Yesterday afternoon the FBI carried out a search and seizure order at Mar-a-Lago, and everyone is already weighing in with an opinion. From political pundits to the man on the street, everyone wants to either hang Merrick Garland or praise him.
Trouble is, no one – not a single one of us – knows why that order was executed. Not even the ‘pundits’ at Fox News, CNN or any other media outlet that peddles in political turmoil. The only ones who know at this point are a) the DOJ personnel who were involved in applying for the search order and b) the Federal District Court judge who actually issued it. Even the FBI agents who searched the former president’s property were not aware of what was in the affidavit accompanying the application (more on that later).
Meanwhile, everyone is up in arms. This whole Us versus Them thing has become something of a game, and anyone can play. All you need is an opinion and a political gripe and you, too, can roll the dice. And since it’s my turn to roll, I’m going to serve as the dungeon master and set some rules. The first rule is ‘Before you draw conclusions, know the facts’. I’m not talking opinions or political-speak but the raw facts. The second rule is, ‘Re-read the first.’
Informationally, we live in the greatest time ever. The internet, cable, streaming TV, and satellite radio have blessed us with more information than we can process. The trouble is that our tribal instincts turn us into channel selectors. We get our information from the sources that tell us what we want to hear, so why should we fact-check? That would only spoil our mindset. This is making us dumber than ever, whereas we should be smarter than ever.
And guess what? The political parties and the media all know it! In fact, they count on it to get elected or get their ratings up. It has to stop.
The Mar-a-Lago search appears to have been done for real reasons, just like any of the other thousands of surprise searches conducted every year. We just don’t know yet what those reasons are. That’s the only thing you should be taking away from the newscasts at this point. Everything else is mind manipulation by the media and a bunch of blowhard political figures looking for attention.
To the Trump supporters, I say this: What took place at Mar-a-Lago is serious stuff, and the DOJ knows it. If the DOJ was looking to destroy Trump, do you think they’d go raiding his house knowing he’ll only put on his victim hat and use it against them? What a stupid idea! But if that’s really what you think this is all about then be patient and let it to backfire. Only then will you have some meat behind your ‘Banana Republic’ and ‘Witch Hunt’ charges. Until then you’re allowing yourself to be played as a pawn.
To the Trump haters, I say this: stop counting your chickens. What if the FBI turns up nothing? What if this was all based on a bad anonymous tip, for example? The fallout on the Democratic Party is going to be devastating! Trust that Merrick Garland wouldn’t take such a chance but also realize that he’s human. You are always the first to espouse the virtues of the Constitution, so don’t forget that in this country everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
For the time being, we should assume that the DOJ had good reason to go into Mar-a-Lago when they did. We do know that Mr. Trump brought with him at least a dozen boxes of documents when he left the White House last year. We know that someone flushed torn-up notes, and that at least one former White House official claims she saw him discard or carry away documents that are supposed to be preserved. We know that officials were at Mar-a-Lago in June on a more ‘cordial’ basis, and it stands to reason that they would have taken care of this matter back then if they could have. Let’s face it: it’s hard not to speculate.
And that’s okay, so long as we admit to ourselves and everyone else that our speculations are based on opinion and pretty much nothing else. You see, the ones who drive this speculation – the game masters if you will – are politicians and the media. They’re all spinning this and looking for a way to gain by it.
We should be careful not to fall into that trap, yet we always seem to join in the chorus like the trained monkeys we’ve become. The rhetoric about the Mar-a-Lago search being a Banana Republic move is absurd – and more than just a little ironic when you think about it. ‘Banana Republic’ refers to the dictatorships down island and in Central America, where a strong man ruled with an iron fist and could do anything he liked. Those guys would not have requested a search warrant; they would just take what they want and disappear anyone who tried to get in their way.
In the United States of America, we have a process for a search like the one at Mar-a-Lago. A government agency (here, the U.S. Dept. of Justice) applies to a judge for a search warrant. The application must cite the crime that is thought to have been committed, and why a subpoena will not suffice – usually because there’s a real danger that the evidence will be destroyed or secreted away. Accompanying this application is an affidavit, sworn under the pains and penalties of perjury, describing in detail the facts upon which the application is based. Sometimes these warrant applications are turned down because the judge is not convinced it is necessary. When they are issued, there’s always a good reason.
This process is carried out every single day somewhere in this country. And former presidents, who are not above the law, are subject to the same warrants. Does this sound like ‘Banana Republic’ stuff?
I’ll tell you what would be ‘Banana Republic,’ and that’s allowing a politician to manipulate the masses into sending him or her to the White House with a mandate that the politician can do whatever he or she likes – legal or illegal – so long as they give their supporters what they want politically. The best way to do this would be to create an ‘enemy’ of the ‘righteous’ people, ratchet up the paranoia about that ‘enemy’, and get these ‘righteous’ ones so angry and worried that they’ll do practically anything that politician says. Meanwhile, the politician lies, says things are true without any proof, does nefarious things behind the voters’ backs, flirts with or even breaks the law, and maybe profits off the office. Whenever he gets caught, he simply blames the ‘enemy’ for victimizing him. That’s ‘Banana Republic.’
