities to pursue kidnappers who had taken their captives across a state line. A number of states enacted “Little Lindbergh” laws covering kidnappings that did not involve crossing state lines. Some states enacted laws that, if a victim was harmed in any way, allowed capital punishment. During the 1970s, the United States Supreme Court revised the laws so that kidnapping alone no longer constitutes a capital offense. The law includes a special provision to be applied in cases when minor children are abducted by their own parents.

The kidnapping of the President of the Theodore Hamm’s Brewery, William Hamm Jr., in 1933 and, in 1934, the kidnapping of the president of the Commercial State Bank, fed the printing presses of many newspapers. Both the brewery and the bank were located in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In 1933, a group of gangsters tried to free another, one Frank Nash, whom they discovered was being returned to Leavenworth Penitentiary, from which he had escaped in 1930. The group included Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd. The attempt took place outside the Union Railroad Station in Kansas City and cost the lives of two Kansas City Police Officers and two federal agents. Ironically, the person they were trying to free was also killed. The skirmish became referred to as the Kansas City Massacre, and its details were the subjects of debates for some time. Floyd was killed the following year. Woody Guthrie wrote a popular song about him.

The O’Connor Layover Arrangement remained in place for nearly 40 years, but unrestrained crime gradually returned to St. Paul. That finally forced action by some of its citizens and the federal government.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

When asked about his Layover Agreement, O’Connor stated, “Under other administrations, there were as many thieves here as when I was chief, and they pillaged and robbed; I chose the lesser of two evils.”

More information about Alvin “Creepy” Karpis is available in my previous essay dated September 19, 2014 and titled FORENSICS 181: IT PAYS TO BE WELL INFORMED. It may be found in the Storytellers Unplugged archive. Karpis was called “Creepy” because he had an extremely sinister smile.

Bugs Moran was born Adelard Cunin in 1893 in St. Paul, Minnesota. He died in 1957 of lung cancer in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. He had once been considered to be the wealthiest gangster in Chicago. When he died, he was reportedly worth only about $100. He was given a pauper’s burial in the prison cemetery.

Gangster tours are available in St Paul. The sites include locations where infamous criminals stayed and where they played.

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Thomas Sullivan: CPR FOR WHACK-A-MOLES

Your emails are an inspiration and an education – thank you very much – especially after a Q&A such as last month’s. I’m tempted to make whole columns out of single questions, but my answers seem to cause new Qs to pop up like whack-a-moles, so here are eight more. As usual, the questions range broadly, and I’m honored by your confidences whether you are struggling in your own life or just curious about some trivia in mine.

Q: [UK] How do you bring characters to life?

A: Helps to remember that your work is a world entirely of your making, so play God – and the devil too. Breathe into your characters. Give them CPR. Create, create, create those purely human markers like thoughts, feelings and actions (or inactions) that reveal motivation. I’m not saying to stop the movement of a story in order to do this, but do not let things and events take over without being filtered through the values/flaws/personality of your characters. Trust the reader to get on board by latching onto familiar emotions that you write into new and unfamiliar journeys that lead somewhere. Also keep in mind that real life makes us dynamic, not static. The drivers of plot should CHANGE characters just as life changes people.

Q: [NY?] How long does it take you to write a novel?

A: DIAPASON 23 days. CASE WHITE 39 years. All my other novels somewhere in between.

Q: [Ann Arbor, MI] I love your photographs in the newsletter and I even save some. Did you ever publish a picture of the woman you call the-love-of-your-life, how about it? You must have some. Just curious.

A: What…you think I’m wearing a trenchcoat lined with postcards? Well, OK, of course I have a number of photos and many have asked since I wrote about her three years ago, but I thought my verbal description was more than skin deep. Tell you what, I’ll give you some musical matchups. Think of a cross between Taylor Swift and a young Olivia Newton John for the eyes and the resonance of Swift’s speaking voice (especially when she does all those little “mms” and “hmms” in her songs). You could add ONJ’s radiant but slightly shy smile for another visual – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qtrLr5T0-Y .

Q: [Canton, OH] I’ve just finished your novel CASE WHITE and I feel like the whole world has changed for me. I would love to know exactly how much of it is true?

