Monthly Archives: July 2013

Reality Round-Up: Accidental Edition

Accidents happen (shortenough-d5nhojw)

Accidents happen (shortenough-d5nhojw)

There once was a man of impeccable health who took such care and caution in every facet of his life that in a way, he staved off death. With no genetic predisposition for any major diseases, nutritional standards higher than those set by any government agency, and an exercise regimen capable of dismantling men half his age, it seemed as if he would live forever.

Then one rainy afternoon, he noticed that the light in his shed was still on and ventured outside to turn it off. The cement was so slippery that he lost his footing, fell backward onto the hard ground and slammed his head into it. He died instantly.

Accidents happen. And no amount of care, caution, planning, prayer, exercise, good nutrition or anything else can prevent a completely random accident from occurring almost anytime.

Sure, there are accidents we can avoid. Take the guy who slipped on the cement, for instance. He could have waited for the storm to pass, worn shoes with better tread or even ignored the shed light altogether, any of which could have saved his life. I can understand how none of these thoughts occurred to him, though. We all get so tied up in the mundane routines of daily life that we rarely consider how a simple, household task could be potentially dangerous or even fatal.

Putting the vacuum cleaner on your private parts is one thing—and I have never known anyone to be killed in this manner. But venturing into inclement weather to turn off a light after enjoying an accident-free life for so long is quite another. Why not repair the roof or rewire the fuse box while you’re at it?

We all make mistakes and bad decisions that result in accidents, most of which are minor or harmless (if we’re lucky). What about those random accidents that could be waiting around any corner or approaching from any direction, though? How can we prepare for something similar to death in the Final Destination films—pursuing those who cheat it and ensuring it never happens again—only without the sense of purpose—choosing instead to appear at the unlikeliest times and without warning or provocation?

We can’t. And neither could the people in this accident-prone edition of the Reality Round-Up. Actually, some of them could, but there’s no point in splitting hairs. Enjoy and proceed with caution!

Natalie Georgi was killed by her peanut allergy (CBS Sacramento)

Natalie Georgi was killed by her peanut allergy (CBS Sacramento)

CARMICHAEL, CALIFORNIA

Sending a child to summer camp must be difficult for parents. Yes, it can result in some much-needed rest and down time, giving parents a chance to relax, enjoy each other’s company and pursue their own interests for a while—as long as they don’t have other children at home, of course—but it has to be kind of depressing, too. They load a bus full of other campers, wave goodbye and drive off for a week, several weeks or even a month, in some cases.

I used to go to Camp Sea Gull in North Carolina when I was younger, and that lasted for a month. I’m not really sure how my parents took advantage of this brief respite—especially since my brother also camped there—but I’m sure it was pleasant, and maybe a little sad.

Now imagine sending a child to camp and having that become the final experience of their far-too-short life. As a parent, I shudder at the very thought, but that’s exactly what happened to the Giorgi family last week.

Their 13-year-old daughter Natalie was wrapping up a vacation at Camp Sacramento and attended a final celebration on Friday night. There was food, entertainment and a good time to be had by all—everyone but poor Natalie, that is. A little hungry from the festivities, she found a dessert tray in a darker area of the camp, grabbed a treat and took a bite.

She immediately knew something was wrong.

After spitting it out, Natalie gave the remaining portion to her mother, who tasted it and noticed a deadly ingredient—deadly to Natalie, at least: peanuts.

For almost half an hour, Natalie reported feeling fine. Then she started feeling nauseated and had trouble breathing. Vomiting followed and, a short time later, the young girl went into cardiac arrest. All attempts to resuscitate her failed—as did three epinephrine pens—and doctors pronounced her dead on Saturday.

According to family and friends, Natalie was well aware of her allergy to nuts—an affliction that has tripled in the past decade alone—and took great care in what she ate. She always made absolutely certain that nuts were not included in the foods she consumed and knew what might happen if she slipped. Unfortunately, that one slip turned out to be fatal, and that one accident turned out to be her last.

Better make sure that ain't loaded, partner! (WMCTV-5)

Better make sure that ain’t loaded, partner! (WMCTV-5)

HOT SPRINGS, ARKANSAS

Shortly after the U.S. Senate defeated a bipartisan bill to expand universal background checks on all firearms, the national conversation on gun regulation more-or-less ended with a whimper. And all the attention that had been paid to places like gun shows—known for their general lack of regulation—disappeared just as quickly. It’s a shame, though, because gun shows continue to spring up in the news… and it is never in a good way.

The latest gun show mishap went down in Hot Springs when 42-year-old Charles Pike picked a gun up off a display table and it suddenly fired. The bullet hit him in the hand, ricocheted off the floor and grazed another visitor. Both men were taken to local hospitals with minor injuries, thank goodness, but it certainly could have been much worse.

At least no one died in this accident which, incidentally, could have been prevented… by the jackass who forgot to check his weapons before he put them up for sale!

Baby, get off that awning (Eric Bokman)

Baby, get off that awning (Eric Bokman)

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

Last Friday was a beautiful day in Bensonhurst. The weather was pleasant, the streets were filled with people and store owners welcomed every customer with a smile. Then a pharmacy worker glanced across the street and noticed something moving on top of the awning over Tenda Tech, Inc.

It was a baby!

Honestly, this 18-month-old girl could be the reincarnation of MacGyver, the 80s television hero resourceful enough to escape from any situation. While her mother was cooking, she somehow crawled out a window, through an air conditioning vent, onto an adjoining roof and finally onto the awning of the store next door. Fortunately for her, Qing Chen from the pharmacy acted fast. He immediately ran to her apartment, told her mother what happened, climbed out the same window and retrieved the young daredevil. Family members took her to the hospital as a precautionary measure, but otherwise she was unhurt and should be just fine.

Accidents happen, to be sure, but it’s nice when they end as well as this one.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

Every so often, an accident you cause works out even though the odds of your survival are slim to non-existent. Such was the case for one lucky driver on Monday morning… one lucky drunk driver.

The accident happened on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard when the driver—who police suspect was under the influence—lost control, smashed through a guard rail and plunged off a 40-foot cliff, his car landing on its wheels on the beach below.