So, enough of the rhetorical claptrap! It’s hurting all of us by weakening our system of government. Let’s give the DOJ the benefit of the doubt. The truth will come out eventually. The Mar-a-Lago search had to have been done for one of three reasons: a) for nefarious political gain, b) out of stupidity but with good intent, or c) because they know something we don’t know. I’m betting it’s (b) or (c), but we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?
“Through the unknown, we’ll find the new.” — Charles Baudelaire
I was recently poking through some online articles about the paranormal. Specifically, I wanted to get some sense of the scientific community’s take on what makes us believe in things that (they say) cannot be proven, or simply don’t exist. My purpose was to include such noise in my next novel, which will be coming out later this year.
The Scientific Community Says No Way to Paranormal Activity.
The scientific community won’t touch such topics as demons and time alteration. The brainiest theoretical physicists WILL tell you there is dark matter and dark energy out there in the cosmos, even though it can’t be seen or touched. They’ll ALSO tell you that two sub-particles can instantaneously “communicate” across light-year distances. Then, in the same breath, they’ll tell you that ghosts and UFOs and cryptids are a lot of hokum.
Why? Because such things have never been created or measured in a lab. We don’t have a Bigfoot in the San Diego Zoo, or a flying saucer on display at the Smithsonian. Ghosts cannot be summoned at random, and they don’t seem inclined to tell us their secrets anyway. Most of the scientific community, ever mindful that their paychecks come mostly from research grants given out by very practical people, won’t even touch the subject of mental telepathy or clairvoyance. To do so might ruin their reputation as serious research scientists. Better to dismiss such things as parlor tricks.
History Tells a Different Story.
Yet, the scientists we remember throughout history were first thought to be crackpots, or worse, heretics. (You say the earth isn’t the center of the universe? Are you mad?) Maybe they weren’t worried about losing a government grant, but Copernicus and Galileo literally risked their necks to stand by their cosmological theories that proved correct in the end.
In fairness, they were acting as real scientists. They studied and experimented and used math. Witnesses to paranormal phenomena, on the other hand, are almost always non-scientists, people who have never set foot in a lab. They provide iffy evidence like pictures of footprints or flying things that shouldn’t be there—the paranormal caught on camera or videos of things being tossed around a kitchen by invisible hands. Things that—let’s face it—can be duplicated by any competent Hollywood FX master.
Psychology as Explanation?
An article that struck me in my recent search was one in which just about EVERYTHING paranormal was explained away with psychology, as in imagination and hallucination. This is nothing new. Psychologists love to play this game because it validates their profession. But what about the people who experience things with a clear mind? People who show no evidence whatsoever of being off-kilter or having any motive to lie?
Evidence Exists, Interest Does Not.
The reason for my annoyance with the scientific community is that they’ll spend billions on a particle accelerator, but they won’t spend a dime on paranormal investigation of a hominid that could turn evolutionary theory on its head, or UFOs (excuse me, UAPs – Unidentified Aerial Phenomena). Even the military is now admitting they exist, and they have images and testimony from military pilots to back their claim. Why aren’t we spending billions chasing down the truth about what UAPs are, where they come from, and most importantly, why they are here?
Maybe the government and academic establishments really don’t want to know the truth. Maybe they prefer that scientists focus on boring things like particles too small to see and far-away astronomical phenomena too complex to understand. The existence and nature of such things is only controversial among the scientific community. They don’t threaten our religious institutions or governmental sovereignty. In other words, they don’t hit too close to home.
Skeptics Prevail but Believers Persist.
Admitting that we are not in control of our surroundings as much as we’d like to be is just unthinkable for the skeptics. So, they put weak evidence under the spotlight and ignore the truly compelling evidence. Project Blue Book, the government’s longest (known) UFO investigation project, did it from 1952 to 1969, and look at where we are now. Latter-day skeptics are as guilty of hiding their heads in the sand as the naysayers of old who insisted that pictures could never be sent through the air and gathered up on a screen in our living rooms. I mean, imagine that hocus-pocus!
For now, we’ll just have to keep on relying on those stalwart amateur investigators who aren’t afraid to be labeled crackpots or ghost hunters. The truth is out there, and as Bob Dylan said, Step aside if you can’t lend a hand.
For those interested in good paranormal fiction, my latest published novel, The Lord of Malice, tackles the topic of demonic forces and how they get us in their grip. Written to be appealing to both adults and youth, The Lord of Malice is in the categories of both paranormal books for adults and good books for young adults. Check it out here:
Also among good supernatural books to read is another of my novels, Sumner Island, which explores the nature of time and how it might be altered, as well as reincarnation and a host of other topics. Check it out: https://www.amazon.com/Sumner-Island-Michael-Cormier-ebook/dp/B09FH6PWBK/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2NCYFFVL7TJXY&keywords=sumner+island+michael+cormier&qid=1641426599&sprefix=sumner+island+michael+cormier%2Caps%2C111&sr=8-1)
This is dedicated to all the nurses, doctors and scientists worldwide who are fighting on the frontlines every day to save lives and eradicate Covid-19.
Last week I posted about the Rittenhouse and Arbery trials. My post elicited a spirited response, an encouraging one thanks mostly to an old friend who disagreed with some of my points and had some to make himself—all in a civil, constructive debate.