A: Generally speaking, my publishers thought that everything I made up was true and everything that was true they thought I made up. All of the background is documentable, as are the historical figures. Most of the personal interactions (such as the romance between Krantz and Lutka) are fiction. The missions and bizarre quests, fantastic as they are, really happened. The culminations of the plot are my invention – a synthesis, really – in order to give coherence to how a nation could go insane for 12 years. What’s frightening is what’s left over from that era in today’s world.

Q: [Zephyr Hills, FL] What are you reading now?

A: I’ve long been fascinated by the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill and her incredible marriage to Charlie Chaplin, so I finally picked up the definitive biography OONA: LIVING IN THE SHADOWS.

Q: [?] How much can I expect a first novel to sell for?

A: Nothing. Don’t want to be crass here, but few writers sell any novel, fewer still a first novel. If you write because you LOVE writing, I’d say that’s worth the effort, sale or not. And of course you can self-publish, in which case the question should be, “How much do you want to spend?” If you do make a sale, it will depend on what rights you’ve licensed (digital, traditional print, POD print, audio) and what the publisher offers if anything for an advance. Few epub/POD/audio publishers offer any kind of advance, but they pay better royalties. Traditional print publishers that have an actual print run as opposed to POD (print on demand) usually pay a guaranteed advance against royalties. An advance for a FIRST novel is likely to be only a few thousand dollars up to perhaps $15K. Most releases never earn past the advance, first book or otherwise. The adage used to be that seven out of ten novels lose money, two break even, one pays for the rest. Marry rich or keep your day job is always good advice…

Q: [Boston, MA] I consider myself an intelligent person, so why can’t I work out the relationships in my life? Everyone I trust comes up short. Please don’t tell me my expectations are too high, because then I’ll have to ask you how is it you always write about idealistic expectations.

A: Maybe the first thing to do is to make sure you’re interpreting everything right. You say no one lives up to your trust. That may have more to do with emotional security than intelligence. Here’s something I posted on FB a while back: There are people who turn everything inside out looking for a negative reflection on themselves, and the more intelligent they are, the more they find until paranoia beats them into a corner and self-destruction wins. In other words, it may not be your expectations that are too high but your walls. Fear of being hurt can stunt your life. I don’t know if that applies to you or not, but I do know that people who would rather overestimate threats than risk being fooled are often fooled and seldom satisfied. Think about it. If someone wants something from you and your defenses are unrealistic, would they scale your walls out of compatibility with your fears? They may be skilled at scaling those walls or attracted by the challenge itself, but their object isn’t sympathy with what’s unreasonable; it’s to get whatever it is they want from you. Now, maybe that still works out for you in the long run, if satisfying your defenses is your only criterion. But IS that your only criterion? Doesn’t sound like it, and as you already know, the vetting process for something more is disillusioning. Ask yourself, though, if someone who accepted all your demands COULD fulfill your other criteria; or would accepting them in itself contradict the other things you want?

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage or follow me on Facebook:

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ROBERT C. JONES – FORENSICS 184: HE AINT NO TWIN OF MINE

This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans. The ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section of this essay contains material found during research. It is not always closely related to the main subject of the essay, but is thought to be interesting.

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Anthony Harold Turner was not a twin, and his DNA matched that acquired from three rape victims. The probability of him not being the rapist was reportedly one in three trillion. Given such odds, authorities were confident that the match provided sufficient evidence to try and convict him of the rapes. Turner denied having been the rapist and claimed that someone else must have committed them, but he was convicted of the crimes.

One can only imagine how shocked the authorities must have been when, while Turner was in jail awaiting sentencing, a woman reported having been raped; and DNA acquired from her was found to match Turner’s DNA. Since Turner was not a twin, his DNA should have been unique. The new find might not only set him free, it could raise serious doubts about the reliability of forensic DNA accuracy.

In view of the double threat, an investigation was mounted that revealed Turner had snuck a small ketchup packet containing some of his semen out of jail. Family members had then passed it to the woman and paid her to claim she had been raped. Turner’s sentencing proceeded.

The field of DNA forensics is somewhat more complicated than the foregoing case implies. A somewhat similar situation occurred when another jailed individual’s blood DNA matched that acquired from an actual rape victim. Another investigation was mounted, and it revealed that the inmate’s brother had, years before, provided him with some of his bone marrow for a transplant. The future inmate had had a blood disease and had been treated with chemicals that destroyed his bone marrow. Bone marrow donated by his brother was then introduced into one of the future inmate’s veins. This caused the creation of disease-free blood containing his brother’s DNA.