Believe it or not, but the driver survived! (FOX-5 San Diego)

Believe it or not, but the driver survived! (FOX-5 San Diego)

By some miracle, the driver was able to get out of the car and suffered serious injuries, but nothing life-threatening. Perhaps what I heard about drunks going limp during an accident and sustaining fewer injuries was true after all?

Despite being buzzed and combative, two lifeguards and a paramedic were eventually able to get the man into a rescue basket for a helicopter ride to the closest medical center. I haven’t heard anything specific yet, but I assume that he’s fine.

It’s the people drunk drivers put at risk that normally suffer, after all.

KATY, TEXAS

Our final accident happened to a mother-and-daughter team from Texas—Nancy and Sara Allen—during a visit to scenic Mount St. Helens last Wednesday. And honestly, they were lucky to return home after this trip-of-a-lifetime nearly became a tragedy.

After a long and strenuous hike, the pair finally reached the summit of the famous volcano in Washington State. Unfortunately, the thrill of their momentous achievement faded moments later when, once again, an accident changed everything. Nancy took a terrible fall and injured herself too badly to continue.

Sara and Nancy Allen survived a volcano (KTRK-TV/ABC Local)

Sara and Nancy Allen survived a volcano (KTRK-TV/ABC Local)

“I was just thinking about the fact that she could be really hurt to the point she had a concussion or something,” Sara said later. At the very least, Nancy suffered cuts and scrapes that caused pain and soreness just as the sun started to set. And it wouldn’t be long before hypothermia became a real danger, either, so Nancy took action. She grabbed her cell phone and immediately called for help.

Since Nancy’s injuries were not life-threatening—which would warrant the use of a helicopter to airlift her to safety—the rescue team told her they would have to hike out to her, a trek that normally takes six or seven hours.

“I don’t have seven hours in me,” she told them. “I really don’t.”

Oddly enough, the rescue team then offered Nancy a second option: she could order the helicopter and pay for it herself. To her, this was a “no brainer” and she quickly agreed to pay for the $1300 trip. Rescuers arrived a short time later, strapped her into the rescue basket and hauled her to safety with her daughter. They’re both alive, well and back home in Texas as we speak.

It might be a while before their next trip-of-a-lifetime, though. And I get the feeling this one might be enough for a hundred lifetimes.

Yes, accidents happen. And yes, a lot of them result from our own bad decisions, risky behavior or failure to think before we act. To me, this means that most accidents can be avoided if we simply consider the potential consequences of our actions. Of course, there are others that we never see coming and that Nostradamus himself could not predict. All you can really do is stay alert, be careful and take the precautions that are available to you.

For everything else, you might want to consider prayer.

The Big Idea: Alternate Reality

The world behind the mirror in The Matrix (Warner Brothers)

The world behind the mirror in The Matrix (Warner Brothers)

Have you ever had an idea that you knew was good—that you were certain could produce a windfall of cash if marketed correctly—but that you never pursued? Better yet, have you ever seen your good idea brought to life by someone who enjoyed the success you so clearly deserved, but were too lazy to seek?

I won’t assume we have all experienced this, but I suspect it’s a pretty common situation for those who classify themselves as creative—writers, actors, artists and the like. Unfortunately, it has happened to me more times than I can count, most notably after graduate school.

As part of my master’s thesis, I wrote a feature film script entitled Human Rites and successfully defended it before a panel of esteemed academics. Given that I was such a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino at the time—Pulp Fiction remains one of my favorite films—my script was classic film noir and focused on a former criminal who decided to fly right and leave his shady past behind him, only to be pulled back into “the business” by a friend in need. And as you might imagine, things don’t go very smoothly and take a dark turn towards the end.

It’s film noir, after all. What do you expect?

The story was nothing groundbreaking—as many writers say, every story worth telling has likely already been told. So I suspected my own film was little more than an amalgam of all the crime dramas I had seen in my life. Nevertheless—and despite some weak dialogue (which was never my strong suit)—my professors enjoyed it and saw potential in my idea. One even said he would pay to see it on The Big Screen someday and, honestly, it seemed completely possible at the time.

Call it the idealism of youth, but I was certain that some production company would jump at the chance to make my movie. They would option the screenplay for hundreds of thousands of dollars, fly me out as a consultant on the set, invite me to walk the red carpet at its eventual premiere and relish in the fact I had just been added to their stable of artists. Offers would start rolling in—I would have my choice of which to pursue, of course—and my bank account would swell so much that family members I never met would start coming out of the woodwork to mooch off of me. There would be appearances on late-night talk shows, product endorsements—“Try 5-hour energy, the only boost I need to create the next summer blockbuster”—and maybe even a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live.

It was going to be great!

Could wormholes on Earth really exist? (LOLCats)

Could wormholes on Earth really exist? (LOLCats)

Sadly, things didn’t work out quite as I had planned. Life got in the way and before I knew it, my idea was little more than an afterthought… a story printed and stored in the university library, but one unlikely to ever see the light of day. Could it have been an entertaining and even lucrative film? I certainly thought so, but this would remain a huge “what if” for years to come.

Then something totally unexpected happened in 1998: Miramax released the Matt DamonEdward Norton film Rounders. And I could have kicked myself once I saw it.

The film centers on Mike McDermott, an illegal poker player who loses his bankroll, leaves the underworld to pursue a law degree and soon finds himself “rounding” again to help Lester “Worm” Murphy, a childhood friend recently released from prison who still owes a lot of money to the wrong people. Much like my main character in Human Rites, Mike resists at first, but reluctantly agrees to help his friend and sinks back into the seedy world of illegal poker. The only difference is that in Mike’s case, it works. He makes the money needed to pay off Worm’s debt, drops out of law school and heads for Las Vegas to compete in the World Series of Poker’s main event.

My own film ends in disaster, but that’s not really the point.

The real point of fact is that aside from the addition of poker—which was becoming increasingly popular prior to the release of Rounders—the happy ending and some minor plot differences, my screenplay was essentially the same. Granted, the script written by David Levien and Brian Koppelman may have been better technically—especially with regard to dialogue—but the fundamental plots were nearly identical. And since someone in Hollywood gave the “green light” to Rounders, it stands to reason that the same approval could have been granted to my script, provided I had the contacts needed to get it into the right hands and actually got off my ass to get it done.