Today, something equally, if not more, controversial is on my mind: Covid-19. The new Omicron variant is coming our way, just in time for the holidays. It will spread rapidly, causing yet another wave of infections, and it couldn’t come at a worse time, not only because of the holidays with all the travel and family gatherings but because the U.S. and other countries have recently relaxed restrictions and opened borders. Borders will have to close again; travel restrictions will be beefed up. It’s back to Square One.
This morning, I read a post on Facebook from a friend of a friend, a nurse who treats Covid patients every day. Like so many other nurses and doctors, she’s been depressed because of the toll Covid is taking, and the helpless feeling of watching patients die needlessly. Her message was simple: Be aware of what is actually happening. Use a mask and get vaccinated. It’s worth a little discomfort and inconvenience.
When the post was shared on another person’s Facebook, one of the responses contained the query (paraphrased here), “Why do hospitals deny patients Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine with z-pack if what they’re already administering doesn’t work?” A fair question, assuming what she meant is “If there is no other hope…”. This nurse went on to explain in great detail that these drugs were tried and neither had any effect in the vast majority of patients. The drugs were found to actually cause harm or even kill some patients. She went on to list several medications they do use in her facility, such as vancomycin, Zosyn, ceftriaxone, Levaquin, and cefepime. What this nurse was trying to get across was that every good doctor or nurse abides by Hippocrates’ ancient admonition, “First, do no harm.”
Now, this Facebook Q&A centered on treatment, not prevention. But it points up a huge problem we have in this country with regard to Covid and its prevention and treatment. In the age of online sharing of information by admitted amateurs, we tend to believe what we want to believe. Why? Because we don’t get our information directly from the source any longer. We get it from friends and acquaintances—many of whom we’ve never met in person and know almost nothing about—who heard it from someone who heard it from someone else. Nine times out of ten, each source injected bias and misinformation. The other blame belongs to the media. Folks, I’m not just picking on Fox and Breitbart but CNN, MSNBC, and pretty much all the stations and newspapers and podcasts out there. There’s too much opinion slinging and ratings-grabbing, and not enough bare facts these days. Sure, ratings and subscriptions have always been important, but in the old days, you raised your ratings and subscriptions by bringing your customers scoops, exclusives, and above all, accuracy. Facts mattered because journalists knew that credibility was their stock in trade.
All of that has been gradually going out the window for decades. Nowadays, with so many media outlets competing for consumers, each news agency carefully selects what they think you want to hear about. They present it in terms that slant a certain way. And you, their bread and butter, gobble it up. Not because it’s necessarily true or even relevant, but because it’s the flavor you like best. Hence, our country is splitting into warring camps recruited by media personalities and politicians (more on the politicians further on).
Part of the problem stems from the fact that no one trusts scientists or the government. We’ve been led astray too many times. They told us marijuana had no value and that it would only lead to harsher drugs—then, when governments and corporations figured out ways to profit from it, we suddenly had legalization, which has led to all sorts of helpful THC-based remedies. Similarly, they told us that UFOs didn’t exist—until the military leaked videos showing that they really do exist. This was followed by hundreds of reports from pilots and police and all manner of reliable witnesses who have seen them.
But I digress. The point is that there are good reasons so many are skeptical of what they are told. Yet the right information is out there on that same wonderful internet we use to exchange opinions. You just have to take the time to look for it, digest it, evaluate it against other sources, and decide what is true based on facts rather than half-baked information. Doing so reveals two things: masks help a lot, and vaccines are very safe and effective. And yet people have been told all sorts of wild things, such as the vaccine is used to inject some kind of nano-sized tracker which can be proved by running a magnet over the site where the vaccine was injected. They’ve also been told that mandating masks is an infringement on a person’s personal rights protected under the U.S. Constitution and that it’s part of a slippery slope leading to other infringements on freedom.
But mask mandates and vaccines are not nearly as radical as you might think. Throughout our history, and especially since the dawn of the industrial/technological era, the U.S. government has stepped in to do similar things. During the Second World War, the government rationed gasoline, materials like nylon, certain foods, and all sorts of other items because they were needed for the war effort. In the ’50s and ’60s, the polio vaccine was required before a child could attend public school. Anyone who has seen the old footage of a kid in an iron lung can understand why.
Getting a Covid vaccine and wearing a mask is no different. In fact, you could say that doing these things is as patriotic as going to war to fight terrorists. In this case, the terrorists are microscopic, and masks and vaccines are offensive weapons for taking out those terrorists before they can do any more damage. Just as in the fall of 2001, we’re a nation in crisis; we’ve been suffering through that crisis for nearly two years now. Three-quarters of a million Americans are dead.
How many more will have to die before we begin to see that sound science, although not perfect, is still our best path to beating Covid? We need to stop being political about it and start realizing that we are one nation and that our nation needs these small sacrifices—the inconvenience of wearing a mask and taking a tiny poke in the arm—as a way of battling the enemy, just as Americans sacrificed so much during World War II.
