I COULD BE THIS YEAR’S SINGULAR SENSATION – Marilyn Armstrong

This has been a heavy news year and I can’t imagine anyone arguing this point. No matter where you stand, the news hasn’t just been The News. It has been … NEWS.

Giant hurricanes. Massive flooding, Russians trying to steer our election. A moronic president and his equally moronic cabinet. Destruction of everything we believe in or at least an attempt to destroy everything in which we believe.  Mass shootings. More mass shooting. Fires sweeping entire states. Sex scandals that will eventually include every man in Hollywood.

With all of that going on, there has been hardly any reporting of gruesome crimes and criminals. Usually, we are demented about serial killers and torture … but we haven’t had anything that could top the mass dementia that has taken over our government. That’s why I was thrilled to find this headline from overseas:


Italian lodger tells police he is ‘guilty’ of cannibal murder. 

I bet our newscasters would be thrilled to have a shot at something really juicy. Since the demise of Jeffrey Dahmer, there hasn’t been an incredibly disgusting, gory serial murderer to liven up the news cycle. It’s been all politics, government scandal … and tweets.

TWEETS! Do you believe it? I don’t. It must be fake news.

That got me wondering. Who among the outside world would I like knowing was reading our stuff? I know a few of my favorite authors drop by if I review one of their books. They are polite and send thank you notes. It makes me feel all warm and cozy, knowing at least some of the things I write is getting read by people who care about it.

But how cool to be followed by a cannibal? What a coup! That would definitely come with bragging rights!

While Garry was working, we occasionally got phone calls late at night from convicted serial killers, sometimes critiquing his performance. Turns out, they watched him on the telly. Who’d have guessed serial killers watch the news … and have phone privileges? They also sent Christmas cards and occasionally, letters.

Perpetrators of gruesome murders currently on trial used to wave and wink at him in the courtroom. I’m sure other reporters were jealous.

From my perspective, it was intensely creepy and occasionally, downright frightening. It also made me wonder if these weirdo’s fondness for my husband and his work might encourage one of these “fans” to drop by for an unexpected visit. They clearly knew how and where to track him down. And if they found Garry, they’d find me. They were his fans, not mine.

On second thought, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover I’m could be a big hit in prison. If seven or eight thousand of my followers are actually incarcerated, that might explain those thousands of nameless followers who never leave comments or even a “like.”

By any chance are you a big literary agent? Just asking.

THE ODD LEGALESE OF WINNING AND LOSING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My ex-husband, Larry Kaiser, was a young litigation attorney in New York City in 1979. His law firm assigned Pro Bono Appeals cases to junior associates as part of a public service program.

Larry was given the appeal of a defendant, Eric Michaels, who had been convicted, in a second trial, of rape, sodomy, robbery and burglary. His first trial had been declared a mistrial. It was clear that the defendant was rightfully convicted. He had definitely done it. So Larry had to look for a procedural irregularity that he could exploit to try to get the conviction overturned on appeal. That was his job, unsavory as it was.

Larry discovered that the trial judge, Judge Arnold Fraiman, had declared a mistrial for a questionable reason – he and several jurors were scheduled to leave on vacations. I believe the judge even had his wife and his packed suitcases in the courtroom. If this was seen as an abuse of discretion by the appellate court, it would invalidate the guilty verdict of the second trial. The entire second trial would be considered invalid as a violation of double jeopardy. You can only be tried once for any crime or crimes.

Larry was drowning in work so I helped him write this Pro Bono brief. It was very much a joint effort. I was practicing law at a small New York City law firm at the time. We won the appeals case and Eric Michaels was released from prison.

One morning shortly after the appellate verdict was rendered, I was getting out of bed and I heard Larry yelling from the living room. He had just opened the New York Times and found his case on the front page! The misconduct of Judge Fraiman was considered a big enough deal to warrant a prominent story. This was particularly true because his misconduct resulted in the release of a convicted rapist. The District Attorney of New York had described Eric Michaels’ crimes as some of the more vicious crimes prosecuted by the state in years.

Judge Fraiman was now in the spotlight. Larry was interviewed by several newspapers. Over the next few days, reporters dug into the Judge’s prior cases. And they discovered that the exact same thing had happened before. Judge Fraiman had previously declared a mistrial for the same reason – he was due to leave on vacation. His prior mistrial declaration had also been considered inappropriate by an appellate court. And again, an appellate court had released another guilty defendant back onto the streets because of Judge Fraiman’s actions in court.