So instead of working with actors I absolutely love—Matt Damon and Edward Norton are two of my favorites—and raking in more than $12 million worldwide, I got nothing. And the screenplay I spent so much time and effort creating still lies dormant on that library shelf, waiting patiently for someone to discover and appreciate it more than I did.

Given how depressing this experience was, I always told myself I would never miss an opportunity like this again. The only problem is that for every bright idea I have, I discover that someone else had it first. I suppose that’s one of the dangers of the Internet since people can access nearly every idea with only a few keystrokes. Nevertheless, this will not stop me from developing even more ideas and hopefully doing more with them than I did with Human Rites. To aid in this endeavor—and to ensure my ideas are as original as they can (and should) be—I decided to start a new column on Gnostic Bent: The Big Idea.

Here’s how it works.

Whenever an idea comes to mind—whether it’s for a blog post, television series, film, short story or any other genre—I will refrain from Internet research—which almost always shoots my ideas down—and instead share it here with you, dear readers. What you get will be the raw thoughts of an idea in limbo, the foundation upon which the story—if unique and interesting—may eventually be built. If it sounds familiar or worse, if it seems like a huge waste of time, I am hoping you will comment to let me know and to offer feedback, criticism and suggestions. Hell, I may even toss in a poll for readers less apt to post comments or more interested in clicking boxes than typing words. You never know.

What if our alternate reality is worse than our current one? (matrixworldhr)

What if our alternate reality is worse than our current one? (matrixworldhr)

Although this format relies heavily on reader participation—and I can find value in any comments people feel like sharing—it also allows me to get ideas down before they drift out of my mind and never return. I can also use this as a means of documenting my ideas in case anyone tries to steal them later. Would this hold up in a court of law? I doubt it, but at least it’s something, right? And if enough people respond positively to an idea to make it viable, I will of course protect it using more official means—submitting it as a treatment to the Writer’s Guild, for instance. I just need to make sure it’s worthy first, and that’s where you come in, dear reader.

It is YOU who will get the proverbial—and creative—ball rolling. And I want to say thank you in advance to anyone kind enough to share their thoughts and opinions. They will be appreciated and utilized, I assure you.

This brings me to my first BIG IDEA, which came to me last night as I was heating up some macaroni and cheese for dinner. Once it was ready, the microwave beeped three times to let me know. A split second later, I heard an identical beeping coming from some other part of the house—the same succession of three beeps in essentially the same tone. I knew this was simply a coincidence and that someone on television must also be heating up food, but it got me thinking.

What if the sound was coming from a parallel universe that for some reason was now accessible from my current reality?

I envisioned another version of myself standing in the kitchen of some alternate universe, heating up food for dinner just as I was doing in my world. Almost everything about this other dimension would be similar to my own—I would look the same, act the same and experience similar challenges—but there would be some key differences to set it apart. For instance, where I struggle to pay bills and make ends meet in this life, my alternate self would be blessed with enormous wealth and would have fewer financial worries in his. My failures would be his successes, my losses his gains.

I have to say that this idea intrigued me. And I immediately thought about how this might “play out” on film.

Imagine a main character whose life is coming unraveled at the seams. His girlfriend dumped him, he lost his job and nearly everything he knows is turning to crap. To make matters worse—and to isolate him even more from his fellow humans—he has also started hearing voices and other strange sounds that no one else can hear. Needless to say, those closest to him believe that he’s losing his mind, even though this is definitely not the case.

Our hero—who I’ll refer to as Jim until I can think of something better—soon realizes that the voice in his head is his own. And I’m not talking about the inner voice that we all possess, either. This one is distinct and different, which Jim knows because the messages it conveys refer to things he has never experienced in his life… often things he wishes he could experience had his life choices been better: wealth, beautiful women, professional success, stardom… the list goes on.

Change your reality (TruthSleuth)

Change your reality (TruthSleuth)

Eventually—and after being alienated from nearly everyone in his life—Jim discovers the source of the mysterious voice and other unexplained sounds. For whatever reason, a small rip formed in the space-time continuum and opened the door to an alternate reality, a new dimension to parallel Jim’s current reality. What’s more, Jim can access this “other world” through a worm hole that suddenly appeared in the back of his bedroom closet.

Did you catch the reference to C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? The wormhole doesn’t have to be in the closet, necessarily, but it seemed like a nice touch. Kind of an homage to one of my favorite childhood authors, if you will.

At any rate, Jim reluctantly decides to enter this parallel universe and that’s when things really get crazy. I haven’t worked out all the details yet, but the obvious plot points are there: Jim meets his other self, who isn’t all he’s cracked up to be; there is a dark side to this alternate reality, one that will forever change Jim and his perspective; Jim discovers that even success can come at a price and relishes the fact that while his life decisions may not have been great, they were certainly better than those made by his parallel self; and so on, and so forth.

Granted, some of these seem rather canned and overused, so some tweaking will be needed before I can truly get this idea off the ground. It does seem promising, though, at least to me. Again, I haven’t looked around to see how many other films feature such a premise, but I’m sure they are out there. Like any writer, my ideas spring from a well filled with the works of past and contemporary artists: actors, writers, producers, painters, directors, screenwriters and anyone else involved in the creative process that inspires me. As such, I sometimes generate ideas I believe to be original, but that end up belonging to someone else. Either that or I incorporate elements of their work into my own, kind of like the C.S. Lewis thing a few paragraphs ago.

Whatever the case may be, I sincerely hope this idea is original and has the potential I think it has. Of course, that is not for me to decide; it’s for YOU to judge. If you think this idea has merit and that I should expend energy on developing it further—or even if you don’t—please consider posting a comment to let me know. I also welcome suggestions, criticism—as long as it’s warranted, of course—and any other feedback you’re willing to provide. Nothing is off-limits and since I rarely—if ever—get offended, pulling punches or sugar-coating things will not be necessary. I would rather you be honest and direct than pretend what I have here is worth more than it actually is. After all, this is the only way to grow and improve, right?