When in doubt, we need to act like adults. We must take the time to educate ourselves instead of blindly listening to the media who are in it for profit, or politicians who’ll say anything to get elected. The only reliable sources—the only ones we have no choice but to trust—are the medical scientists. Sometimes they’re wrong, no doubt. But look at how much they’ve done right over the decades! We trust them to cut us open and fix a bad heart that would have killed that same patient a hundred years ago. We trust them to deliver our babies. We trust them to save our lives when we are severely injured in an accident. Why shouldn’t we give them the credit they deserve, and a chance to help us, so we can kiss Covid goodbye instead of our loved ones?
Doctors—not politicians, media, or Uncle Fred—are the only ones who abide by an oath that says, “First, do no harm.” Give truth and science a chance.
This week, verdicts were rendered in two murder trials. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges against him for killing two men and injuring a third. In Brunswick, Georgia, all three defendants were found guilty in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
Spoiler alert: I agree with both juries and their findings on all counts. I’m not alone, but my reasons may differ from others, so read on.
For those not entirely familiar, Kyle Rittenhouse is the kid who went to Kenosha during the riots there in August 2020. Only 17 at the time, his explanation was that he wanted to protect property from looters and administer medical aid. Rittenhouse lived in Illinois, so he had to cross state lines to get to Kenosha. Too young to purchase the gun he carried, an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, he had an older friend buy it for him in Wisconsin. Ironically, that friend may be facing serious prison time for supplying a gun to a minor resulting in death, while the minor who pulled the trigger, and was tried as an adult, is walking free today.
Armed with his new toy, on August 25, 2020, Rittenhouse spent the evening walking the streets of Kenosha loaded for bear. He has always maintained that he carried the assault rifle only for protection, but he could just as easily have protected himself with a holstered handgun. By the way, it should be pointed out that he wasn’t the only amateur enforcer there that night. Unsanctioned militiamen calling themselves the Kenosha Guard came to Kenosha to play army, too. There’ no evidence, of which I’m aware, that they inspired Rittenhouse. I only mention this because the presence of these self-appointed militiamen has been blamed by some for escalating the violence.
But back to Kyle. Here’s this high school kid, too young to buy the gun he’s carrying, too young to join the military, too young even to order a beer or buy cigarettes, playing soldier with real ammunition. Pictures and videos show him walking around in a backwards baseball cap, locked and loaded, a boy who had yet to shed his baby fat. During his testimony, and upon the reading of the verdict, he broke down like a blubbering child. Not a tough, battle-hardened cop or soldier, but a child not mature or sensible enough to understand what he was getting himself into.
Others besides Rittenhouse and the militia members were carrying firearms that fateful night. However, most weapons were rocks, debris, and incendiary devices. Rittenhouse got in the thick of this, and amid the confusion, he shot and killed two men and wounded another. He claimed it was all done in self-defense, and the jury bought it.
“Rittenhouse, in essence, was the victor of a state-sanctioned duel — when everyone is armed, whomever squeezes the trigger first gets to claim self-defense.” — Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 22. 2021
The aftermath of the trial has been just as disturbing. Rittenhouse, it seems, has become the darling of conservative-leaning media, politicians, and activists. He was reportedly offered, or at least considered, for a Congressional internship; there was even talk of him running for office. Rittenhouse has never spent a day in college and has no experience that would qualify him for any of this. Based solely on his visit to Kenosha, he has become the poster boy for far right-wingers wanting to thumb their noses at gun control advocates.
Rittenhouse was interviewed on Fox, and the same station is working on a documentary based on footage and interviews collected during the trial and after. That’s right, even before a verdict was ever reached, the conservative media was preparing to turn the kid into an example of the oppression that supporters of the Second Amendment have to endure. Donald Trump, never one to pass up an opportunity to draw attention to himself, got his picture taken with Rittenhouse. Smiling for the camera, both flashed the thumbs-up sign. Seriously.
Some will go on hailing Rittenhouse as an example of why the Second Amendment exists, namely self-defense. They will be wrong. But don’t misunderstand me. Under Wisconsin law the verdict was fair, if highly unpalatable. Rittenhouse’s attorneys did a superb job of proving that the boy only shot out of a reasonable fear of being killed himself. After listening to all witnesses and seeing the video footage, a jury reasonably inferred from the evidence that this was the case.
But here’s the thing: he shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Not just because of his age, but because Kyle Rittenhouse was asking for trouble in an already volatile place. Instead of helping the situation, he escalated it. Instead of handling things right, as a trained officer or National Guardsman would have, he put himself squarely into circumstances he had no more business being in the middle of than the other rioters and looters.
Now, some of you may be thinking I’m one of those gun haters who want to take your guns away. You’d be wrong on both counts. I don’t hate guns; I hate what they do when put in the wrong hands in the wrong situation. I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe it’s every person’s right to arm themselves for protection or even for sport. I just don’t believe in a wild west version of settling disputes and meting out justice.
Which brings me to the second trial, the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial in Georgia.
Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man, had just committed the crime of going inside an unfinished, unsecured house under construction. In other words, he committed a trespass, a misdemeanor under Georgia law. For his crime, Arbery is dead. On the other hand, videos show that several people, including young White kids, had gone in the building as well, likely out of simple curiosity because, like Arbery, they didn’t steal anything. These kids probably got a stiff lecture from their parents and maybe a loss of privileges. At least that was the punishment my parents gave me for doing exactly same thing.
