Thursday, May 31, 2007

In Cold Blog: To miss it would be a crime

Is your VCR set permanently to "The Forensic Files"? Is your dream date Dr. G? Have you bookmarked The Smoking Gun? Would you rather watch a cop's dashboard video than the next Lindsay Lohan film (which, come to think of it, might be the same thing)? Well, I've got a great new blog for you!

It's In Cold Blog. And you're gonna love the true-crime figures it puts at your fingertips every day. Maybe even Dr. G will drop in.

It's the brainchild of Los Angeles Times best-selling true crime author Corey Mitchell of San Antonio, author of "Hollywood Death Scenes," "Dead and Buried," "Murdered Innocents," "Evil Eyes," and "Strangler." He's cajoled and corralled 30 of the most interesting names in the field of true crime ... and me ... to spill our guts every day about crime and punishment. The topics will range far and wide, I promise, and it's likely that more blood will be spilled than in an Ann Rule paperback.

Among the bloggers will be best-selling author and O'Reilly Factor correspondent Aphrodite Jones; true-crime media personality Dr. Katherine Ramsland; author Joyce King, who chronicled the James Byrd dragging murder in Jasper, Texas; Edgar-winning author Carlton Stowers; 48 Hours Mystery producer Paul LaRosa; crime victims' advocate Andy Kahan; and crime blogger/lawyer Laura James.

And while In Cold Blog will feature 22 true-crime writers, its featured writers also will include a sheriff, forensic artist, TV producer, book editor, TV personalities, a true-crime radio host, a historical-crime blogger, the mother and brother of a serial killer's victim, and even a rock 'n' roller whose art is inspired by crime stories. Plus, you can expect the unexpected high-profile guest to pop in every so often.

Each contributor will blog one day a month, but will drop in randomly, too. So if you have a favorite author, such as Gregg Olsen or Kathryn Casey, stop by just to chat.

And it ain't for the money, friends. In Cold Blog will donate all of its advertisement revenue each month to a charity devoted to victims' aid and law enforcement. In fact, all proceeds earned this month will go to Trooper Island in Albany, Ky., a program where needy kids who might benefit from a fresh environment are given the chance. So click on our advertisers freely! It's for a good cause.

Want the whole roster of In Cold Bloggers and a glimpse of their particulars? Click through to the blog.

Me? I'll be posting my thoughts at In Cold Blog on the 8th of every month, but I promise that every day you'll find a challenging perspective at what's already been called the "mother of all crime blogs." Spill a little cyber-blood of your own.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Open-Art Surgery: Dissecting a story

Imagine you see an attractive woman walking past. Your appreciation of the view is immediate and undeniable. She is beautiful because ... she is beautiful to you. Chances are she wouldn't be quite as beautiful if you literally dissected her on a morgue slab to see if you could understand why she is beautiful.

As an author, I'm often asked technical questions like "Where do you get ideas?" or "How many words are in your book?" Being naturally cheeky, I often respond: "About 91,851 ... but I use some of them more than once."

Well, now Amazon.com has taken cheekiness to a new height. It has recently unveiled a so-called "tag cloud" -- more formally, a concordance -- for its books. Basically, it's an alphabetical list of the 100 most frequently used words in a book (minus ubiquitous words like "the," "in" and "for.") As you look at the list, the font size of a word is proportional to the number of times it is used in the book ... for example, you'd be able to know that the word Blogger is more common than Typist.

In my new book FALL, the most commonly appearing word is the last name of one of the killers in this horrific true crime, Ron Kennedy (mentioned 484 times.) He was the dark force in the abduction, rape and murder of two young childhood friends of mine, and my prison interviews with him (as well as excerpts from his chilling unpublished memoir) consume an entire chapter.

The next most common word is the first name of one of his victims, my friend and neighbor, Becky Thomson (472), followed by Kennedy's henchman Jerry Jenkins (310) and Becky's 11-year-old sister Amy (224).

The rest of the Top 10 words in FALL are: years (224), two (214), day (212), life (208), time (204) and even (183).