And please, please, please… three “pleases” should be enough… let me know if you have EVER heard an idea like this, read a story similar to this one or seen a film that features this same basic premise. Before I devote myself to fleshing out this idea, I would like to know that it’s at least original and unique for the most part. If every story has already been told, then all I need to do is find an interesting way to tell it differently.

With your help, I may be able to do just that. Thanks for reading and hopefully participating in this little blog experiment. And please be on the lookout for the next Big Idea, which I hope will come as I’m preparing dinner tonight!

Child Pimps Be Gone!

Child Prostitution: Scourge of Society (Madaree Tohlala/AFP/Getty Images)

This weekend, the FBI launched its largest undercover operation to date: Operation Cross Country. For three days, agents scoured 76 cities and worked with more than 200 law enforcement units to crack down on child prostitution. And I am happy to say it was a huge success.

The federal sweep included 28 searches and nearly 130 seizures of drugs, cash, vehicles and firearms. By the time the smoke finally cleared, roughly 150 “pimps” had been arrested and 105 children between the ages of 13 and 17 had been rescued. According to Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division, the seventh iteration of Operation Cross Country was the most successful due to a 30% to 40% increase in “identifying both victims and pimps,” as well as additional probing of websites where pimps and other sex predators are known to meet, such as www.backpage.com.

Please don’t check the site out for yourself, though. You never know who may be watching.

Whether or not you are aware of it, child prostitution is a growing problem in this country and around the world. The website Raise Their Voice, for instance, estimates that “10 million children worldwide are engaged in some facet of the sex industry” and that “each year at least one million children—mostly girls—become prostitutes.” The site also reports that in South Africa alone, there are at least 40,000 child prostitutes.

Instead of playing, having fun and going to school with friends, these poor kids are doing things no one should ever be forced to do. And the moment they enter a room with their first customer, any innocence they once possessed immediately disappears, never to return again. It truly is a heartbreaking fate for children so full of hope and potential, and one I am glad the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are determined to stop.

This weekend’s sting focused on specific places where child prostitution occurs—hotels, motels, race tracks, truck stops—as well as social networking and other websites where sex predators find and coerce their victims. Hosko also mentioned how major sporting events—like the Final Four and the Super Bowl—often attract pimps because of the large, cash-laden crowds of people determined to party at any cost.

“We have had children recovered from each of those events,” he said recently. “Multiple children from each of those events in the past.”

The feds were out in force (Ana Martinez/REUTERS)

As I mentioned, Operation Cross Country recovered 105 children between the ages of 13 and 17, which is the typical age range that child pimps target. Isn’t that around the time that most teenagers start resisting their parents’ authority and lashing out? Yes it is, and that’s precisely what appeals to these lowlifes. Like vampires, they feed on feelings of loneliness and isolation, the need for acceptance and everything else common to the teenage experience. Oftentimes their victims come from broken homes, group homes or even foster care… children with no family ties and that no one will really miss, I’m sad to say.

Pimps exploit everything they can until they catch their prey, torture and abuse them, break their spirits and force them into sexual servitude. And for every child we recover, there are undoubtedly hundreds—maybe thousands—of others still engaged in child prostitution. Even now—somewhere in the world, the nation or even in your own neighborhood—some innocent child is being thrust into adulthood against her will, forced to perform indecent and immoral acts for the financial benefit of her pimp and initiated into a world of evil we all wish could be delayed indefinitely, if not forever.

To lend a hand in ending child prostitution—by taking action or donating to the cause—check out the U.S. or international sites for ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), the leading policy organization in the fight against child exploitation. Do your part and someday, maybe everyone will have the chance to be a child again.

Let’s Go, U.S.A.!

The U.S. has won nine consecutive full international games - a record for the country's national team.

The US takes on Panama for the Gold Cup (Patrick Semansky/AP)

At 4:00 this afternoon—roughly an hour from the time I started writing this post—the United States soccer team will play in its record fifth straight Gold Cup final of CONCACAF’s regional championship tournament. After losing back-to-back to Mexico for the last two years, the U.S. team will finally have another shot at the title, this time against Panama—who incidentally defeated Mexico 2-1 in their semifinal game.

Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time Panama and the U.S. have battled for the championship. The teams met in the 2005 final, fought to a draw and ended on penalty kicks, which the Americans won to capture their third title in their first of five consecutive final appearances.

Confusing, I know, but I assure you it’s impressive. It’s also about time since soccer—or football, as it’s known in the rest of the world—never really took off in the States. What better time than now to finally give soccer its due and to throw your support behind Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and the rest of the guys? Panama is not an easy team to beat, and Lord knows they need all the help they can get.

Unfortunately, it looks like head coach Jurgen Klinsmann won’t be available for today’s final against the Panamanians. A temper tantrum during his semifinal win over Honduras made certain of that. The good news is that Beasley, the team’s captain, is confident his squad can still manage without their skilled and passionate leader.

“We can’t let that affect us,” he said of losing his coach. “We have to go out and play our game. [Klinsmann] gives us the tactics, but at the same time we know how to play football, we know how he wants us to play. I’m sure he’ll be cheering us on from wherever he’s sitting.”

Star forward Landon Donovan is also ready for today’s match. And who could doubt him after blasting through the tournament with five goals and seven assists to help the American team to ten consecutive wins and another title shot?

“I think it’s the most relaxed I’ve ever felt and the most enjoyable it’s felt in a long time,” Donovan said recently. “And I think when that’s the case I do really well.”

Let’s hope that’s the case less than an hour from now when the United States and Panama finally kick off what promises to be another exciting Gold Cup final. Tune in at 4 p.m. EST on your local FOX affiliate and enjoy the game!

Go U.S.A.!

Love in the Time of Kidnapping

Can love bloom from kidnapping? (Fast Company)

Can love bloom from kidnapping? (Fast Company)

Stockholm syndrome occurs when a hostage develops feelings of empathy, sympathy and other positive emotions—even love—for their captors. Some scientists believe this stems from our hunter-gatherer days, when females were often abducted by other clans. There could be rape, torture and other abuse involved, of course, but sometimes these women were incorporated into the tribe. And their genetic contributions—after procreating with their captors—can be found in the bloodlines of these ancient peoples even today.

