Sunday, July 31, 2011

What would Hawley do?

There has been so much chatter, I am guessing nationwide but certainly here in her home state of Fladidah, about how Casey Anthony got away with it.  & maybe she did. Or maybe she was just a really lousy parent.  I have an opinion myself & that opinion is...if I am ever accused of murder, I want the jury sequestered.

But enough about Casey Anthony (please, ENOUGH), lets look back on another murderer everyone knew was guilty & did not get away with it.  Today in 1910, Hawley Harvey Crippen was arrested for the murder of his wife, Cora.  He was apprehended while crossing the Atlantic Ocean with his mistress who was disguised as a boy.  He denied murdering his wife right up until he was hanged.  When asked why he ran, why the disguise, etc. he said he didn't think anyone would believe he didn't kill his wife.  The book Thunderstruck, which is about a lot of other things as well as the Crippen case, describes the media frenzy that surrounded the murder & manhunt.  For decades, the whole business was lauded as a triumph of police technique...until....

Until almost right away,  frankly. There were a number of problems with the investigation, including the idea of Mrs. Crippen as a hapless victim, & the problems have only multiplied over the years.  In 2007 a research group tested one sample of DNA from the remains found in the Crippen home (where Mr. Crippen disposed of his wife's torso, after moving her head, hands, & pretty much the rest of her elsewhere, never to be found) with DNA from contemporary descendants of Mrs. Crippen's half-sister & found no match.  They also found the remains from the Crippen's home were from a man.  & it gets better...or worse if you are Crippen.  Letters that alleged to be from Mrs. Crippen, alive & well & living in the US written to himself in prison, although neither he nor his lawyers were ever told such a letter existed.

So maybe Casey Anthony was really just the worst mother imaginable, but not actually a murderer.  Kind of like Gary Condit was not the world's best husband & was maybe sleeping with a federal intern but did not actually kill her.  Or William Michael Dillon, another party-loving young Floridian who served more than 25 years of a life sentence before DNA evidence exonerated him. 

But back to Crippen.  What would Crippen do when his wife's friends started asking questions about where she had gone?  Well, he lied.  He made false statements to them & to the police.  He changed his story over & over again because he was pretty sure they were not going to believe that an unhappily married man who had made is mistress pregnant was not involved in same wife's disappearance.  & he was right.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Daddy was a preacher & Mama was a go-go-girl

I have lived south of the Mason-Dixon (WELL south of the Mason-Dixon) for not-quite 1/2 my life & if adulthood comes at 14 (this is the south) most of my adult life, but I am still not of the south.  They say you are never a local (anywhere, not just here, but where I grew up as well) unless you were as-good-as-born there.  Still, I have acquired some southern preferences.  No, not barbecue.  or NASCAR.  or Jesus.  But no one & I mean no one does irreverent mash-ups like they do in the deep south.  I am eagerly awaiting a barbecued Jesus NASCAR event, I know there is one somewhere down here.

When I lived towards the north-eastern corner of this very large country, every summer, if we could, me & my mom used to go to a regular fair held at the local polo grounds (& if that right there does not tell you what kind of let-your-hair down community it is not, I do not know what will).  It was a very large, very civilized event.  Refreshments all on one side & almost no one brought their food out of that area; screaming running kids were just not to be found.  A much smaller fundraiser for a local church, complete with rides & carnies, was also just not the cut loose kind of thing you read about in books or see in movies. 

& then I came here.  Let me say we do live less than  5 miles from the winter home of at least one major circus, so what we experience now is what people who are paid to make sure everyone else has a good time do when they go active-relaxing. 
& that is as far as I got yesterday morning, saved the file & opened it again when this morning the tv was full of a Baptist Minister (no doubt with his own First Baptist Church somewhere) with a product endorsement prayer & a movie rip-off.  For the record this is not what I mean.  The best thing about this prayer is it reminded me of that Southern Culture on the Skids cover, which is I guess where I will end now.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Today is not Secretary's Day

In April, I think, some people observe Secretary's Day (or if you are still other some people: Secretaries Day, which may or may not be the same thing but more of it), & it turns out what still others may or may not observe is Administrative Professionals Day.  When I worked in an office, Secretary's Day was always a touchy subject.  I have lost track of how many women who answered phones, dealt with correspondence, filed, organized calendars & all other things secretarial got VERY OFFENDED when they were recognized on Secretary's Day.  My feeling was if "secretary" worked for Kissinger, it worked for me: bring on the chocolates.

But none of that matters just now because today is not Secretary's Day.  Today is an older holiday that honors a much older, much more under valued profession:  it's Ratcatcher's Day.  Or not, there seems to be some confusion there, too.  The actual Town of Hamelin celebrates Ratcatcher's Day in June, but the Robert Browning poem puts it on July 22.  Puts what, you ask?  The day that the pied piper is said to have returned to Hamelin & led off the children of the town.