Fortunately, in such cases, cells from tissues other than blood or marrow, would still have their original DNÅ. In cases where recipients’ own bone marrow had been only partially killed, they would have a combination of their own DNA and that of the donors.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Within our bones, there resides soft tissue referred to as marrow. It produces blood-forming cells that mature into red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Red blood cells earn their living by carrying oxygen throughout one’s body. White blood cells defend against infection, and platelets help stop bleeding.

The abbreviation “BMT” used to refer to “bone marrow transplant. Since both blood and marrow provide stem cells, it now refers to “blood and marrow transplantation.” If a person’s own stem cells are used, a transplant is known as autologous. If someone else’s stem cells are used, it is known as allogeneic. If an identical twin’s stem cells are used, it is known as syngeneic.

Reportedly, the hematopoietic component of bone marrow produces approximately 500 billion blood cells per day.

There are two types of bone marrow: red and yellow. The red mostly comprises hematopoietic tissue, and the yellow, mostly fat cells. Red, most white blood cells and platelets originate in red marrow. At birth, all marrow is red. As a person ages, more and more red marrow becomes yellow. About half of adult marrow is red and is found primarily in flat bones. Yellow marrow is usually found inside the middles of long bones. Our bodies are capable of converting yellow marrow back to red to increase the production of blood cells if blood loss is severe.

Thomas Sullivan: CHOKING ON CHICKEN BONES

‘Scuse our hiccups! Storytellers is back up after some unpredictable technical glitches, and I’m back with my unpredictable takes on the universe in general and writing in particular. Have to catch up with the crazy backlog in my mailbox, and so this column will be Q&A with the first question coming from the guy half-covered in snow waving a ski pole who looks disturbingly like me.

Q [SELF]: Hey, Sullivan, how is the new configuration going to affect your columns on StorytellersUnplugged?

A: Won’t. At least not the column itself. However, while previously archived columns are still accessible on SU, most of their comments are not. You can still use the links in old Sullygrams, mirror sites, my author’s website, Google searches and such, or search my name right here on SU, and you’ll get the columns. There were something like 11 of those columns missing from the previous archive anyway, so I’m going to try to restore them (a slow work in progress) along with comment threads on my author’s website (http://www.thomassullivanauthor.com/sullygrams.htm ).

Q [Westland, MI]: Have you ever written porn?

A: (chokes on chicken bone) Well, if piano legs were “dressed” in piano skirts during Victorian times because they were thought to be too like feminine gams, I suppose almost anything could be called porn from someone’s point of view. Speaking for myself, I define porn as relentlessly and anatomically sexual without any additional context or meaning. So by that definition, no, graphic porn is boring and shallow to me. I don’t do graphic for the sake of graphic or out of gratuity or to degrade. On the other hand, I wouldn’t shirk from describing human passion that was essential to the telling of a tale or revealing of the human condition.

Q [NYC]: Who do you think is the most overrated writer?

A: Hang me for blasphemy, but I’ve never been wildly enthusiastic for Hemingway (attaboy, Sully, pick on somebody dead). That said, if he were an unknown, I’d probably wonder why he was underestimated.

Q [Hartford, CT]: You write so convincingly about relationships it makes me wonder why you write horror?

A: Mercy! What makes you think horror can’t deal with relationships? (Don’t tell Edgar Allen Poe…) “Horror” is just a label. If I explore psychological fear or a hint of something magical, it will be called a whole bunch of labels, horror included. Writers aspire to understanding human nature in order to create compelling characters with believable motivations, emotions et al, so the more true-to-life the characters and comprehensive their lives, the more the reader feels the tour de forces that happen to them – whatever the emotion. The chief thing Stephen King has going for him is his ability to create “normalcy,” if only to yank the rug out from under it. And I don’t know why most my mail is about relationships, but I’m flattered that someone wants to know what I have to say about human beings or details about my personal life, particularly since every enduring novel has at heart some form of love. Without that passion and universality you get just another popcorn read of things and events.