I have always been fascinated by Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, as it is sometimes known. How could anyone come to not only accept their abuse, but to develop feelings for the people abusing them? I understand that after extensive and constant abuse, some victims view a sudden lack of abuse as an act of kindness—this intensifies with each interaction and could eventually result in love, I suppose, but it still seems a little far-fetched.

It’s more like brainwashing if you ask me.

Consider Patty Hearst, the newspaper heiress kidnapped from her Berkeley, California apartment in 1974 by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. In just two months, her captors converted her into a member and even involved her in one of their schemes: a bank robbery in San Francisco. Photographs from the scene show Hearst—now known as Tania—walking around the bank with an M1 carbine and yelling at customers.

Patty Hearst: Bank Robber (Getty Images)

Apparently, her assignment was crowd control.

At any rate, Hearst was tracked down, arrested, convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to seven years in 1976—President Jimmy Carter later commuted her sentence and she was released after only 22 months. Many claimed that Hearst was a victim of Stockholm syndrome, a term coined a few years earlier by Swedish psychologist and criminologist Nils Bejerot. And I suppose Carter believed them since he freed Hearst quickly enough for her to hit the interview circuit and to write her autobiography, Every Secret Thing, a few years later.

Patty Hearst’s situation got me thinking about what would happen if the opposite were true. Instead of victims developing feelings for their captors, what would happen if kidnappers fell in love with their victims?

As I understand it, a name has actually been proposed for this reverse Stockholm syndrome: Lima syndrome.

It references a hostage crisis in Lima, Peru in December of 1996, when members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) stormed the residence of a Japanese ambassador and took hundreds of diplomats, business executives, military and government officials hostage—more than 600, I think.

Soon after the crisis began, roughly half of the hostages were released. This trend continued as 38 more were released on day three and another 255 on day five. In all, the captivity of roughly 72 men lasted until a team of Peruvian commandos initiated Operation Chavin de Huantar 126 days later. They stormed the residence, killed all the kidnappers and only lost one hostage in the process—as well as two of their own.

Many considered the operation to be a huge success, but there were others who wondered why the kidnappers would release so many hostages or—more specifically—so many bargaining chips. Psychologists believe they developed feelings of sympathy towards their prisoners and may have released them to express adulation, so they coined the term Lima syndrome to differentiate it from Stockholm syndrome.

At this point, I would normally expound upon the reasons why both of these syndromes equate to the fecal matter of a male cow, but now I’m not so sure. I actually heard a story the other day that makes me think something like Lima syndrome might be legitimate, after all.

Todd "recruits" women for sex traffickers (Facebook)

Todd “recruits” women for sex traffickers (Facebook)

It happened when 19-year-old Brandon Todd was arrested in New York on July 10th and charged with kidnapping across state lines. The maximum sentence for such a crime is life imprisonment. And you would think someone facing such a harsh penalty would avoid law enforcement at all costs, but such was not the case with this young man.

In April, Todd met a young woman on a cross-country bus trip from Florida to San Diego, California. He convinced her to share a hotel room with him in San Diego, but on the way there, his demeanor completely changed. He threatened the woman and told her that if she refused to board a bus to New York with him, he would murder her parents. She obliged and they traveled to Rochester.

Todd’s grandfather even met them at the bus station and drove them to the house Todd shared with his grandparents. And according to an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Barry Crouch—one of the arresting officers—the grandfather “would not talk to [the victim], would not look her in the eye, and did not seem to care that she was there.” ABC News attempted to speak with Todd’s grandparents later, but they of course declined to comment.

Todd kept his victim prisoner in his bedroom for more than two weeks. And for two weeks, he called the FBI—specifically Agent Crouch—daily. Sometimes he even put the call on speaker so his victim could hear him speaking to authorities.

As if this wasn’t bizarre enough, Todd used these calls to confess his sins to the federal investigator and to offer his assistance. Here’s how Crouch put it in the affidavit he submitted on July 9th:

Todd claimed to have information about people involved in human sex trafficking and wanted to provide that information to the FBI. Todd called back on an approximate daily basis speaking to myself… for approximately two weeks… he [claimed to be] involved in human sex trafficking and [to have] connections to a group that was involved in the trafficking… Todd reported that he and the trafficking organization had multiple contacts in law enforcement that were used in the furtherance of the trafficking.

Todd went on to explain that his role was to find young women, recruit them—or capture them, if they resisted—abuse them, break them down and prepare them for a career in the illegal sex trade. They would then be sent to some other state or even another country as forced prostitutes, some never to be heard from again.

Helping the authorities track down some of these unfortunate sex slaves wasn’t the young kidnapper’s only reason for calling, though. It turns out that his young victim from several weeks earlier—the one from the bus—faked an asthma attack and managed to contact her boyfriend while being treated in the hospital. He came to get her and the couple immediately drove back to Florida.

Sex trafficking is a growing problem around the world (Marty Duren)

Sex trafficking is a growing problem around the world (Marty Duren)

During one of their daily calls, Todd told Crouch he had developed feelings for his prisoner and no longer wanted her involved in sex trafficking. Unfortunately, he had no idea where to find her—perhaps in a shelter or hospital—and asked for the FBI’s help in locating and communicating with her. This is how Crouch put it in his affidavit: “He wanted to reconnect with her and have the FBI communicate to her that he was someone she could reconnect with.”

Yeah. That’s bloody likely.

Oddly enough, this request came after Todd admitted to beating his captive with a belt, stomping on her, depriving her of sleep, food and other comforts, monitoring her every move and even forcing her into sex several times a day. No wonder she escaped as quickly as she could, huh?

To say Todd suffered from Lima syndrome—that he truly was in love with his prisoner after once intending to enter her into slavery—seems as good an explanation as any. Equally good might be to say he was a deranged, demented and sick individual with serious mental and emotional problems. Whatever the case may be, though, the important thing—aside from his young captive gaining her freedom—is that Todd do the right thing and aid the authorities in rescuing some of his former victims—the ones now working in the sex trade in any number of different locations.