All of those words evoke poetic meanings in this story ... except "even." So now, when I begin my next manuscript I'll be a little obsessive about using the word "even." Dammit.

~~~

Amazon also analyzes the "readability" of FALL with its new "text stats," that use measurements called "fog index" and "Flesch-Kincaid Index" to assess how easy (or hard) text can be to read. There (assuming you're inclined) you can learn such things about FALL as:

g Its 527,477 characters form into 91,851 words, which line up in 5,736 sentences.
g If you buy my book, Amazon will only charge you $1 per 5,577 words (and for shipping purposes, that adds up to 5,467 words an ounce.)
g Only 10% of the words are "complex" (three or more syllables) and the average word is only 1.5 syllables long, which makes 73% of all books harder to read than mine! (What does half a syllable sound like?)
g An average 8th grader can read it easily.
g Its average sentence has only 16 words, which is about average.

~~~

I feel dissected.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dutch Treat: Who wants a kidney?


A few years ago, just as reality TV was hitting its stride, I predicted right here it wouldn't be long until Hollywood devolved into shows like "Nazi Eye for the Jew Guy." Well, I was wrong about that one -- but I wasn't far off in the Taste Category. And we appear to have infected the rest of the world with our plague.

In The Netherlands, a new reality show airing on Friday in which a dying woman chooses a contestant to receive one of her kidneys. The producers put their apparently limited creative energy into the concept, not the title: The Big Donor Show.

Those crazy Dutchmen. The donor as "Lisa," a 37-year-old woman with an inoperable brain tumor. She'll listen to interviews with the three seriously ill candidates, their relatives and friends before choosing who'll get her kidney.

On one side are the advocates for organ donation who think the show will focus attention on the need for donors in The Netherlands. On the other are people who are offended by the apparent bottomless chasm in television producers' taste and ethics.

Well, hell, as long as advertisers are paying for the air, let's not let TV people get rich! Let's come up with our own reality-TV concepts and grab a little of this shameless money for ourselves!

Let's start with "Death Row Deal!" in which contestants vie for the chance to flip the switch on the electric chair! Then right after the shocking conclusion of that show, we can tune in to "Wife Swap: Hutus vs Tutsis," in which warring tribes send their women folk to another village for an, um, extreme makeover. Who wants to see "Russian Roulette: Child Stars from the '70s"? Then, just before the 10 o'clock news (which is actually made up), we'll watch "Cheaters ... The Shootout," in which cuckolded husbands are maneuvered into a confrontation with their wives' secret lovers ... and handed their choice of weapons.

Anybody out there have other ideas?


UPDATE 6/1/2007: Associated Press reports ... A television show in which a woman would donate a kidney to a contestants was revealed as a hoax Friday, with presenters saying they were trying to pressure the government into reforming organ donation laws. Shortly before the controversial program was to air, Patrick Lodiers of the "Big Donor Show" said the woman was not actually dying of a brain tumor as claimed and the entire exercise was intended to add pressure on the government and to raise public awareness of the need for organs. The three prospective recipients were real patients in need of transplants and had been in on the hoax, the show said.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten ... like how to build a roadside bomb

For anyone who thinks war doesn't have generational impacts we'll see for decades, a CNN story about a Baghdad kindergarten today should make you think twice.

"I'm going to bomb, bomb, bomb the school with everybody in it," says 5-year-old Omar Hussein, as he clutches a pink toy airplane.

Like all wars, the Iraq war is displacing and orphaning children, changing their lives forever and conceivably putting them in a crucial purgatory where they might go either way when a future moral decision must be made.

Today, a big UNICEF report says half of almost 4 million displaced Iraqis are children. And that number is growing faster than the world's ability to help.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The suicide bomber next door

Someone should do a book about suicide as a weapon of war. From Masada to kamikazes to Sept. 11, suicide has been a petrifying tool in asymmetrical warfare, mostly because it symbolizes an entire enemy army for whom death is not frightening.

Now a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has found that almost one-fourth of Muslim-Americans under 30 think suicide bombings are justified in some circumstances. Of the 2.35 million Muslims in the USA, that amounts to more than 500,000 people who can rationalize suicide bombing.

These aren't displaced Palestinian refugees in a Gaza camp. These aren't brainwashed children in a Pakistani madrassa. These aren't young men and women who grew up poor and uneducated in some of the world's richest countries. These aren't even al Qaida-trained fanatics.

They are high school kids in Iowa, Vermont and ... Southeast Texas. They are college students on campuses all over the country, maybe the college your child attends. They are young professionals of Muslim descent living just down the street from you. And they think there are some good reasons why someone might strap on an explosives-laden belt and walk into a crowd of people ... a school bus or a mall or a sports bar or a local festival ... and blow themselves up.