Without getting into all the facts, which are available elsewhere on the internet, Arbery was hunted down by three white men, Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan. The first two were armed with a shotgun and handgun, respectively, and the third carried only a phone camera. Arbery was unarmed. After chasing Arbery up and down neighborhood streets, the three finally cornered him between their two trucks. A scuffle ensued during which Arbery was shot three times by Travis McMichael. Arbery collapsed and died on the street.
Claiming self-defense, the three defendants walked free for a while. At the time, there was a law on the books allowing a citizen’s arrest where a felony has been committed and the arrestors have first-hand knowledge of the crime, and the three claimed that was what they were exercising. But Arbery hadn’t committed a felony at all. Further, his pursuers had only heard from others that this might be the perp who’d been committing crimes in the neighborhood. None of them had any real knowledge of what Arbery had or had not done.
Much has been made of the racial implications of this case, but for our purposes here, that’s a red herring. Suffice it to say that a good circumstantial case could be made out for a hate crime. One of the defense attorneys, Laura Hogue, didn’t help matters when, in her bumbling closing argument, she described Arbery as having long, dirty toenails, an apparent reference to runaway slaves. Her comment elicited gasps from the gallery and condemnation by much of the media covering the trial. Such a misstep shows that she was either foolish or desperate, apparently thinking that race-baiting the nearly all white jury might get an acquittal for her client, Greg McMichael.
It backfired. Aside from sullying her reputation, her client may have grounds for an ineffective assistance of counsel appeal. Why do I say this? Because this jury of 11 Whites and one Black (thanks to peremptory challenges by the defense), completely rejected her Jim Crow gambit. Together, these good citizens sent a message: Don’t ask us to go along with your game. This is the 21st century. It’s wrong to go around toting dangerous weapons and using them on the streets against anyone. Period.
But the lesson from the Arbery case (among other lessons not covered here) is that it’s a bad idea to go around playing cops and robbers. Just as in the Rittenhouse case, unless you have a badge or official military garb, you have no better authority to be carrying a gun than anyone else on the street. Your intentions are never going to be clear. The Arbery case accentuates this notion because Travis McMichael is a Coast Guard veteran, and his father Greg is a former law enforcement officer. Both were trained in deescalating violence yet look what happened with them. Injecting yourself into a dangerous conflict while carrying a firearm is just asking for trouble. Someone is likely to get hurt or worse.
For this reason, the Georgia legislature has since repealed its citizen’s arrest law. More needs to be done, however. Better gun laws—sensible gun laws—are needed throughout this country. Just yesterday, news stations reported that Philadelphia had reached 500 homicides for the year. How many of them were caused by guns?
Guns should be regulated, but there are ways to do this without taking them away from law-abiding citizens. If a law had been in place in Wisconsin requiring a minimum jail sentence for any unauthorized person carrying a gun during a declared emergency, Rittenhouse may not have come to Kenosha. Even if he defied such a law, he would be doing time right now, sending a message to all others who would consider doing the same.
Likewise, if a strict law had been on the books in Georgia forbidding the carrying of a firearm on a public street, Ahmaud Arbery might still be alive. The police showed up shortly after Arbery was shot, meaning that his pursuers could have easily let the police know which direction he’d gone and let them handle it. That’s what responsible neighborhood watch groups do. It’s what police instruct them to do: be the eyes and ears, but don’t take the law into your own hands.
Of course, there will always be resistance to regulation and restriction on use of firearms, and I get that. Second Amendment advocates feel any regulation is a slippery slope leading to a full ban. That’s part of the reason it’s so difficult to get any sensible laws passed. It’s a hot button, a topic fraught with emotion much like abortion rights. No one wants to act like adults and look for common ground. Instead, everything is turned into a political statement. Politicians divide us to get elected. Media stars press our buttons so they can get better ratings. Meanwhile, we are destroying ourselves—but what do they care?
Three men are dead. Three men are going to jail for a long time. These cases are only a small example of what is wrong with America today. We are all victims—but also enablers—in a game of manipulation and deceit. We take sides in an all-or-nothing, take-no-prisoners war. No one wins this war. We’ll all lose in the end unless we begin to realize who the enemy really is.
A story of love and redemption
At Harvard, Jennifer Collins and Brian Thomas were inseparable. Sharing a love of the outdoors almost as deep as their love for one another, the two dreamed of trekking the Asian backcountry together after graduation.
But before they could fulfill their dream, Jen broke off their engagement without an explanation. Devastated, Brian ran off to Asia by himself and never came back.
It’s seven years later, and the two have run into each other at a business convention in Boston, where they’ve quickly discovered their love never faded. But there’s a complication: Jen is now married.
I offer several services to new and existing clients, which are described below. But first, something about what we all want to know as early as possible: what will this cost?
FEES AND TERMS:
Please note that I do not have set prices for most assignmnents, simply because I need to fully understand the project first. Thus I will always ask to speak with you by phone, so that we may both be clear on the extent of the project. After that, we’ll discuss fees and costs.
Normally, I don’t ask for full payment up front, either. I say “normally” because some projects are so limited in scope – for example, a press release – that they’re easy to quote. But for most assignments I will typically ask for installments, the same way a building contractor would. A partial advance payment will be expected at the start of the project, then once that portion is finished and approved I will ask for the next payment before proceeding to the next portion, and so on. If you change your mind midway, the work product you’ve paid for up to that point belongs to you.