And I would be remiss if I failed to mention society’s role in a case like Brandon Todd’s. This is a troubled young man with deep-seeded psychological problems, at least in my humble opinion. Yes, he should pay for his crime, but we are also responsible for providing treatment as part of his rehabilitation efforts. Put another way: the society that produces individuals with problems should be the one that helps them solve those problems.

Recruiters could be people you know (United Nations/Getty Images)

Recruiters could be people you know (United Nations/Getty Images)

We will have to wait and see if this happens for Brandon Todd, though. He just obtained a new lawyer and, as far as I know, a court date has not been set. Stay tuned for what promises to be a very interesting—albeit disturbing—case. And by all means, be careful out there.

You never know, but a sex trafficker could be lurking around the next corner!

Greatest Hits: I Believe

Originally published on September 7, 2012. Might need a little editing, I think…

In the film “Bull Durham,” baseball veteran Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) delivers a speech so memorable that I dare not reproduce it here. Suffice it to say that it involves all of the things he believes packed into about a minute of actual dialogue. I highly recommend you take a look if you have the chance. Even if you have seen it before, it is definitely worth revisiting.

As homage to this wonderful and entertaining movie and monologue, I offer this post of some things that I believe. And though it will never compare, this is for you, Crash.

I believe the children are our future, and not because Whitney Houston said so in her uplifting yet annoying hit, “The Greatest Love of All.”

I believe aliens exist and have visited our planet. Not only that, but I believe the American government has proof. Remember Roswell, true believers!

I believe in the power of nature, whether it manifests in a hurricane ripping trees up by the roots or a summer of scorching, merciless heat.

I believe Republicans and Democrats will always be at odds and propose the formation of a new party called the Demonicans… Dominicans… on second thought…

I believe in the inherent goodness of mankind, even though we kill, rob and cheat each other every chance we get.

I believe that good nutrition and regular exercise are the keys to longevity, but I rarely practice either of them. Hey, I’m just being honest here!

I believe women should be treated like queens and queens should be treated like women.

I believe that love transcends gender and that people should be able to marry who they want to marry. Every life is equal, so equal rights should be provided to all.

I believe the soundtrack to this post should be “I Believe” by REM. “I believe in coyotes, and time as an abstract. Explain the change, the difference between what you want and what you need, there’s a key.” Go on, Michael Stipe.

I believe now that my younger days were the best years of my life, even though I always thought my parents were wrong when they told me this. Why didn’t I listen?

I believe that Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Keith Moon, Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia are still alive and are being held in a secret music studio somewhere in Area 51. A comeback-to-life album is currently in production.

I believe marijuana will eventually be legalized and strongly suggest you invest in snack food companies before it’s too late.

I believe prostitution should also be legal—and tightly regulated (pun intended)—especially if saying so gets me some kind of discount.

I believe that instant karma really is going to get you.

I believe most politicians and manure trucks contain equal amounts of bullshit.

I believe movies are meant to be both seen and heard, which is why I never go to the theater. Watching at home is a much more pleasant experience.

I believe the only race that matters is the one we all share: the human race.

I believe David Lee Roth was a better front man for Van Halen than Sammy Hagar, but now he’s a complete fool and Sammy is still cool.

Photo of 1950s Mountain Dew ad in Jakes Corner...

I believe my addiction to Mountain Dew is single-handedly responsible for all the crowns and fillings in my mouth, yet I have no regrets about drinking it. That monkey is squarely on my back!

I believe salad bars are like Petri dishes for germs because face it, anything that requires a “sneeze guard” would have to be, don’t you think?

And finally, I believe in the belief that I can believe what I want to believe.

Believe that?

Pressing Words in the Blogosphere

Everyone should try blogging! (shebytes.com)

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: blogging can be a real pain in the ass.

Any writer can tell you how hard inspiration can be to come by, but that’s only half the battle. The other half comes in the very act of sitting down to punch the keys, push the pencil or… actually, that’s probably it. Nevertheless, writing in any medium is not an easy task. Sure, some people will tell you it’s an art—and in some ways, it probably is (or at least used to be)—but writing is also work, and damn hard work at that.

Is it as tough as controlling air traffic, roofing a house in the middle of summer or serving aboard a commercial fishing vessel? Of course not, but it’s in the same ball park.

And pain is pain no matter how you slice it.

What makes blogging so challenging—and yes, blogging is writing, despite what its critics might say—is also what makes it so rewarding. The moment you press that “publish” button to send your latest post into cyberspace, you are out there. Within seconds, the piece you just spent hours, days or even months toiling over, struggling with and cursing—if you’re anything like me, that is—could be resting comfortably on the computer monitor of some unknown reader halfway around the world. And if that person is so inclined, you may even receive a comment—almost instantaneous feedback from someone you never met, but who you immediately respect because—face it—they were intelligent enough to read your work.

And the opinions of readers with such impeccable taste are always welcomed and valued.

It also helps that, in my experience, people who take the time to comment are generally worthy of respect. There are exceptions, of course—spammers, would-be politicians, holier-than-thou hypocrites and other colorful characters, all of whom I have inherent skill in pissing off—but most commenting readers state their case, share their thoughts and return that respect without being unfair, unreasonable or… to be perfectly honest… mean.

A couple of mean comments hurt my feelings, but then I realized I was a grown man with functioning testicles and cursed myself for being so hypersensitive.

The truth is that even the worst comments—the ones that strike deep, point out a flaw or accuse me of something I never intended or imagined—have value. Imagine if a writer’s work received nothing but glowing compliments and kudos despite its shortcomings or—put mildly—its general suckiness. Would they ever improve or learn the true nature of their talent, or lack thereof? Hell no. Personally, I would rather someone lay into me so long as they identify problems with my writing I can correct, ideas I haven’t thought through enough or information I ignored or overlooked.

Constructive criticism is good, after all. And it’s what makes blogging and writing so similar, but also so different.

