Thursday, March 29, 2007

What's a party without a child molester?

Would you invite the man who molested your young daughter to a house party?

Gosh, seems like a no-brainer to me, but one advice-column letter-writer isn't quite sure about the etiquette. So she asked Slate's Dear Prudence for some advice.

The only thing dumber than the people who write to advice columnists are advice columnists. Let's skip the syndicated fooferaw and answer this question ourselves. Personally, I'd invite the fellow ... and serve him a BIG piece of chocolate cake made with dog poop, or -- oops! -- spill some pool acid in his lap.

What would you advise this rather confused mother to do?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Life Magazine is dead ... again

In less than a month, Life Magazine will die its third death. With ad revenue down, Time Inc. has decided to pull the plug on the venerated publication that was as much a part of American households in the middle of the last century as the Saturday Evening Post and TV.

After April 20, Life will only be available on the Web, Time said yesterday.

Hmmm, that line seems eerily prophetic for many media in this day and age: "Life will only be available on the Web."

Too bad.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A voice from the past
What if you could email yourself 50 years from now?

Imagine what you -- that is, your Young Self -- might say to you -- that is, your Older, Wiser Self -- if you met on a street corner 50 years from today? OK, yes, I know that's impossible, but work with me here ....

You can't meet on the street, but you CAN communicate. The Young You may send your Old You an email. Isn't the Internet fun, kids?

At, you can send an email that will be delivered to Old You 50 years from now. This weekend, the Los Angeles Times' West magazine published a marvelous piece about the site, written by the inimitable J.R. Moehringer, one of the best writers in the newspaper biz today.

Of course, you'll have to keep the same email address for the next 50 years.

What would you say? This weekend, my best friend asked me if I ever wished I was a kid again, and my answer was probably typical of an overthinking, comfortable, middle-aged male. I said: "I wish I could have the time ahead of me that a child has. I wish I could spend those days knowing what I know now. I wish I could be wise and young. But I don't wish I could go back to the days when I didn't really know what it's like to kiss a woman, to know my own children, or to see farther than the backyard."

So what would I say to myself at age 100? Well, probably, it'd be Rest in Peace. I would more like to write an email to ber delivered to my son and my daughter on what would be my 100th birthday. Now that would be cool, but I have a feeling they'll already know anything I might want to say to them at that point.

So ... what would you say to yourself in 50 years?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Road Sign Trivia Contest #3

Road sign near Lander, Wyo.

On my recent book tour through Wyoming, it occurred to me that some road signs just wouldn't be familiar to some folks in other places. For instance, you almost never see a "Snowmobile Crossing" sign here in Texas.

Well, here's another, robably not often seen in Kansas or Iowa. And it's the subject of today's Road Sign Trivia Contest #3. The first caller who can answer this question the most humorously will get a standing ovation for three.

Who is Fallen Rock ... and who keeps letting him out?

And the winner is ...?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Houdini escapes the grave!

Kin of Harry Houdini, who died at age 52 on Halloween in 1926, will exhume his body to see if the late escape artist might have been murdered.

A great-nephew thinks Houdini might have been poisoned by members of a group of fortune-tellers whom Houdini regularly exposed as frauds. The prevailing theory has been that he died from a ruptured appendix after being slugged in the gut unexpectedly before a show.

No autopsy was ever performed on Houdini, so it isn't known if peritonitis killed him. But neither is there evidence that he was purposely killed. Ah, but in this Media Age -- which Houdini likely would have reveled in -- who cares if there's a little ghoulish speculation? And we all love a murder mystery, don't we?

After witnessing the exhumation and autopsy of the Big Bopper last week, and seeing the (briefly) renewed interest in his life and music, I must admit that I think digging up Houdini isn't the worst thing the great showman could endure. Being forgotten is.

And besides, Houdini can now claim he escaped the biggest trap of all: The grave.

Graf of the Week:
'We don't need no stinkin' goats'

In a story about a typical porn-and-bestiality bust in Canada, this graf (that's news-lingo for "paragraph") appeared:
"As for the bestiality charge, Smart declined to say what kind of animal was involved, other than to say, 'There was no livestock that we observed.'"
Check the video, guys.

To see the whole story, click here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A dog's tale

We have a new member in the family. He wandered into our yard a couple weeks ago and made his uncollared self at home. We posted "Lost Dog" signs around the neighborhood, took him to the vet to check for a microchip, checked "Lost and Found" ads in the paper, and asked everyone we met during our evening walks if he looked familiar. No luck.

This "little" guy is only about four months old and he weighs 45 pounds. His paws look as big as saucers, and his tail wags so vigorously, his whole butt rocks. The lady at the vet's guesses he's part Border Collie (smart) and Great Pyrenees (steadfast and gentle, you know, like Belle in the "Belle and Sebastian" cartoon.) Personally, I think he's part Mole (digger.)