Chances are you know the story:  the people of Hamelin hired a ratcatcher to clear their town of rats (they had quite the problem with rats).  When the job was done, they decided not to pay him.  He said "you will rue the day", disappeared & then came back later & lured all the children of the town away, using the same technique he used to dispose of the rats & the children & the ratcatcher were never seen again.  The moral of this tale varies depending on who tells it, but I have always understood it to be "payback is a bitch".

Let me update this story for modern times.  An individual entered into a verbal contract to perform a one time service.  After the service had been performed, the contractee declined to honor the contract.  Various reasons were given.  While none of these reasons given were satisfactory to the contractor & the work was such that it could not be undone, the contractee had considerable influence over all methods of arbitration & the contractor was left unsatisfied & went away.  The contractee thought everything had wrapped up nicely & went back to business-as-usual...until...the contractee lost something he never thought was even on the table.

Many years ago I worked for an accountant who, for many years before that had worked as a contractor.  A government contractor.  Her job was to review Medicare claims for fraud & she had an EXCELLENT record.  In fact, she found fraud in EVERY CASE she reviewed.  Every single case, 2 or 3 or 10 or 20 a month, depending on how many came in, for YEARS.  Before you take this as given that every doctor is committing Medicare fraud (they aren't), you should understand that all of the referrals she got were as a result of complaints directed to a single individual.  & for years & years & 100s of audits, all of those complaints came from a single source:  disgruntled former employees.  The case that sticks with me best was a very personable, very pleasant older internist.  As I recall, his office manager of say 10 or more years (really it could have been 25 years, they were both old enough) had used all of her allotted vacation when her mother/father/someone became ill & she went to take care of whoever it was.  Because her vacation time was used up, she was doing this without pay, which maybe pissed her off & maybe didn't, I don't know. This went on until finally she was told that she HAD to be back at her desk the following day or she was fired, period.  & so she was fired & even that, while probably not making her super happy, had not yet pushed her over the edge.  The final straw was when she filed for unemployment & her former employer contested it.  According to him, by failing to appear for work she had quit & the judge ruled in his favor.  She left that courtroom & went straight to the Medicare fraud office (in the same building, how convenient) & reported on the duplicate billing system, dead patients, etc. scam her former boss had going.  I remember it NOT because it was the most egregious bad-boss-behavior I saw (it's not even close) but it was the biggest whistle-blower payout the office had ever made at the time.  I am guessing the doctor went to his grave wishing he had just let that unemployment claim ride.

So Happy Ratcatcher's Day everyone!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How we ended up at Sears

I was watching House Hunters the other day, which for the record I would not ordinarily do.  I wanted to watch Ice Loves Coco but the batteries in the tv remote need to be replaced & sometimes they take you to the closest channel to the channel you entered less one digit & then won't do anything for a few minutes while they regroup or something. 

So I was watching House Hunters & all this first time buyer (yea, it might have been My First Place, sue me) wanted was a space big enough for a pool table she did not yet own.  Every property she viewed, she measured to make sure there was a room for her pool table to-be; 15' if I recall but mostly I really wanted to see how Coco's sister's baby shower was going & I was pissed at myself because I do not know how to change the channel on my own tv without the remote & if I had kids I would have tv-grounded them for sure at least once & taken the remote away & now they could help me change the channel so I could watch the drag queen dance with his mariachi band at Coco's sister's baby shower, so don't start measuring your house thinking 15' is enough for a pool table because I might be wrong about that.

Okay, so she walks into every house & she measures.  The real estate agent acts like this is a huge inconvenience, rolls her eyes, the whole deal & then....& then the agent actually shows a house without space for a pool table completely wasting everyone's time!  All I could think was how much it would chap my ass (yes, that's how I think) that someone who is making THOUSANDS in commission to show me houses mocks my requirements  TO MY FACE & cannot even be bothered to make sure the properties we visit meet that requirement, that one requirement. 

I have no idea what happened next because the batteries started working again & it turns out the Ice Loves Coco that was on while I was stuck was last week's & I did not miss a single minute of the baby shower & let me tell you drag queen doing what look like high school cheers while a mariachi band takes a break by the pool cannot be beat. 

I told you that story to tell you this one:  while we were shopping for appliances for the new kitchen (yay NEW KITCHEN!) every single solitary sales person tried to convince me what I really wanted was a range hood with a microwave.  They stood next to my 5'+ self, opened a microwave door that was level with my eyebrows & told me that while I might not find it convenient, what with not being able to see in the microwave & also having to stretch to push the damn buttons, etc. it would help the resale value of my house.  They would not shut up about things I didn't want & things I couldn't use.  I was so bummed.  Where oh where would I find a sales person who was not motivated by his commission, who would barely even make eye contact because he was busy texting, where oh where could this paragon be?  Well, let me tell you, he's at Sears.  If you want the specs on any of the appliances, he can show you how to find them on the website & other than that he stays completely out of your hair.  Who knew there was a place for inertia in the marketplace?  Sears did...does....always has done.

