Thursday, September 27, 2012

Books, books, books...

Who doesn't love 'em, eh?

I have some good news for the criminals of Austin, so I'll start with a message to them: first, if you're reading this on a laptop or iPad, please return it to its rightful owner.  Thanks.

Next, I ask this not just because it's the right thing to do, but because you'll have plenty of time over the next few weeks to exercise your felonious habits.  By the way, do you suppose Felonius Monk wore felonious habits?  Or do just nuns wear habits?

Sorry, trouble concentrating today.  (And yes, I know it's Thelonious Monk.)

Right.  Felonious habits.  Oh yes, see, over the next few weeks my normally razor-sharp and unforgiving prosecutorial mind will be distracted by the most important even to me for the past seven years: my book launch.

Which means that there will be plenty of opportunity for the light-fingered to steal a leopard from the zoo, the greedy to embezzle money from an old people's home, and for the tempted Jew to eat a large rasher of bacon.  I simply won't be watching.

In the next few days, a man will arrive with a large box containing my book (my publisher gives me some free copies), particularly exciting since I want to hold one in my arms and cradle it like a baby.  I'll post a picture, yes.

Does that mean I'm taking a leave of absence from here?  Absolutely not.  I'm still riding out with the cops, so if any good stories flow from that I'll post them here.  More likely, though, you'll be hearing a little less about my criminal activities (there's a phrase that someone could take out of context) and more about my writing life.

Any questions?

And just to whet your appetite (and mine), here's the official flyer for the book.

 (I just realized this isn't really legible, I'm trying to figure out how to correct that - the file is .pdf and I turned it into a .jpeg, so any advice on how to do this is welcomed!)

Anyway, as you might imagine this makes me feel like a real writer.  Imagine how I'll feel when I get my hands on the book itself!

Oh, next week, I thought I'd address some of the myths and dilemmas of being a writer, like 'Sewing leather patches onto a tweed jacket is easy,' and 'I just met you, why wouldn't I give you a free book?'

Unless I see you before, have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gun-toting bobbies? Not on your nelly...

You may have read about the tragedy in Manchester, England, where two police officers (both women) were killed.

Inevitably, when this happens in the UK there is a call from some quarters for police officers to be given guns.  The opposing cry then rings out loud and clear: "No bloody thanks!"

My last post mockingly used the term "quaint" and it's appropriate here, too, maybe.  That modern-day police in a busy, crowded nation dash off to emergencies with a truncheon as their only weapon (okay, some have tasers now) seems anachronistic.

I think people fail to understand, certainly in this country, how different the culture is when it comes to guns.  There simply aren't many in circulation and the idea of individuals owning them and arming themselves would be anathema.  There's no way in heck a Second Amendment would fly over there, it'd be shot down (hehe) before making it to the floor of Parliament.

You may or may not know that I was a crime reporter in England.  My beat, for more than a year, was the town of Colchester, population about 100,0000, and also the surrounding villages.  In all that time, I wrote about ONE shooting.  It happened when a wannabe gangster tried holding up a gun shop.  It didn't end well for him.

But I spoke to the police on several occasions about carrying guns and not one that I spoke to ever wanted to.  I liked that.  And, apparently, they still like it that way.

Tragedies will happen, lunatics will always hurt people, but as we've seen here in Austin, and recently, sometimes arming an officer won't save him. Don't get me wrong, cops here absolutely need to be armed - the bad guys are, for sure - but I think that's my point.  Despite the homogenization of the world through technology and the other spreading tendrils of globalization, my homeland is hanging on to one of those "quaint" traits that make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Am I out of touch?  I've been gone a long time, so tell me if you think I've turned into a starry-eyed foreigner with rose-colored view of the motherland.  Oh, but before you do, maybe check out this article by the BBC on the subject, I thought it very good.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I shall turn my thoughts away from cops getting shot because I'm about to head out for my weekly ride-along.  Hhmmmmm, what more cheery England-related topic is in the news?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Oh you English, how quaint you be

Even though I've been in the States for almost twenty years, I keep up with English news and sports all the time. I prefer the sports, frankly, and the news seems a little less... biased? Amateurish?

(And yes, I'm totally ignoring the phone hacking scandal and the newspaper with the boobs on page three every day.)

So imagine my surprise when I turn to the trusty BBC for my daily dose of news and sports and find something that, over here, might appear on the pages of The Onion.

There are two parts to this story, but the headline itself made me go, "Huh?"

John Terry, Anton Ferdinand: QPR & Chelsea discuss handshake

(QPR = Queens Park Rangers, and for those who don't know, QPR and Chelsea are soccer teams.)

No, I didn't alter anything, that's what it says. To discuss a handshake - not one between Arafat and Netanyahu (partly because one of them's dead) or Hillary Clinton and Sheikh Mohammed Blow-'Em-Up, but between two guys who make a living kicking a ball.

And the first three paragraphs heighten the silly stakes:

Senior officials from Chelsea and QPR are in talks to defuse the growing tension surrounding Saturday's west London derby at Loftus Road.

QPR defender Anton Ferdinand will meet with manager Mark Hughes on Thursday having indicated he will not shake John Terry's hand before the match.