We've named him, just so we don't keep hollering, "Hey you!" I guess he's ours now ... as long as he doesn't tunnel out.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Back to the Big House

Speaking to a small audience at Off The Beaten Path Books in Rawlins, Wyo., home to the Wyoming State Penitentiary, where one of the FALL killers remains behind bars. (Warden Michael J. Murphy at right)

In one of the most extraordinary book events of this tour, I was joined tonight in Rawlins, Wyo., by a number of past and present prison workers -- from the current warden Michael Murphy to caseworkers and prison guards -- to talk about FALL. Why? because, in part, the book explores the lives of two killers they all have known ... one of whom remains behind bars today.

It was extraordinary because many offered personal observations about their two tenants that enlarged my view of them. Where they had previously been described as lifer-loners who kept to the quiet, safer edges of prison society, tonight I got a larger -- if not different -- view of these two pivotal characters in my real-life murder mystery.

Among the readers who came to my signing at the intimate, warm Off The Beaten Path Books was Warden Michael Murphy, who's had his job only 6 months now and barely knows killer-rapist Ron Kennedy, the second most senior inmate in his prison. (His cohort Jerry Jenkins died of a heart attack in prison in 1998.) But some of the current and former guards who came remembered Kennedy well. By and large, they described him as a manipulating narcissist who has enjoyed unusual perks -- and an unusually warm relationship with a least one past warden -- even though he was once condemned to die on Death Row. From keeping a pet in his cell, to monthly conjugal visits for about 10 years, to occasional secret trips back to the town where he committed his crimes, there is apparently much more to his story than I ever knew.

Among the readers was former guard Mike Lujan. Kennedy haunts him in a strange way. He recites Kennedy's inmate number as if it were seared into his brain. He had a sense of evil the first time he met Kennedy, and he never got over it.

It all made me want to talk to Kennedy again. This year, he'll turn 60. Our 14 hours of interviews in 2003 sufficed until now, but now I have more questions. Whether his answers would ever see the light of day, I don't know ... but I'd like to be able to ask.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Road Sign Trivia Contest #2

Somewhere between Rawlins and Rock Springs, Wyo.

When you see this sign, what should you do?

No cheating now. This question may be answered by anyone, not just Texans.
And the winner is ... ?

Road Sign Trivia Contest #1

The first Texan who can identify this road sign in Wyoming (that is, to describe what message it's sending) will win an all-expense paid mention in this blog, which some readers have already parlayed into international fame and riches.

And the winner is .... SINGING SKIES of Beaumont!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A day in the death of The Bopper & Son

How do you say goodbye if you never got to say hello?

Jay Richardson, son of the famed 1950s rocker J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson got his chance this week. Can you imagine if the first time you laid eyes on your own father it was when they opened his casket 50 years after he died?

I was privileged to be the only journalist allowed to observe the exhumation and autopsy of The Bopper, almost 50 years after he died with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens in an Iowa plane crash ... the day the music died. What did I see? What did we learn?

The emotional moment is captured right here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Bopper has left the building ... again

Jay Richardson spends his first quiet moment alone with the father he never met

In every exhumation, there's a tense moment just before the casket lid is raised. What's inside? How has the natural process of decay reshaped this human?

It was no different Tuesday at the exhumation and autopsy of J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, a native Beaumont son who grew up to be one of rock 'n' roll's earliest stars and one of it's earliest tragedies. He died on Feb. 3, 1959, in a plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.

Some 48 years later, during the process of moving his remains to a more visible new grave in Forest Lawn Cemetery, the Bopper's only son asked renowned forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Bass to examine his dad's corpse and offer an opinion on the cause of his death. You see, over the years, wacky conspiracy theories have arisen about gunplay on the plane and the possibvility that the Bopper died while trying to go for help after the crash.

The results of the autopsy were not surprising, but conclusive: The Big Bopper might have died instantly from a number of massive injuries, including a smashed skull, a broken neck and a crushed chest. Other injuries -- a shattered pelvis, broken back, and several compound fractures in his legs -- would have made surviving more than a few minutes unlikely. The poor man came undone in a thousand ways. There was no foul play.

But, again, what was in the casket when they opened it? Read my story in today's Beaumont Enterprise, and stay tuned for a deeper piece to come on Sunday.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Big Bopper returns ... one night only

Today, I will attend the exhumation and autopsy of J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, who died on Feb. 3, 1959, in a plane crash that also killed early rock stars Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.

Nobody knows what remains, but for the first time in more than 48 years, his family might know what actually killed the 28-year-old Beaumont, Texas, deejay who bellowed, "Hellllooooo Baaaaaby!" at the start of "Chantilly Lace."

Let's hope.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Political faggots and worse

Ann Coulter should be parboiled by now. She spends so much time in hot water, she should endorse hot tubs. Haven't we figured out that she gets paid to rile us up? Ooops, she did it again.