Q [Pasadena, CA]: Are you a gamer? I think The Water Wolf would make a great game.

A: Not a gamer, but I would be if I started down that slippery slope. Too addictive. Besides, real-life adventures do infinitely more for me. But THE WATER WOLF turned into a game? Now that’s a different “story,” and I shamelessly concur, it would be an awesome game. So, after you invent it, shoot me the licensing agreement and cut me a check.

Q [Hutchins, WI]: I disagree with you about getting over someone who has hurt you. My husband would never hurt me, which is why I love him.

A: ‘Fraid I’m gonna hurt you by asking isn’t that self-love? Your reason for loving your husband sounds more like gratitude to me. Nothing wrong with self-preservation, but separating that from caring about another person is how you discover what love really is. The statement to which you refer about getting over someone who has hurt you was my attempt to describe just such a distinction. Or to put it another way, when someone gives you too much pain for you to ever have expectations of them again, the answer is simple. Never have expectations of them again. That doesn’t mean you can’t actively love them.

Q [Bartlesville, OK]: I know you build your day around exercising but do you write before you exercise or after?

A: My day is built around exercise? (‘scuse me…down one! up two! – pant, pant). Really? You make it sound so formal. I guess you could call it that, but if all I was doing was sweating and driving my heart rate up, I might not bother. Ah, well, grant me that I’m shaping my thoughts while “exercising” and I’ll make the case that one of the other things I’m doing while romping through the forest IS writing. In fact, before the advent of recorders on cell phones etc., I used to call home in the middle of a workout and leave Voice notes. I also remember writing in my own blood one time and another time asking a lady hanging clothes outside if I could borrow a pencil and a scrap of paper. I take it you are a writer who also works out a lot? Here’s a kick you might try: wake up tomorrow and right off the pillow go do your exercise thing. If you can overcome the urge to gnaw the bark off trees in lieu of breakfast, the natural low-blood sugar hallucinogens you produce can put some Technicolor in your imagination!

Q [Ames, Iowa]: You’re a hopeless romantic, I can’t believe you want to stay single. You should be in love.

A: Who says I’m not? Being in love is easy. Being loved, not so much. On the other hand, if all someone wants to do is give, they are in bomb-proof mode. … OK, I get your point. But so many people I hear from feel alone and ask me why I’m so happy being alone, and I’m not alone. Yes, I would have chosen a soulmate, if that were possible. But I’ve only known one that would have worked, and I see almost no instances where it has for others, at least by my standards. Almost – ‘nother subject. Who fills your darkness at night, who hears your pillow talk? I would rather fill mine with the silence of fantasies and the voice of my imagination than forever babble condescensions to someone with too many limitations and no-go zones. Anyway, there are compensations and I’ve been richly rewarded with those, mostly through unusual friendships with unusual people.

Q: [?, UK] I’m glad you still write your column, especially since a lot of the authors here come and go.

A: Thanks, and I expect to keep writing columns as long as it works for me and readers. My reasons may be a bit different from the many distinguished alumni who have graced this blog. I think it’s completely natural for contributors to make their thoughts on the craft a matter of permanent record here and then move on. Many of them said as much, and having created that legacy simply felt they needed to put time and energy into paying projects with deadlines. That’s where my experience has differed somewhat. Long ago I realized that it’s hard to judge incoming traffic to SU. For whatever technical reasons, stat gathering isn’t always accurately reflected, and very few people will take the trouble to post comments. It may have something to do with mirror sites or pathways or WordPress protocols and remote links in – I really don’t know. Also, I delete more than 90% of incoming comments as specious attempts by someone to raise their ratings for another site. But even if there weren’t strong legitimate interest as indicated by email, I feel that I’m creating essays that I’ll use down the line (already have, as a matter of fact) and that could be valuable both monetarily and as a legacy. I think Bob Jones, having collected and published three e-book sets of his terrific columns (Forensics 101-103 through David Wilson’s Crossroad Press), is an excellent example of how that works. Finally, SU columns remain a terrific connection with readers, whether they search you out or Google you inadvertently – a lot of my email is generated this way. As careers play out, this blog grows in relevance as a repository for author views. It not only builds fan bases and creates friendships, it creates sales.