This was now a really big judicial scandal. The story stayed in the news for a while and destroyed Judge Fraiman’s reputation. I think he may have been censured by the judiciary or by the Bar Association.

Larry always had mixed feelings about this case. He had won a major legal success and got his name in the New York Times.

On the other hand, he also helped get a rapist released from jail. This is often the plight of lawyers in the criminal field. It was also a prime reason I didn’t go into criminal law. Winning isn’t everything.

I BEG TO DIFFER … Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Differ

Garry casually dropped into the kitchen and said, “Jeffrey Epstein is dead.”

“Seriously?” I said.

“Really?” said Ben, who is visiting from Arizona.

“Well, that’s what the headline said” Garry reiterated.

Jeffrey Epstein, Probably Dead

When I finished making coffee and muffins and finally made it to the computer, I had to go through most of my email until I finally found the headline. Frankly, Fandango’s “How convenient,” seemed a better explanation.

Not like we are all getting paranoid, but it is awfully convenient. Frankly, I was looking forward to a long, involved trial that would really improve the quality of late-night television comedy.

I had a list of possible people who would stand up, take oaths on the bible, then lie like crazy in court, all of which would be followed by a  multi-part television serial.

CBS? Fox? Netflix? HBO? Originally I thought a two-parter, but when I added up the witnesses — for both the prosecution and the defense — I realized at least a three-parter and who knows? Four? Two complete seasons?

It had serious television potential.

Now the show will be authored at attempts to unravel the paranoia of his “death.” I mean … is he dead? Was he spirited away to a secret paradisical island?  Lifted away by rogue CIA agents who are water-boarding him in a black room in Guantanamo?

How about carried away by enraged women and lord only knows what THEY are doing to him. Secret cameras anywhere? Oh, this could be really too hot even for our media to handle.

I’m not at all sure he was spirited away to a lovely little tropical island. I beg to differ. I think he might have been taken away by parties who intend to show him the real meaning of suffering, thus to go through a far better punishment than any court could arrange.

I just wish I’d been invited to the party.

THERE’S A CODE FOR EVERTHING – Marilyn Armstrong

There is a code for everything these days. Every item in the shop, every village in the world.

There’s a code for every telephone. Bar codes float through the air like fireflies. We are all zipped up. Where once we needed our name, today we need a passport, email address, social security number, and zip code.

But, life on earth existed before codes. Before zip codes, cable television, and calling codes. Before bar codes were printed on every product. We used dial telephones which worked pretty well as telephones than the phones we use now.

In small towns, you only needed the last four numbers to place a call.

We mailed letters and remarkably, they got delivered. Television was not as diverse or intense, but it was interesting and often funny. We enjoyed it, or at least some of us did. If we didn’t, we could read a book!

We had conversations with each other. That’s right! Imagine it, for a moment, groups of people getting together and talking about all kinds of stuff. History, books, and the state of the world. No one became enraged and charged from the room with blood in his or her eye.

Oh, did I mention that most of us were polite?

We said things like “excuse me” and “thank you” and “please” … and no one felt diminished or belittled by talking like this. Politeness made many of the small things in life easier to manage.

Not that the world was perfect. Far from it … but manners helps smooth over some of the rough parts.

Much was broken and is still waiting to get fixed, but as a whole, we were nicer to each other. Personally, at least. We weren’t nice because we were whiter or browner or some shade in between. We were nice because we were taught to be like that. By our parents. Because civilized people were taught to be polite to adults and each other. It was the grease on the squeaky wheel of civilization.

As I watch kids today sitting together in groups busily texting each other, I have to wonder how they will develop human relationships with any depth.

If they don’t know how to have a conversation, how are they going to build a life? Maybe the passion for electronics will fade with time. After which, folks will remember how talking and laughing used to take up that space in their world.

You never know. It could happen! Of course, walking around with loaded military-grade rifles and murdering people who you think are the wrong color is both uncivil and extremely rude. We might try doing something about that while we are busy worrying about manners.

Civility is all well and good, but killing people is worse.

VIOLENCE OF THE SENSIBLE KIND – Marilyn Armstrong

The thing about “senseless violence” is that it implies there’s some other kind. The sensible kind.

Everybody talks about senseless violence … but what about the other kind of violence? How come no one talks about sensible violence?

sensible violence

Sensible Violence: Good reasons to kill


“He needed killing” is still accepted in some American courtrooms as a defense against a charge of murder. If he needed killing and you kill him, you have committed an act of sensible violence.