Long before computers—back when all I could write on was paper or a piece of shit Brother word processor with a tiny, discolored screen—I could expose my innermost thoughts because at the end of the day, I knew no one else was ever likely to read my work. Sure, I would share a little here and there with family and close friends—usually those rare stories or articles I deemed worthy of being shared (and I am and have always been my own worst critic)—but that was the extent of it. And since that Brother died long ago in a storage unit flooded during a hurricane—along with my old journals and other assorted scribblings—it turned out that I was right. No one would ever see them; Mother Nature made sure of that.

WordPress Logo

Love that WordPress! (Phil Oakley)

These days—and thanks to the wonderful people at WordPress, who offer free blogs with tons of great features to writers like me—I create something and no longer hide it in some dresser drawer or personal storage facility. I hit “publish” and set it loose on the world. I know this because of one of those great WP features I just mentioned: statistics.

Providing statistical data for customers is nothing new—and I have never been one for the numbers anyway—but tracking my WP blog statistics for the past year has been both interesting and enlightening. Information like the number of visitors to my blog, their total views of my posts and the number of people following my blog is nice, but my favorite data is the less conventional stuff—specifically the search engine terms that led readers to my site and the views of my work by country.

Take yesterday, for instance.

On July 24, 2013, I published an article entitled “Eat Fresh? Yeah, Right” about a jackass Subway employee in Ohio who rolled his penis across some bread dough and posted pictures of it online. It went live in the late morning and by day’s end had accumulated some 50 or 60 views. Granted, it wasn’t at the top of the list—some older posts continue to interest readers more, for some reason—but it was a respectable performance. Since it could have been better, though, I decided to investigate further. And I started with search engine terms.

What were readers Googling and Binging to bring them to Gnostic Bent? Was there some pattern or discernible “method to their madness,” maybe something I could use later for my own blog benefit?

Sadly, the answer to that second question might be no. You be the judge, though. Here are the top search engine terms that led readers to me yesterday: jennifer lawrence nipple, conjoined twins nude, kim kardashian sex, free sex videos and jodi arias ass.

There is a discernible pattern, to be sure, but it would only be helpful if I intended to write a sex blog rather than a simple personal one. Since that isn’t likely to happen any time soon—or ever—I prefer to read through some of the zanier search terms just for shits-and-giggles. Here is a sampling of yesterday’s more humorous selections: boys wiener hanging out of pants, do all women suck it in, sucks being female, kate middleton boob, sunbathing birthday cake, teens skinny dipping, childbirth, acid cow camel, penis size does matter, sexy star trek, princess of mars nude, anal examination and bigfoot dead.

That last one is especially funny because we all know Bigfoot is alive, well and living in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It’s a fact!

In retrospect, those search terms don’t seem very flattering and give a weird impression of my blog. “Anal examination” will lead you here? It simply isn’t possible! Nevertheless, I included only the handful of search terms interesting enough to share. The majority of them were tame, run-of-the-mill and, honestly, quite boring. Believe me.

Kate is always a big draw (Getty Images)

Regardless of what brings readers to my blog—even if it’s the royal, milk-filled boobs of Catherine, new mom and the Duchess of Cambridge—I am more fascinated by the places from which they come. And thanks once again to WordPress—they aren’t paying me to write this, I assure you—I can track the total views of my posts in every country around the globe. If what their colorful map shows is accurate, then at least one person in almost every country on Earth has viewed my work. Maybe they mistakenly found it and immediately surfed away. Maybe a child accidentally discovered it and hit the “follow this blog” button repeatedly as if it were a game. Who knows? The fact that it is even possible astounds me.

Consider yesterday’s statistics in the “views by country” category, if you will.

I’m obviously an American. So naturally, most of my views come from the United States. And yesterday was no exception—the U.S. pulled in nearly three times as many views as the number two country, New Zealand. Following the leaders were Latvia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Slovakia, France, Indonesia, Australia, Sweden, Hungary and Greece.

Greece! It blows my mind to think that someone there read something I wrote. And since I had two views from there, it’s easier to convince myself at least one of them was valid. The opposite could also be true, I suppose—that two different people in that beautiful country read my work—but I’m kind of jaded and pessimistic where my writing is concerned. It’s a defense mechanism to protect against negativity, rejection and harsh criticism. I’m pretty sure most writers employ it at one time or another.

As if this wasn’t enough, a quick look at my all-time summaries showed hundreds of countries where views were logged, some of which I never heard of before—and I apologize in advance if this offends anyone from the mysterious nations I mention: St. Kitts and Nevis? Lesotho? Guernsey? Jersey? Brunel Darussalam? I have no idea where any of these places are—a few of them sound vaguely familiar—but I salute them nonetheless. And the thought of readers being there—wherever there is—blows my mind even more.

That seems to happen a lot since I first set up my WordPress blog. And despite all its challenges, its pain and its blood, sweat and tears, blogging is awesome and is definitely worth it. Granted, I don’t have a monetized blog raking in advertising revenue or peddling e-books or Amway products, but that’s fine by me. I see blogging more for the writing and less for the business anyway.

There’s time for monetizing later, but first you need a product worth selling. A product people want or, better yet, need.

I’m not ready for that because right now, blogging is a pleasure. And you know what they say about mixing business with pleasure, right? I can’t remember exactly how it goes. I just know that it’s never a good idea.

So thank you WordPress and, most importantly, thank you READERS for making my first year or so of blogging such a delight. I appreciate your time, comments and friendships—yes, I have made some pretty good friends this way—so here’s to another great year of pressing words in the blogosphere!

I hope to see you there!

Eat Fresh? Yeah, Right

The bread is always fresh and... phallic? (entertainment.ie)

The bread is always fresh and… phallic? (entertainment.ie)

Remember all those Subway television commercials featuring Jared Fogle, the guy who supposedly lost tons of weight by eating Subway sandwiches almost exclusively? If he ever needs to shed some additional pounds, I suggest he visit the Dublin, Ohio franchise featured in the news recently.

By the time he leaves, even starvation will seem preferable to ingesting any more $5 foot longs, believe me.