Copywriting comprises a wide range of services. Typically, it conveys a message to the public for marketing a product or service, but not always. It can be an internal corporate piece, such as a company newsletter. For this reason, a variety of writing styles is incorporated. For example, an email blast or short promo will read much differently from a position paper.
The following are the copywriting pieces I generally do:
- blog articles
- landing page content
- short promos
- email blasts
- catalog content
- position papers
- white papers
- press releases
- feature stories
- reviews (books, movies)
- book blurbs
Note that I often provide my own photography in conjunction with some pieces, such as brochures. For an example of my photography, click on Sample Brochure under the menu header Portfolio.
Ghostwriting is a whole different ball of wax. As the name suggests, the author of the project always remains anonymous, unless instructed otherwise. Many full-length books have been ghostwritten, from textbooks to autobiographies. Other typical ghostwritten pieces are blog posts, screenplays, speeches, reports, white papers, memoirs, even some fiction. Authoring credit is usually given to the client and not the ghostwriter. It’s lonely being a ghost, but also quite satisfying when the piece makes my client shine.
For obvious reasons, I do not share examples of my anonymous work. But you can get a pretty good idea about my style by looking at Why, Brother Why?, a memoir I wrote with Gerry Brewster. If interested, I can forward a sample from that book for your review.
There are two basic kinds of editors: copy editors and content editors. I edit copy, following AP Style. However, content editing is, admittedly, my forte. If you need help putting your paper, article, report, etc., in shape so that it reads concisely and nicely, without changing the general content and thrust, that’s what I’m here for.
This is one of my favorites. Since I’ve written quite a variety of stuff over the years, I can honestly say I’m comfortable producing blog articles for most posting. Sports, law, the television and movie industry, music, human resources, horses, space and astronomy, travel – I’m not only comfortable with all of these subjects, I look forward to writing about them.
Check out my Portfolio, and then contact me via my Contact Me page in the menu, describing your need. I will get back to you promptly.
I look forward to discussing your project.
The Conjuring 2
The Conjuring 2, which hits theaters June 10, is the second entry in what could very well become a long-lived franchise, a la Paranormal Activity. For this reason, I think it deserves a preview.
Okay, I confess I’m also a fan of its hero and heroine, Ed and Lorraine Warren. For those not familiar, the Warrens were pioneers in the realm of paranormal investigation, two of the most famous and controversial ghost hunters and demon fighters of the sixties and seventies. Like their contemporaries, Hans Holzer and Cybil Leek, the Warrens believed a scientific approach to the phenomenon could only go so far, and that parapsychological methods were required to draw out and fight malevolent entities.
In the first Conjuring – a surprise box office hit a few years back – the Warrens came to the rescue of the Perron family after malevolent spirits targeted their young daughters. A somewhat dull and predictable spinoff, Annabelle, followed, but it had little to do with the Perron case. In Conjuring 2, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are back as Mr. and Mrs. Warren, and this time they travel to the London borough of Enfield to help another family in need. Though it’s been pointed out that the Warrens were not involved in the real case nearly as much as the movie suggests, for most moviegoers this fact won’t matter. The real stars of most haunted house films are the ones who get no billing: the ghosts themselves. It’s the same with every ghost hunting show on cable TV (and there are plenty of them these days). No one’s expected to know or care much about the people who suffer; only about what’s afflicting them.
Which is why The Conjuring 2 should do well at the box office. It’s another hair raiser, promising moody backlighting and ghouls popping up in mirror shots and dark bedroom corners. This is a Hollywood production, after all, and Hollywood seldom deviates from a tried-and-true formula, even when it stretches the truth. The studios know what works: suspenseful buildups followed by a sudden gotcha. Ghost movies rely almost entirely on mood for scares, because ghosty things don’t typically run around wearing ugly masks and carrying chain saws.
But The Conjuring series seems designed for more than cheap scares. The trailers I’ve seen focus on the ghost hunters more than anything else. For the first time, the ghost hunters are the stars. Moreover, they accurately portray the Warrens as the ordinary couple next door that they were, and not otherworldly in their own right. Though Lorraine has a psychic gift (Lorraine is still living; Ed died in 2006), the couple are in Enfield only to discover what manner of vermin infests this house and chase it off. Ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances.
It’s a refreshing change from the old-style flicks where, if there were paranormal researchers involved at all, more than likely they were accomplices with a hidden agenda – or just plain weirdos – than anything else. Hollywood didn’t take ghost chasers any more seriously than the rest of us. (The Legend of Hell House (1973), Poltergeist (1982) and The House on Haunted Hill (1999) come to mind.) But in the new millennia the mysterious and eccentric ghost chaser doesn’t work anymore, and there’s good reason for that. In an age where all things seem not only possible but provable, including spirits and Bigfoot and little gray men from outer space, we view paranormal investigators more as sincere truth seekers, even quasi-scientists, instead of the charlatans and fruitbats they were once considered. Which is why so many so-called “reality” shows are devoted to the investigation of the paranormal and cryptozoology nowadays. The “reality” isn’t the mysterious objects of investigation – the jury’s still out on that. The reality part is the investigators and their work. They’re genuine, even if we’re not entirely convinced their ghost boxes and voice recorders really pick up anything but static and radio interference. Our attitude is that they’re at least brave enough to seek the truth. And that’s enough.