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage or follow me on Facebook:

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*I am not a Muse.*

http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/gender-blah-blah-blah

“And it’s a powerful thing, the learnt reflex to look at a woman and see someone who is by definition unaccomplished, a novice; someone’s disciple, companion, muse; someone with no power or expertise of her own.”

The longer I move in the circles that I do, the more stories I hear whose kernel is the attitude encapsulated in that paragraph above. A man… is born knowing his craft, apparently. Even when he is bad, he is by definition somehow, better than any other poor fool who does not share that gender. It is just THAT easy to dismiss a woman at a gathering like this as a lackey, an assistant, a secretary, a junior editor who’s been allowed out of the office/schoolroom as a treat for the child (as it were). That, or the “disciple… companion… muse” mentioned above. A man is born knowing his craft; a woman is incapable of ever transcending a certain level of foothills, as it were, because it is not for her alone to breathe the rare air of the high literary mountains unless she happens to be a disciple, a companion, a muse.

*I am not a Muse*.

Or, if I have inadvertently been one to anyone at all, it is not as an ethereal damsel floating in the first pink flush of the dawn light whispering wondrous words into someone else’s ear, to be claimed by someone else’s mind, and pen. If I am a Muse at all, it is my own Muse, listening to my own wondrous whispers at dawn. As much as some might seek to scoff at such claims, yes, I HAVE walked those mountains without either leaning on the arm of a man for support or floating before him as a wispy spirit guide into the dizzying heights above the eternal snows.

Why is the distillate of a man’s mind automatically wisdom and truth and holy writ, and of a woman’s nothing more than lullabies and sweet romance and laid-down fine needlework? Why can a woman’s writing not be great and powerful and wise? WHy can it not be heard, and understood, and given its due? What is it that makes men walk into literary gatherings only to have their eyes slide over (the few) women in the group as though they were not there at all, as though they were there by accident, or (worse) by *permission*? What makes my mind inferior to that housed in a body which happens to have different plumbing than my own?

Time and time again women have taken the name of a man in order to stake a claim in the literary arena. Take the Bronte sisters (who ended up being the Brothers Bell). Take George Sand. Take James TIptree Jr. And it’s a known thing (pace JRR Tolkien and GRR Martin) that all too frequently a woman author who wishes to hide her gender identity will take refuge behind the shield of the initials, just like JK Rowlings did.

It’s insidious, a bitter little thread in the tapestry – it’s known to happen, because it needs to happen, because so few of us who have to lay claim to a feminine gender finally have the stamina to stand our ground, to stay the course, to expect that at some point in our lives and our careers we might be seen as WRITERS – and by that I mean as writers of substance, and not just dismissed as those girls who just dabble in this writing lark, who write “silly penny-dreadful romances” or “children’s books”. Not LITERATURE. Not ever that. Our puny little fluffy brains cannot stretch to that. Literature is defined by men, apparently, and its first commandment is that its progenitors have to be men, too.

I believe I will speak for many of my (fairer) sex when I recoil from this patronizing head-patting, gather myself up to my full and not inconsiderable height, and declare… I AM NOT A MUSE – I am nobody’s muse except perhaps my own. I am a writer. In my own right. I do not need to be a man’s amanuensis or inspiration in order to have my own ideas and words heard. Never MIND the battle of the genders of the actual authors – I do not believe that my WORDS are tainted by my being female, or made worse by it. And neither are those of my sisters in the pen.

We are not here to guide you anywhere, gentlemen. Find your own way up the mountain. The only thing the “girls” ask of you is not to get in our way when we try to do the same, or, worse, attempt with all of your might to tell us that the mountains are just an illusion and we should lower our eyes and look back down to the ground, as we should, enver raising our gaze from the toes of our shoes. Don’t tell me where I can’t go. And if you can’t get there by yourself, don’t expect me to lead you there and then bow out as you plant your own flag on the summit and claim it for your own.

I am not a Muse. I am a WRITER. Get out of the way.

FORENSICS 183: COINCIDENCE AND EVIDENCE

This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans. The ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section of this essay contains material found during research. It is not always closely related to the main subject of the essay, but is thought to be interesting.

******

Tim had enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1988 and served in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, winning several medals. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the American military was reducing the number of its troops, and Tim accepted an early discharge.