In July, the Chelsea captain was acquitted of racially abusing Ferdinand in last season's corresponding fixture.

So let me explain, if it's not obvious, why this is so silly:

1. A man was charged with a crime for calling another man names. A crime.

2. High-level talks are being conducted, and reported on in the media, over an up-coming handshake. Or lack of one.

Both events are, in my humble opinion, ridiculous. And to the credit of my adopted nation, neither would happen here.

First of all, this wonderful, beautiful, magical thing called the First Amendment protects my right to call people names. I might get a biff in the hooter but I'm not going to face the prospect of men in dark suits hauling me off at gunpoint.

This wonderful amendment, which apparently the English should take a look at, also means that we don't get a situation where some politician (or group of them) decides that one batch of rude names is okay, while the other batch constitutes a crime. Let's face it, where do you draw the line? And what's the harm in a rude name or two? After all, the person yelling the racist/age-ist/sexist epithet is the one who comes out looking like a loser, anyway.

As for the handshake thing, good grief. I tried to ponder the situation in terms of US sports, imagining if a member of one team P.O.ed a member of the opposing team. They next time they might on the field of battle, this would happen:

Football (or, as I call it, throwball): the insulter would get insulted right back, probably by a man who weighs more than a bus, and while he wasn't looking he'd get a helmet in the kidneys.

Baseball (or, as I call it, throwball): the pitcher would chuck the ball at the insulter's head, who would then charge the mound, and in nine seconds both teams would be slugging it out while an assistant manager stands next to the melee, spitting ta-baccy and side-footing dirt onto everyone.

Basketball (or, as I call it, throwball): the insulter would be complimented for his imaginative use of language, but in a back-handed way which would lead to louder compliments, eventual chest bumping, and lots of shoving. Meanwhile, two fat blokes from the crowd would be egging the players on while the referees buzz around at waist-level trying to calm things down.

There is simply no way in the world anyone would even suggest inter-team talks to hash out a resolution to the Mysterious Case of the Missing Handshake.

I mean, really, what's next? Slapping each other with gloves? That, my friends, is called boxing and now that I think about it, perhaps it's the perfect solution: one ring, two men, four gloves. Now quit your whining and get ready to rumble!

Seriously, does anyone else think this is ludicrous?

Also, you should get some sports that don't involve throwing the ball.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What's it like to try a case? Picture this...

I'm often asked what it's like to try a case in front of a jury, in terms of the step-by-step process and also what's it's like for me.  As a writer, you'd think a flowery description would satisfy those interested in my answer.

But even a writer knows that a picture can be worth a thousand words.

So here it is:

First, I eyeball the jury panel...

Then I try to weed out the less analytical ones,

and retain the intelligent, ones who express themselves well.

Once that's done, we start opening statements and I tell them about the case, using visual aids.

Then the defense lawyer stands up and gives his opening statement...

My case-in-chief starts, and I present the evidence that's been collected by the cops (watch closely or you'll miss it)...

.... and put questions to my stoic but deeply affected victim....

... and present rock-solid scientific evidence.

When I'm done, the defense puts on their witnesses.

Finally, I give my eloquent closing argument, hoping the jury will remember my victim and be all...

But I first have to listen to the defense lawyer giving his closing,

which makes me feel totally...

but I'm a professional, so I force myself to give it some...

Then my part is all over, and I wait for the the verdict...

If it's a 'Not Guilty,' I feel kinda...

.. but at most you'll just see...

Whereas, if it's a 'Guilty' verdict, I wanna be all...

But this is serious business, so I remind myself,

But whatever the verdict, I go home and get one of these...

... and then mix one of these.

 Because pretty soon, I'll be doing it all over again!

(Note:  Much credit to Nathan Bransford for inspiring this blog post, which I deem a poor knock-off of his, which is utterly genius and called The Publishing Process in GIF Form)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A rare moment

As I prepare to head out for my weekly ride-out with APD, a moment from last week.

We respond to an accident, a car crash during rush hour on a busy street running through east Austin. When we get there, both cars have pulled into a small parking lot. Both are damaged but driveable.

I see two men standing and talking. Ten feet away, a younger man is texting on his phone. My immediate assumptions:
  • no one was hurt
  • the two men were in one car, the young man in the other (probably caused it by texting...)
These assumptions are bolstered when one of the pair sits on the front of his vehicle to get some partial shade, and says to the other, "It's hot, man, you wanna sit?"

Remember what they say about assumptions?

The officer asks what happened and the second man stands up. He says he'd been trying to turn left across two lanes and thought some lady had gestured him through. He says, "I didn't look good enough, I just pulled out and hit this guy's car. My fault, man."


It gets better.

The "victim" tells the guy who hit him (the young man's father, by the way) that his cousin owns a body shop. "Give him my name, he'll give you a discount."

As the cop writes a ticket for the offender (who accepts it with an apology for taking up the officer's time), the two men chat and laugh in the baking heat.

We all go our separate ways but the officer realizes he forgot to give the guy who caused the crash some paperwork, so he calls him and we go to where he's waiting. The officer hops out of the car and hands it to him, then comes back.

"He apologized again, for wasting my time." He shakes his head and smiles. "Now that's how adults act."