That's the bad news. The good news, according to the survey, is a much bigger part of the picture, including:

g Overall, Muslim Americans have a generally positive view of the larger society. Most say their communities are excellent or good places to live.

g A large majority of Muslim Americans believe that hard work pays off in this society. Fully 71% agree that most people who want to get ahead in the U.S. can make it if they are willing to work hard.

g Athough many Muslims are relative newcomers to the U.S., they are highly assimilated into American society. On balance, they believe that Muslims coming to the U.S. should try and adopt American customs, rather than trying to remain distinct from the larger society. And by nearly two-to-one (63%-32%) Muslim Americans do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.

g Roughly two-thirds (65%) of adult Muslims in the U.S. were born elsewhere. A relatively large proportion of Muslim immigrants are from Arab countries, but many also come from Pakistan and other South Asian countries. Among native-born Muslims, roughly half are African American (20% of U.S. Muslims overall), many of whom are converts to Islam.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Cheat happens


How many high school students would you guess cheat regularly on their classwork? Twenty percent? Forty percent? Eeek ... Fifty percent?

Would you imagine in your wildest dreams that it could be as high as 90%?

This weekend, the Beaumont (TX) Enterprise launched a special report on school cheating ... and the myriad other forms of cheating it spawns ... in Southeast Texas. And our survey of more than 350 local juniors and seniors found more than 90% admit cheating at least monthly. But before you breathe a sigh of relief that you don't live in Southeast Texas (or considering moving away from here) you should know: That's about the national average, too.

Click on the banner above to read the entire project. For fun, watch "THE CHEAT," and original movie that might enlighten you about cheating techniques and impact. And take our interactive quiz to test your knowledge of cheating.

Friday, May 18, 2007

HEADLINE OF THE WEEK:
'Man killed by flying cow'

For all you anti-media snoots out there, it bears repeating: We don't make this stuff up.

If you want to read the whole story in the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, click here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Maximize your child's Google-ability!

According to The Wall Street Journal, some expectant parents "are beginning to Google prospective baby names to ensure that their kids won’t face too much competition in securing a high search rank."

Well, that makes a shower gift easy ... just buy the baby's domain name!

"Mommy, why is my name 'Jennifer Will Make You Rich Anderson'?" "Because, little JWMYR, mommy and daddy and Google just loved that name!"

Some people really take this birth thing a little too far.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Crossing off the quotables

Recently, Texas Rep. Ted Poe, a Republican and a widely respected former judge, made a speech on the House floor. In it, he quoted Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest on how to win a war: "Get there firstest with the mostest," Poe quoted, and advising "Congress needs to send the generals the mostest, Mr. Speaker."

Good advice, I think we can agree. Unfortunately for Poe, Gen. Forrest was also an early figure in the post-war Ku Klux Klan, and the politically correct forces leapt into action to decry Poe, who was labeled by Bill O'Reilly's doppelganger Keith Olbermann as the "worst person in the world." A little overstatemnent perhaps, but that's how he --- and O'Reilly -- make their dough.

The reaction (or overreaction) to Poe's quoting a KKK figure, even though he was quoting him about military strategy in the Civil War, made me think A) Poe needs to employ a better speechwriter, but B) how many great men must we eliminate from our quotation list because they made a couple really bad choices in their lives?

Hmmm.

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
Franklin Delano Roosevelt PHILANDERER!

"All men are created equal ..."
Thomas Jefferson SLAVE OWNER!

"I have a dream ..."
Martin Luther King Jr. PHILANDERER!

"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes."
Mahatma Gandhi, WHO ONCE SAID HITLER WASN'T SUCH A BAD GUY!

"All we are saying is give peace a chance."
John Lennon DRUG ADDICT AND PHILANDERER!

"It is time for us to turn to each other, not on each other."
Jesse Jackson PHILANDERER!

And you can add to this list: John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant ... and so many more.

This politically correct hollering has gotten out of hand.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Iran requires all TV dramas to feature prayers
(C'mon kids, let's chant 'Death to America' in the TV room!)

The thrilling climax to last night's Miss Muslim World pageant in beautiful downtown Tehran


Here in the USA, we toss around the word "censorship" casually, but it's wise to remember that in other parts of the world -- and even place that don't seem to be part of this world, like Iran -- censorship is prevalent and renders daily life far different than we Americans enjoy.

The head of Iran's state-run TV has declared that, henceforth, all TV dramas must contain prayers. (Just switch the channel, you say? Sorry. Satellite TV is banned in Iran, too.)