I have a friend who wanted a particular baby stroller (the baby is in high school now).  She went to Sears, because they were the only ones who had it & looked for a sales person.  She found the floor model & looked for a sales person.  She found the shelf they were on & looked for a salesperson.  She climbed the shelf & pushed the box off.  Giving up on the sales person, she put the stroller together, put the baby in it & went to the check out where she had trouble convincing them she did not come in with same stroller.  Really.

That's it, we got a fridge, dishwasher & range from Sears.  The hood we are getting elsewhere because finding a quiet one that does not have a  microwave oven cannot be done, even in the leave-me-alone paradise that is the Sears sales floor.  To their credit though, when I said that was what I wanted, the salesman said "we don't have that" & went back to texting. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Saint Zvlkx

If you have never heard of Saint Zvlkx you need to run don't walk to your local library & get acquainted with Thursday Next.   By the time you get to the fifth book, you will have heard of Saint Zvlkx in passing, mostly in reference to the site of his now-demolished cathedral.

On the way, you will learn about the new world religion (the Global Standard Deity).  Living as I do in a part of the country where religions that have a lot of overlap (our county has three, count them three, independent First Baptists Churches) but spend mucho energy emphasizing their differences, the idea of a religion that emphasizes the sameness of them all, well,  it is almost irresistible.  It has all gotten mixed in my mind with the older brother in Wonderfalls, the atheist studying comparative religions; a state of belief quite common in his field at least according to him.  G*d I miss Wonderfalls.

Who was/is Saint Zvlkx?  Well I don't want to spoil anything for you so all I will say is he might be a visionary, or a sham, a flim-flam or a visionary sham.  Seriously, read the books.  Also, get Wonderfalls, it's on Netflix.

Friday, July 15, 2011

How far away is Cleveland

I miss 3rd Rock From The Sun.  Until The Big Bang Theory, there was just nothing on tv that even came close to what it was like to live with a physicist (no, he is not from another planet but he is from another culture; I often think his life would be easier if his accent was more pronounced).   & while I love every single episode, my favorite (today) is the pilot & the whole conversation about how far away is Cleveland (Cleveland is a felonious assault way).

The gist is what is the distance between pint A & point B.  Point A is an unfixed point representing where I am now, Point B is my new kitchen:

My new kitchen is 6 to 10 weeks away
My new kitchen is 14 to 20 quarts of yogurt away
My new kitchen is Naguib Mahfouz's Palace Walk away
My new kitchen is...

Did I mention we are remodeling the kitchen?

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Anyone who has ever spent anytime here at Useless Ranch knew it was just a (short) matter of time before I churned up the Patron Saint of Cows.  There are actually lists of patron saints of cows, including Brigid who is also patroness of chickens, which seems like a lot of work for one saint; Homobonus, better know to this blogger anyway for his oversight of shoes & well, others.  But Perpetua grabbed my fancy early in the running & yes, it was the dream sequence.

Why don't I restart a bit closer to the beginning.  Perpetua was a more or less ordinary noble hausfrau, born in the second century after the BC/AD switch got flipped who converted to christianity & was then torn to pieces by wild beasts for the amusement of the ancestors of people who watch Jersey Shore, Real Housewives, etc.  That's all there is, at first.  As with all things catholic (& Catholic), god&thedevil are in the details.  You could move on to the next cow-saint on the list.  You could ditch AD entirely & start looking at cow-goddess cults of ancient egypt.  There really are so many places to go, but staying was really the only option for me because after I read the brief little paragraph on Perpetua all I could think about was "Why cow"?  In case you did not notice, the only animals in her story are wild beasts.  I'm not saying cow cannot be dangerous, but I never heard of any bread&circus event in which martyrs were torn apart by a herd of holsteins.

So, there I was wondering how the cow came into it.  & that is when I discovered The Organic Viking, a discovery otherwise much-worth making (thank you Saint Perpetua!).  I was directed to a passage (which also happened to be further down the saint-bio page I had already skipped through, (curse you scroll bar for not jumping up & hitting me in the face).  Turns out, she WAS martyred by a cow.  Go figure. A big stomping, horns intact, don't try & milk me buster, wild bull.

I could continue with my write a quippy little piece about her, but the Organic Viking has already done it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The national foods of July

Every month always has foods & usually they are all over the map: desserts & vegetables all mixed in.  Not so July.  I knew July was National Hotdog Month, mostly because several dachshund rescue-type groups link their fund raising to that whole weiner thing.  But there is more...