Which brings me to the Enfield haunting itself. The real events took place from 1977-1979, and like most poltergeist cases, it involved two adolescent girls. It began with something Exorcist-ish like bed shaking, and furniture moving by itself. Soon there was knocking, and later on, levitation and disembodied voices. A prank put on by two mischievous young girls? Some thought so. In fact, many thought so, and for the next couple of years people came from far and wide to witness the longest poltergeist haunting in history.
Two camps quickly formed: the believers and the non-believers. The non-believers included a magician, who claimed that every incident could be explained as mere sleight of hand. Other skeptics said they actually witnessed the girls trying to fool observers. But others, like a woman police officer, swore they saw furniture levitate and witnessed bricks and other objects fly across the room. Of course there were natural explanations for these phenomena, too, said the skeptics. And maybe there were, at least for some of them. For instance, some witnesses swore that one of the girls purposely sprang off the bed to make it appear she was being tossed about by an unseen force. Is it possible the girl felt she had to put on a show when observers showed up? Who knows what goes through an adolescent girl’s mind when she’s under pressure to perform.
The point is, even if there was some sleight of hand, that doesn’t mean the whole thing was a hoax. That’s the trouble with trying to prove the existence of something most people can’t experience with the five senses. Sooner or later someone decides, for whatever reason, to see if they can put one past us, like that photo of the Loch Ness Monster taken in 1934 that turned out to be a toy mockup. A lot of crop circles are almost certainly man-made, and it stands to reason that those Bigfoot videos feature a fair number of ordinary men dressed in ordinary gorilla suits, or bears walking on their hind legs. It’s going to happen. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that ghosts (and demons, for that matter) can’t exist. As I pointed out in my novel, Sumner Island, if three or four centuries ago you had claimed pictures could be instantly transmitted through the air to a little screen thousands of miles away, you would have risked being burned at the stake.
It’s possible that spirits are as real and as common as us fleshies, yet we just haven’t figured out what they are and how to communicate with them in a meaningful way. For now, we “nonsensitives” who’ve never experienced a real ghost, but still believe there has to be something to the phenomena, will have to go on studying other people’s experiences. For us, the Enfield poltergeist is a real gem. It’s been written about in numerous books and analyzed in television documentaries. Though it occurred back in the late seventies, for poltergeist believers it remains one of the more popular case studies. And there’s a whole lot of information out there to study. You might call it the Amityville Horror of Britain – a paranormal case that still attracts plenty of interest, in spite of the skepticism.
Now, it’s been made into a major motion picture. And the Warrens are the stars of not one but two films about paranormal investigation. Never mind that the phenomena they encounter in the movie version will probably be exaggerated, wildly perhaps. What the popularity of the Conjuring franchise suggests is that people are warming to the idea that ghost hunters are empathetic movie heroes. They have a job to do, a valid one, and they take it seriously. So should we. Not necessarily because Hollywood can be trusted to depict what they do and experience in a realistic way, but because we know there’s something to this whole ghost thing, psychological or not. And, to borrow a phrase, the truth is out there. But we’ll never prove that truth, one way or the other, without investigation and, ultimately, exposure. For this reason, The Conjuring 2 is a major achievement, even before it hits the theaters.
By Michael Cormier
One More Look at…
GO SET A WATCHMAN, by Harper Lee
Last year’s biggest literary event was the appearance of Harper Lee’s first novel in over half a century, Go Set a Watchman (HarperCollins). It’s been analyzed, theorized and criticized more than Donald Trump’s combover, but I think it bears one more look under the microscope now that it’s had a chance to age a few months.
Like so many other baby boomers, the name Harper Lee was burned into my psyche in high school. Back then her 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was required reading. The story of a sleepy southern town torn apart by racism during the Great Depression had been around a decade and a half by then. I don’t recall being struck so much by the subject matter – in the years since its publication America had progressed through desegregation, the Civil Rights Act, even the bussing controversy. What did leave an impression were the two main characters: Scout Finch and her father Atticus.
To Kill A Mockingbird is narrated by Scout (a/k/a Jean Louise) as an adult recalling two childhood years that left a mark on her. A headstrong and irascible tomboy, Scout took us gently by the hand and walked us through two sultry summers spent chasing after the phantom Boo Radley. Her brother Jem, and friend Dill, accompanied us, but it was Scout’s innocent words and deeds that kept us so entertained.
And then there was Atticus.
If ever there was a genuine literary and cinematic hero (Gregory Peck won the Academy Award for his portrayal in the 1962 movie), it’s Atticus Finch. Atticus is the embodiment of the quietly dignified man standing up for what he believes is right in the face of overwhelming opposition. He’s the father figure we all long for and aspire to be. In his quiet way he taught us about human dignity. Since then, the name Atticus has become practically a household word. It conjures up the best things in human nature, things we strive for in our quieter moments, when life’s pressures aren’t pushing our darker buttons.
But Atticus isn’t real.