Over the weekend, Coulter spoke to the 2007 Conservative Political Action Conference and among her assessments of the battalion of Democrats running for president, she said this:

"I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot,' so I - so kind of an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards."

(Edwards responded immediately by telling people to send him more money to combat these evil Republicans. Sorta makes you think it's a big game, doesn't it?)

For the record, no matter what Coulter's "job" is, we must start decrying this schoolyard name-calling. If you think American politics must become more civil, then Ann Coulter is one of the enemies of civility.

But let's not kid ourselves that Ann Coulter is the ONLY enemy of civility out there. So's Al Franken (a radical Democrat who is also running for the U.S. senate now). Remember him? He wrote a book entitled "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot."

You can find any number of blogs where Radical Liberals surmise (daily) that Ann Coulter is really a man (I thought that party was more tolerant of transgendered people, even if Cpulter isn't?) Bloggers write she's a "whack job," "bitch" and "feces." There is even an

Amanda Marcotte, a Democratic blogger whose mouth is at least as foul as Coulter's (and who works for Edwards), said: "It’s not about bashing the tired banshee — this is how Ann Coulter makes a living. It’s about discussing why calling John Edwards a faggot is acceptable to her and those at the Conservative Political Action Committee."

What, no Tired Banshee Lobby to decry this retort? Marcotte is an extremist who got her hand slapped when Edwards hired her for being excessively and famously nasty about "W" -- dropping the F-Bomb more frequently than terrorists plant IEDs. She airbrushed her blog afterward, removing many of the most heinous references, but many still remain. Find her on your own. (You didn't think I'd link to her, did you?)

Folks, this profanery is practiced by both sides. Extreme Leftists and Extreme Conservatives trot it out more and more before elections, and the freedom of the blogosphere has not expanded our Information Consumption as much as it has expanded the ability of potty-mouthed nerds who get a thrill out of saying dirty words.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Back to the airwaves

I'll return to the nation's airwaves next week (March 4-9) to talk about my new book FALL with listeners in Oregon, Missouri, Minnesota and Wyoming. If you're within broadcasting range of any of these stations, please tune in!

  • MONDAY, MAR. 5: 2 p.m. CST on KIML/KAML (1270 AM) in Gillette WY
  • MONDAY, MAR. 5: 4:10 p.m. CST on KLFD (1410 AM) in Litchfield MN
  • THURSDAY, MAR. 8: 7:30 a.m. on KKID (92.9 FM) in Rolla MO
  • THURSDAY, MAR. 8: 10 a.m. CST on KLBM/KBKR (1450 AM) in La Grande OR
  • Why do buses always 'plunge'?

    A tragic story today in Atlanta, where an Ohio college baseball team's bus tumbled off a freeway overpass, killing at least six people. The Associated Press' lede said: "A charter bus carrying a college baseball team from Ohio plunged off a highway ramp early Friday and ..."

    Why do buses always plunge? Pay attention to the next bus wreck stories you see, especially if the bus tumbled down a mountainside, or spears through a marketplace, or simply takes a nose-dive from an overpass. They always plunge ... which seems to be the exclusive verb that comes to the mind of most reporters when they write about bus wrecks.

    No? Couldn't possibly be the case? The journalistic phenomenon is so well-known, it's been the subject of several articles, such as Jack Schafer's Slate column last November, in which he said "on average, the news wires publish one or two plunge stories each month."

    You can even join the "Bus Plunge Network" to monitor and contribute examples. At that site, you may even read an interview with a Plunge Driver!

    Here are a few recent examples:

    Kantipur Online, Nepal - Feb 26, 2007 KURINTAR, Chitwan, Feb 27 - At least 14 people were killed and 31 injured as a Birgunj bound bus from Kathmandu veered off the road to plunge into the ...

    Huntsville, Ala. - Nov. 20, 2006 (CBS/AP) - 3 Girls Dead In Alabama School Bus Plunge

    (BBC) - Sixteen people are dead, and at least 16 more feared killed, after a bus plunged into a river in central Turkey.

    So why does this phenomenon persist among supposedly creative wordsmiths? It was simple: The stories were perfect short fillers. Bus-plunge stories could be made into perfect "fillers" very easily. From Schafer's column:

    "The elements of a definitive bus-plunge story: Plunge should appear in the hed; the piece should be only a couple of sentences long; and it should 'include the number feared dead, the identity of any group on board'—a soccer team, church choir, or students—'as well as the distance of the plunge from the capital city.' The words ravine or gorge should appear. "

    Thursday, March 01, 2007

    Kicking a gift horse in the mouth

    Remember the story about the Katrina family that was given a free home by a Memphis church congregation, then a few months later sold it and pocketed the cash, saying they were going to return home to New Orleans and start fresh?

    Did they?

    A Memphis TV reporter tried to track them down in the Big Easy, and his report will make you mad all over again!

    Some people just aren't deserving of our compassion.