He and several of his friends had developed a hatred of the federal government in response to the killings of the wife and son of survivalist Randy Weaver at his Idaho cabin by federal agents and to the deaths of 75 Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas. On the second anniversary of the Waco disaster, Tim parked a Ryder, Ford F-700 truck he had rented on the north side of the nine-story Murrah Building, which housed a number of federal agencies, in downtown Oklahoma City. He got out, locked the truck and walked to a yellow Mercury Marquis he had positioned several blocks away. The license plate had been removed from the car and a note left covering the Vehicle Identification Number. The note stated, “Not abandoned. Please do not tow. Will move by April 23. Needs battery and cable.”

At 9:02 a.m., he heard an explosion. He wasn’t the only person who heard it. Reportedly, it could be heard and felt some 55 miles away. It was the sound of the worst homegrown terrorism in U.S. history. The truck had contained home-made explosives that created an 8-foot-deep, 30-foot-wide crater, rubblized a third of the Murrah Building, destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a 16-block radius, destroyed or burned 86 automobiles and shattered glass in 258 buildings. Damage was estimated to be $652 million. Of more importance, 186 persons were killed and some 680 nonfatally injured.

What followed was to be one of the most exhaustive investigations in FBI history. To ensure that every piece of evidence and every participant in the bombing was found, reportedly, more than 28,000 interviews were conducted, some 43,000 leads were tracked and nearly a billion bits of information were reviewed. The total weight of all evidence gathered amounted to more than three tons.

Among the evidence discovered was the rear axle of the truck. From it was learned a vehicle identification number, which was traced to a body shop in Junction City, Kansas. Shop employees helped the FBI construct a composite drawing of the man who rented the truck. Agents showed the drawing around the city, and hotel employees provided the name of Tim McVeigh. A check with the Bureau’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division provided the surprising news that McVeigh was already in custody.

Coincidentally, an Oklahoma State Trooper had stopped McVeigh’s car while it was traveling northward because it had no license plate. He was found to be in possession of an unlawfully concealed weapon and was arrested. His arrest took place only 90 minutes following the explosion. His clothes were found to bear traces of chemicals used in the explosion. Also, the trooper who had arrested McVeigh found a business card of a Wisconsin military surplus store the latter had hidden in his police car while handcuffed. Upon the back of the card, McVeigh had written, “TNT @ $5/stick, need more.”

In view of the evidence, McVeigh was prosecuted and subsequently executed. Persons who had aided in and/or knew about McVeigh’s bombing plan were also prosecuted.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

As a result of the bombing, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 was passed. It also resulted in legislation enacted to deter future terrorist attacks on federal buildings by increasing the protection around them.

McVeigh had carried a Glock 21 pistol with which to trigger the explosives if their fuses failed. If that had occurred, he would, of course, have been the first fatality resulting from the explosion.

The effects of the explosion were estimated to have been equivalent to that caused by an explosion of 5,000 pounds of TNT. Seismometers 4.3 miles away and 16.1 miles away recorded the explosion as measuring approximately 3.0 on the Richter Scale.

Means of identification of the dead found in the rubble included blood and DNA analysis, dental examinations, fingerprinting and full-body X-rays.

Recovery efforts were halted periodically while listening devices so sensitive that they reportedly could detect human heartbeats could be used to locate survivors.

More than 12,000 persons took part in relief and rescue operations after the explosion. Rescue workers were provided with 15,000 to 20,000 meals during ten days by the Oklahoma Restaurant Association. More than 100,000 meals and 100,000 gloves, hard hats, knee pads and ponchos were provided by the Salvation Army. More than 9,000 units of blood were donated. Tens of millions of dollars were donated and used to aid disaster relief, for long-term medical and psychological needs, to compensate victims and to provide college educations for each of 219 children who lost one or both parents during the explosion.

During McVeigh’s subsequent trial, the prosecution called 137 witnesses.

Following his trial, McVeigh eventually stopped his appeal process and requested that a date be set for his execution. His request was granted.

According to federal law, the President must approve the execution of federal prisoners. President George W. Bush did so. The execution was the first federal execution in 138 years.

Reportedly, there were some 60 domestic terrorism plots tracked between 1995 and 2005. In 1996, there were 858 domestic militias and other antigovernment groups. By 2004, the number had dropped to 152. Soon after the bombing, 500 FBI agents were added to investigate potential domestic terrorist attacks.