Atticus never was real. To Kill A Mockingbird and the trial of Tom Robinson aren’t real. They may be based on real people to some extent, sure. But this is fiction, and Harper Lee never intended for us to believe Atticus really existed. And therein lies the source of the anguish experienced by so many upon reading her second novel, Go Set A Watchman.
The book takes place twenty years after To Kill A Mockingbird. Jean Louise (as she now prefers) is a young woman with a career in New York. She has come back to Maycomb, Alabama, for a visit with her father and a handful of older relatives, as well as her would-be suitor, Henry. Jem is gone, having died a couple of years before, and Dill is off somewhere in the world pursuing his own life away from Maycomb. That leaves Jean Louise and Atticus to catch up on what’s going on in their lives.
At this point the story is classic Harper Lee. Jean Louise, we discover, hasn’t changed much. Though far more worldly than Scout, all the dresses and makeup can’t hide the independent, outspoken, rule-bending personality she never lost. We delight in her exploits that get the town gossiping. We cheer her on as she decides for herself whether Henry is right for her, rather than caving in to everyone else’s opinion. Here’s our Scout at it again!
As Watchman chugs along, and we wrap ourselves in warm reminiscences from Jean Louise’s childhood that would easily have fit into Mockingbird, our destination seems predictable. This is just another going home story; or more accurately, a you-can never-go-home story. Like all such stories, it preys on our longing for the simple little places and events of our childhood. Then wham! We crash into a wall of realization that those places never were and those events didn’t happen that way.
Only, in the case of Watchman, the wall Jean Louise encounters is built of racial slurs and racist attitudes that would make any civilized person of the twenty-first century cringe. And who is right in the thick of it? Dear Lord, not him!
Our reaction is much like Jean Louise’s: sickening shock followed by anger. Apparently some readers – people who grew up loving Atticus Finch almost to the point of worship – have felt something more, something stronger: resentment. Not necessarily toward Atticus, but toward the author herself. How could she do this, how could she turn this perfect man into a racist? How could she take everything we had come to believe about him, and what his good character said about the rest of us, and turn it into a lie?
This is where the controversy erupted last summer over the very existence of the book. It was a sellout, some whined. The author’s last-minute effort to make a huge pile of money in her twilight years. The book never should have come to light. Granted, Watchman was written back in the fifties, possibly before Lee even wrote Mockingbird, but she should have made a choice between the two and stuck with it. And that choice, they opined indignantly, should have been To Kill A Mockingbird.
I admit to being one of those who put the book down after finishing it, scratching my head, and wondering what Miss Lee was up to. If she had just left well enough alone then Atticus’s legacy would have lived on forever, a beacon of goodness and light in a world of dark corruption. But now his legacy was stained. It was like she’d just told us Jesus himself was a racist. Setting aside the financial theory (which I still refuse to believe), I wondered why any writer would do it? What purpose could she have had in building a legend in one book, only to tear it down in another?
This irked me for a day or two before the simple truth finally hit me. She had to do it.
Like a Greek tragedy, Atticus had grown too big for his breeches and had to be brought down a notch. The old Atticus couldn’t stay relevant in a society that no longer believes in much of anything. A society that hides behind sloganeering and little flag pins on lapels, politically correct phrases and the invocation of God in the face of declining church attendance. A world in which we are so imperfect, yet expect so much of ourselves that we can’t help but fail.
If Harper Lee had kept quiet we could have all gone on viewing Atticus Finch as representative of the perfection we pretend to strive for. But then he would be about as useful as all the sloganeering and politically-correct phrasing. Just as we’re not going to, for example, “make America great again” (how do you even define “great,” and when did America stop being great?), Atticus was never really that beacon of light guiding us toward righteousness. We forget that Atticus is a fictional depiction of a human, not a god. And all humans are flawed.
It seems what Harper Lee meant to do in Watchman is bring Atticus back down to earth. To tell us (apologies to Paul Harvey) the “rest of the story.” Mockingbird, it turns out, was merely a snapshot taken during a small portion of a man’s life, as observed by a young girl. During that short time, Atticus Finch, a product of a racist southern-town upbringing, gathered up all of his courage and conviction and defended a black man despite the backlash he knew it would cause. It was his finest hour. But it couldn’t last. Because Atticus Finch, like the rest of us, is only human.
And, like the rest of us, part of Atticus’s human frailty festers in the deepest recesses of his mind. Yes Atticus, it turns out, is a racist. That doesn’t make him evil, and it doesn’t make him poison for the rest of us. It makes him flawed. And that’s why Watchman is a remarkable achievement, if not a remarkable novel. What Harper Lee does is remind us that we can all rise to the level Atticus achieved during the Tom Robinson trial, but we shouldn’t expect to rise that high all the time. Most of all, just because we can’t doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Atticus is still one of my all-time heroes. He deserves it. His explanation to Jean Louise of his point of view in Watchman is so like the thinking of that time period, it makes him more real. And what changed Jim Crow and segregation and every ugly, shameful thing this country once stood for was ordinary, flawed people rising at the right time and taking on the status quo. Atticus doesn’t do that in Watchman. But you get the feeling he could. More important, you’re hopeful that someday he will again.
By Michael Cormier