“In the current year, television productions that do not have prayer scenes will not be allowed to air,” said Ezatollah Zarghami.

Imagine your American living room and your flickering electronic hearth. The only programs you can see are programs that the government wants you to see. No criticism of the Administration. No messages counter to the government's official policies. No exposure of corruption or avarice among your leaders. It sounds like the premise for a sci-fi fantasy, but it's real in places like Iran. (Iran isn't alone in such radical despotism.)

What Iran needs is Sesame Street ... but then again, Miss Piggy probably wouldn't be very popular with Muslims.


(On the other hand, in Iran they don't have "Flavor of Love," so that's a plus.)

Monday, May 07, 2007

And your little dog, too: Tornado looters

Four soldiers, a reservist cop and two fake Red Cross workers were busted last weekend for looting in Greensburg, Kansas, the little tornado-ripped town where 10 people have already died.

Not foraging for supplies. Not feeding their families. Not gathering supplies to help others. They are accused of stealing cigarettes and liquor from a destroyed local supermarket. The reports don't say if they were white or black (or Latino, Asian or Serbo-Croatian) -- it doesn't really matter, does it? -- but for the post-Katrina conspiracy theorists who think The Media only accuses black folks of "looting" and white folks of "foraging," I'll assume they're likely white folks. I might be wrong, but the race really isn't important to my conclusion that, if convicted, these people are just slimy, opportunistic and common criminals who were enriching themselves on other people's tragedy. Their color really doesn't matter to me.

The cop and soldiers might have used their positions of respect and honor to break the law ... and the two Red Cross pretenders used the emblem of a compassionate organization to get closer to the loot.

Sometimes, it's hard to think of this nation as great when so many of its citizens are so terribly dishonest and heartless. As someone whose life's possessions were largely exposed to wuld-be thieves after Hurricane Rita scraped across my house in 2005, I have not even a tiny, warm, sympathetic place in my heart for anyone who'd steal from a ravaged family or business simply to take what they would not otherwise pay for. Need water or life-sustaining food? What's mine is yours, if I have it ... but you don't need my TV, my camera, my refrigerator. You sure don't need cigarettes and booze.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

TIME's 100 most influential people ... no Bush

Sometimes even people in the media think The Media is out of touch ... like now.

TIME Magazine has just released its annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. Tina Fey is on it. So is Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Condie Rice, Nancy Pelosi and Ah-nuld Schwarzenegger. There's tennis star Roger Federer and actor George Clooney. There are some bad guys like Osama bin Laden and Sudanese dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir. And you'll find, Tyra Banks, Tony Dungy, Oprah Winfrey and Michael J. Fox, too.

But you won't find President George W. Bush, the leader of the free world.

The one man on earth whose actions can ripple through every nation. The one man who can demand and get free TV time at any moment of the day. The one man who, whether you agree or disagree, can change the future for hundreds of millions of people. And he's not "influential"?

George W. Bush, love him or hate him, has influenced more of our world in the past year ... the past six-plus years than almost any other figure except Osama bin Laden. Yet, Roger Federer makes the list and Bush doesn't. How brainless is that?

Clearly, TIME isn't saying that "influential" must mean the person has a positive influence on human events. And comparing the influence of Osama against, say, Tina Fey begs for an explanation from TIME's editors. No, wait ... nevermind. Who cares?

TIME hurts its own credibility with these ridiculous lists that reflect nothing important about the human community.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Goin' Cajun: Louisiana book events

Down here in these parts, we don't tell blonde jokes. We tell Cajun jokes that usually star a couple characters named Thibodeaux and ... Thibodeaux.

But I love Cajuns. Full of spice and passion. A beautiful accent. And great food. And this weekend, I'll be in the heart of Cajun bayou country for a book-signing and (I hope) a lunch with a bunch of real Cajun authors.

I'll join the conversation with the Bayou Writers Group from 10 a.m. to Noon on Saturday at the Carnegie Library in Lake Charles, La. (By the way, the president of the Bayou Writers Group is Pam Thibodeaux.)

And then from 2-4 p.m., I'll be signing books for the public at the Books-a-Million store, also in Lake Charles (2934 Ryan Street, 337-436-3577) CANCELED! Some kid named Thibodeaux at this big ol' chain bookstore forgot to order the books!

Somewhere in between, I hope I can make at least one crawfish's sacrifice worth his reasonably brief and muddy life.