Ronald Reagan declared July National Ice Cream Month (alas National Jelly Bean Day was in April).  According to several sources, he did it to emphasize the nutritional value of ice cream.  Voodoo home economics if you ask me but whatever, ice cream is a fine food.  It gets better.  July is also Baked Bean Month & Pickle Month (although apparently May, June & August also have pickle days).

To round everything else out nicely, July is National Picnic Month.  Let me suggest you bring along some hotdogs, baked beans, pickles & ice cream.  National Potato Month is not until August but you might want to throw some french fries & potato salad in the mix.  & National Apple Pie Month was in May, but go ahead & put some of that in the basket, although I confess to being puzzled about that one, apples being out of season in almost all of the US in May.

Finally, July is National Park & Recreation Month.  This one also dates back to the Reagan years.  Let me suggest we all show our patriotism by picnicking in the park.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Ringling Bros. Circus Fire

After writing about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire earlier this year, I got to thinking about the most famous fire I ever heard of:  The Ringling Brothers Circus Fire.  I grew up just a few miles from the site of this fire &, whenever my class did a local history unit it was bound to come up.

On July 6, 1944 between 7,000 - 8,600 people were in the big top of the Ringling Brother Circus in a large field that was later, when I was a child, the Stowe Village Housing Project in Hartford, CT. Attendance numbers are hard to come by; the circus had arrived late & missed a show so more than the usual number of free tickets were given away in the hope of reigniting interest.  After the fire, there was no way to find out how many had been redeemed & most victim identification began with a missing persons report.  In addition to being the state capital, Hartford was a major stop between Boston & New York which meant someone might be reported missing in two other states before anyone thought to look in the makeshift morgue.

There a re many theories how the fire started, but a lot of realities combined to make it the disaster it was.  First, gasoline was a common form of waterproofing; the tent canvas was saturated with it over & over again to keep out the wet weather.  second, the big cat cages were, at that stage of the show, blocking many of the exits.  Whatever the reasons, despite the confessions & the theories no specific cause, deliberate or otherwise has ever been established.  By the time I was alive & walking around Hartford County, the most notable thing about the fire was the still unclaimed body of Little Miss 1565.

I will give you the highlights:  An eight year old girl was killed (I am guessing trampled, reading between the lines) & no one knew who she was.  There were other unidentified victims, but in this case her body was found without any burns & with her face recognizable, if only the right person would look at it.  They never did.  Many, many years later an identification was made (& a reason given: those who could have identified her were themselves injured), but there are still questions & people who doubt the identification, based largely on more modern forensic identification techniques.

let me just say Little Miss 1565 haunted my childhood.  I blame the local history buffs who came to  school every year for a presentation about local history.  Not much happens/happened in Hartford County that was ever as big as this & they played it for all it was worth.  To this day I practically need a valium to light a match to a pile of wood in a well maintained fireplace.

I thought that would be it, really as far as my geographical connections went, but it turns out I was wrong.  The late James A. Haley, Representative from the State of Florida was one of five to plead "no contest" to involuntary manslaughter (more than 150 people died in the fire).  He served less than a year, returned to Florida, where ha had been at he time of the fire, & was pardoned.  The reason for the charge was the general state of business safety practices at the circus, of which he was an officer.

There is one last thing about the circus fire; I could not find any direct on-line references but I remember from those childhood presentations:  given that black patrons were generally seated in less desirable places (higher up, further from safety & closer to the canvas that ignited), there should have been more black victims -there were plenty don't get me wrong, just not as many as would have been predicted.  The credit goes to one man, a minister at a local black church, who kept his head, kept his section calm & got most of them out safely, including children (many of the children who died got separated from their escorts & were lost in the panicking crowd). 

Monday, July 4, 2011

What would Marie do?

Guess who died 1934?  I'll give you a hint:  she makes all tellers of Polish jokes look, well, you decide.

Marie Curie is the only PERSON to win two Nobel Prizes in different disciplines, so please Please PLEASE can we stop talking about her lady parts?  Not to compare myself to Marie Curie, but here I go:  A long time ago I was a fairly highly ranked person in an obscure professional field.  In the trade journal that publish lists of these things, my name was usually in the top five.  & every year, every efffing year said trade-journal even I only read when trapped on a plane would call me & ask what it was like to be the only woman on the list.  They never asked what it was like to be the only one without a military &/or law enforcement background OR what it was like to to be the only one without a well-documented drinking problem...  I think my point is made.  Year after year apparently the most interesting thing about me was almost the only thing over which I had no control ever & frankly, it got old.  The only other thing I consider I had no control over would be my height & now that I think about it, I probably was the shortest person on the list (it never occurred to me to wonder until this moment so it is hard to be certain).

What did Marie do?  She worked the work she loved, until it killed her.