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FORENSICS 182: SPOOKY SCIENCE

This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans. The ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section of this essay contains material found during research. It is not always closely related to the main subject of the essay, but is thought to be interesting.

The essay is In keeping with a tradition of offering a spooky piece in honor of the October month of Halloween.

******

Al fostered concern among his parents and teachers that, because he was so slow to learn, he would never amount to much. Even when he read, he would silently mouth words before trying to pronounce them. When he was five years old, however, he began to erase the concern after his father gave him a compass. He was fascinated by the way it behaved, always pointing in the same direction, and he wondered why it did so. He later said, “I can’t forget … that this experiment made a deep and lasting impression on me.” He was later to write, “Something deeply hidden had to be behind things.”

His interest in the way things worked having been spiked, he proceeded to study science, especially as it applied to light and movement. When he was but 12 years old, he astounded his family by formulating an original proof of the Pythagorean theorem. In 1905, when he was but 26 years old, he published four scientific papers, one of which earned a Nobel Prize. In 1915, he published a paper on a geometric theory of gravity.

In addition to his work on such heavy subjects, he and his student, Leo, once focused their brains on a more down-to-earth subject. They invented a down-to-earth-refrigerator. Of course, it was no ordinary down-to-earth refrigerator. Its novelty and most important advantage was that it comprised no moving parts. They obtained a patent for it in 1930.

In contrast, nine years later, Al did something that was of worldwide significance. He signed a famous letter written by Leo to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, making him aware of scientific studies and experiments that indicated there was a good possibility of making an extremely powerful bomb and warning him that other countries might be able to do the same. Al was, of course, Albert Einstein, and Leo was Leo Szilard. The last paragraph in their letter alone expresses the urgency of the matter.

“I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines, which she has taken over. That she should have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weishlicker [sic], is attached to the Kaiser Wilheim Institute in Berlin where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.”

Einstein also sent two letters to President Roosevelt in 1940. This ultimately gave rise to the Manhattan Project and the development of nuclear weapons by the United States.

During the 1930s, Einstein battled with Danish physicist, Neils Bohr, over the completeness of quantum mechanics. Einstein pointed out a paradox involving the separation of a pair of entangled, subatomic particles where each particle seemed to be instantly aware of the state of the other, even if they were far apart. Einstein argued that, according to the special relativity theory, this would have been impossible. He referred to it as “spooky action at a distance.” This counts as one ghostly bit mentioned in this essay. There are many more related ghostly items, though. Actually, the ghostly items referred to number in the thousands. They are nuclear weapons, and they continue to haunt us all.

Reportedly, as of 2013, there were approximately 17,300 nuclear warheads in the world: Russia had 8,500, the United States had 7,700, France had 300 and China had 250.

Einstein reportedly said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Einstein also said, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

Those readers interested in the Einstein refrigerator can retrieve detailed information about it from the internet by entering the following:
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The year 1905 mentioned in the foregoing is often referred to as the “miracle year.” The subjects of the papers published by Einstein during that year were Brownian motion, mass-energy equivalence (E=mc^2), special relativity and the photoelectric effect. He was awarded a Nobel prize for his work on the photoelectric effect. The subject of the mentioned paper Einstein published in 1915 deals with gravity and is known as the general theory of relativity.

An example of entangled particles would be the result of a particle decaying into two photons. The photons would be entangled.

Reportedly, having noticed her daughter often stopping at Einstein’s house on her way home from school, her mother asked him why she was doing that. “We have a deal” he said, “I do her math homework and she gives me cookies.”

Einstein played violin and once was playing with a violin master. The latter was not bothered if Einstein missed a note or two, but he could not stand his getting out of time. Once, when Einstein’s timing wavered, the frustrated master reportedly shouted, “Mein Gott, Albert. Can’t you count?”

While in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to attend a meeting, Einstein and a companion reportedly decided to take in a movie. They bought tickets and turned them in to get into the theater. Upon discovering that the the movie wouldn’t start for a time, they decided to take a short walk around the neighborhood. Worried, and ever humble, Einstein asked how the ticket taker would remember, when they returned, that they were the persons who had already bought tickets.