“No one was supposed to get hurt.” You found yourself short of money, so you held up the bank. Using automatic weapons. You had a perfect plan which went unaccountably wrong. “But your Honor, no one was supposed to get hurt!”

“I had no choice.” You could have gotten a divorce, but you were put off by all the paperwork, lawyers, and courts. Not to mention having to share your stuff. So, you killed your husband and shoved his body in the wood chipper and use his remains as fertilizer. Sensible. tidy, and green.  “Your Honor, he really pissed me off. And it wasn’t easy getting him into the machine. He was being really mean to me, so what choice did I have?”

“Anyone would have done the same thing.” Really, no kidding. Anyone. It was the only sensible response. “Your Honor, she burned the roast. I had to kill her. Anyone would have done the same thing.”

“I lost my temper.” You said I wouldn’t like you when you were angry. You were right.

So you see? Not all violence is senseless. If you didn’t mean it, you had no choice, anyone would have done the same thing, or your plan went awry … it’s sensible violence. The good kind.

ALIVE ALIVE OH AS OPPOSED TO DEAD DEAD EW! – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Alive

Recently, there was a question in some list of Q & A: “Why is beauty associated with mortality?”

My answer was that being alive was generally more attractive than being dead. Maybe I watch too many crime shows (we are currently re-watching all 20 years of “Midsomer Murders” again), but I always think of CDI (I think) Barnaby asking the coroner “when did he/she/they die” and being told “You know I can’t answer you until after the post-mortem.” Or the same question on NCIS, except then it’s an autopsy rather than a post-mortem.

Either way, corpses are not generally regarded as lovely to look at.

First victim

My theory is that the whole “post-mortem” thing doesn’t make me think about beauty. I’m sure there are some very strange folks who think dead is delightful (funeral home directors?) (serial killers?) (taxidermists?), but I am not one of them. I don’t even like dead flowers and always put off throwing away withered bouquets until they are past withered and have become dried (but nonetheless withered) flowers.

Thus I am always glad I’m alive since dead is less attractive and less entertaining. The only movie I can think of where a corpse made me laugh was “S.O.B.” Otherwise, the non-alive are usual the subjects of a murder investigation.

Just saying. I value aliveness. The older I get, the more I value it. Besides, dying is expensive in America.

BATTLING FOR THE RIGHT TO NOT DRINK – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry has an undying devotion to some really awful old television series. Among many others, he really likes “The Untouchables.” That would be the version with Robert Stack as Elliott Ness. It’s the original, where our chief G-man and his “guys” fight (are you ready?) for The Volstead Act.

Prohibition! That’s right.

Prohibition. Booze, or more accurately, the lack thereof. Fighting for the right to have people NOT drink booze.

I’m not a boozer. I don’t drink now and never drank much, not even when I was younger. That being said, I can’t imagine going to war to make booze disappear.

War doesn’t work, not even when it’s a war against drugs or booze or your neighbor or their neighbor. War (which is not the same as protection) is an ineffective tool that does more damage than good. I grant you there have been a few exceptions, but ironically, most “good wars” were fought because of bad deals made following previous bad wars. But what do I know, right?

Back to “The Untouchables.”

What a great show. When the cops are pissed off with you, they can beat the living crap out of you. If that doesn’t get you to spill your guts, they’ll toss you off the train. A moving train. You have a problem with that?

You are disposable too.

Ready to blow it up? You betcha!

This version of the FBI is unconcerned with your rights. They don’t believe you have any rights.

First amendment? What’s that? You are dirt under their feet and they treat you accordingly as if you are dirt under their feet. This is a show that never made the slightest apology for being racist. They never pretended to be fair or worried about legalities.

They said “We are G-men. You will obey!”

Everyone did. It was the FBI at its most pure. These men (there are no women) are not just above the law. They are the law.

Early terrorist attack (1920s) – Wall Street

My favorite moment in tonight’s show was when the boys, ignoring even a nod to international law, take the FBI bus into Mexico to track down the guys who kidnapped their witness.

“The bus broke down three times and the trip took 10 hours,” said the stentorian voice of the narrator.

“So what?” I said to Garry. “That could describe my last trip to the grocery store.”

Since the FBI took over enforcing Prohibition — The Volstead Act — no one has had a drink. Not a single person. These guys were so good at battling beer and booze, the alcohol problem was permanently solved. Some might call this denial.

I call it faith. If you believe, it must be true. Who needs facts when misguided belief is more than enough?

I’m trying to get into our current national spirit.

How am I doing?