Two sandwich artists at the Tuttle Mall store in Dublin—Ian Jett and Cameron Boggs—were just fired after disturbing pictures surfaced on Instagram. Boggs apparently posted the photos, one of which shows co-worker Jett using his wiener to roll out bread dough. The other picture shows a water bottle half-filled with something labeled as frozen urine.

Not what you would expect from your local sandwich shop, huh? And no, this wasn’t the special for the day.

What toppings? Something to drink? (Gawker)

What toppings? Something to drink? (Gawker)

What it was—especially to the customers who frequent this Subway location—was nasty. Jason South is a regular visitor, but that could certainly change after this gross behavior came to light.

“I think I want to go home and consider puking,” he told WBNS once he heard his foot long might contain schlong. “Sometimes these things kind of go on in fast-food restaurants. And most of us just really don’t want to know about it.”

Actually, I disagree. If my sandwich artist decides to “sign his work,” in a manner of speaking, I would rather know about it.  I’ve made it this far without ingesting genetic material and will always find it—for lack of a better term—hard to swallow.

I’m sure Jared would agree. After all, lunch meat has all the protein a person needs…

 

Charlie the Tuna Strikes Back

Charlie the Tuna ain’t no chicken of the sea! (Sodahead)

The benefits of a diet rich in fish and seafood have been widely documented. And of all the delicious fish swimming around our world’s seas and oceans, few compare in terms of health and nutrition to tuna. The so-called chicken of the sea—to borrow a slogan from the popular Star-Kist canned fish once advertised by the lovable cartoon character, Charlie the Tuna—is popular all over the world for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, vitamin content, omega-3 benefits and, most importantly, its flavor. As such, fishermen everywhere pursue the many species of tuna in the hopes of providing customers with top-quality fish while also cashing in on its popularity.

One such fisherman is Anthony Wichman, a 54-year-old angler in Koloa, Hawaii.

Last Friday, Wichman took his 14-foot boat roughly ten miles off the coast of Kauai to try to catch some of the delicious and profitable fish. Luckily—or so he thought at the time—he eventually snared one hell of a tuna, a 230-pound beast that he fought for more than an hour before finally pulling the monstrous ocean-dweller aboard.

And that, unfortunately, is when things went horribly wrong.

“He gaffed [impaled] it once in the back and once in the eye and that caused the fish to take a final dive and he dove straight down,” Wichman’s daughter Anuhea said later. “The line wrapped around my dad’s ankle and pulled him overboard.”

Things were looking pretty grim for Wichman as he descended into the dark ocean depths, dragged under by the very fish he thought he defeated only moments earlier. In a panic and fearing for his life, he finally managed to break free and used his safety line to pull himself up to his capsized boat. Of course, that still left him floating miles from shore with no real hope of rescue. Then he remembered a piece of equipment lying unused in his pocket: his waterproof cell phone.

Wichman immediately placed a call to his daughter, who had trouble understanding exactly what was happening to her panicked father.

“All I could hear was him hyper-ventilating and puking,” she said. “And through his breathing, he was able to say three words: sinking, Coast Guard and buoy.”

Wichman with his catch (US Coast Guard)

Anuhea notified the Coast Guard and using his cell phone’s GPS—as well as some assistance from 911 operators—rescuers were able to pinpoint Wichman’s position. A helicopter soon arrived on the scene to deploy a diver, who helped Wichman aboard. And according to local news station KOHN, all he suffered were minor scrapes and bruises, not to mention some rope burn.

At least he was alive, though, and that is obviously what is most important.

Following his rescue, a few of Wichman’s friends went to retrieve and tow his boat back to shore when they made an amazing discovery: the huge tuna was still hooked to it! Needless to say, Wichman and his family rewarded the fisherman by letting them keep the delicious beast, which I’m sure will feed their own families for weeks to come.

In the battle of man against fish, the upper hand almost always belongs to humans. Of course, if Charlie the Tuna had his way on Friday, things would have worked out much differently for Wichman. And instead of sitting down to a delicious seafood dinner with his catch of the day, he himself might have been the meal. I hope he remembers this and takes a buddy with him next time… or at least a life vest!

Pop-Up Post: The Poot Police

Bud bust by the butt (beforeitsnews.com)

The science and technology of law enforcement has evolved rapidly in the last twenty or thirty years. From the development of pepper spray and the widespread use of computers in the 1980s to the announcement from the National Academy of Sciences that DNA evidence was indeed reliable in the 1990s, law enforcement has changed and improved in an effort to keep pace with crime and more tech-savvy criminals. And personally, I think they’ve done a pretty good job.

The future of law enforcement—at least that bit the public is allowed to see—promises to be even more amazing: scent and sound-based deterrents (for some stinky crowd control); metabolic supplements to produce super-soldiers (think Captain America times thousands); unmanned drones; bullets that can perform “tricks,” like exploding above a target or tracking one from hundreds of meters away; lighter, more impenetrable body armor; microwave deterrent systems (to cook rioters from the inside until they quit raising hell); robotic exoskeletons (Robocop for real); nanotechnology (which should revolutionize almost everything); cloaking devices; and so much more.

Honestly, some of it seems like it’s straight out of a science fiction movie. And criminals better pay attention because these days—and for countless days and years to come—“getting away with it” won’t be as easy as it used to be. The cops have, or soon will have, the technology to sniff out even the most clandestine criminal activities.

Speaking of sniffing out crime, it is important to remember that sometimes nothing can compare to old-fashioned police work. Consider a recent case from Leicester, England—one that illustrates how a nose for crime can often be a cop’s most valuable piece of law enforcement equipment.

A “crack team” of three police officers were cruising around Leicester when one of them suddenly attacked his partners with an unlikely weapon: his ass. Due to a new high-protein diet designed to complement his exercise regime, the flatulent flatfoot unleashed a barrage of smelly farts upon his confined car mates, forcing them to open windows as they gasped for air. And that’s when a nose for crime finally paid off: they smelled cannabis.

It must have been a welcome change from all that “protein shake pooting” in the car, believe me.

The cops investigated and discovered a cannabis factory nearby with a crop worth almost $20,000. Not a bad bust considering it all started with a bad butt.

Any chance we can get more officers on this exercise regimen?

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