1920: THE YEAR THAT SHAPED A CENTURY

In his introduction to 1920: The Year That Made the Decade Roar, Eric Burns wrote, “But although the year that is the subject of this book was a preview of a decade, it turned out to be more than that: it would be a preview of the entire century and even the beginning of the century to follow. . .” This blog entry focuses on this amazing year! 

The Nineteenth Amendment [finally] passed, granting 26 million American women the right to vote in time for 1920 US presidential election.  It was a near thing. The Tennessee House of Representatives voted in favor of the amendment 50/49.

  • Approximately 1,000 years since the formalization of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy guaranteed women equal political voice in the Onondaga, Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Tuscarora, and Cayuga nations around the Great Lakes region
  • 365 years after the first American woman insisted on voting in the New World and being told she was not entitled
  • 282 years after Margaret Brent, a successful Virginia businesswoman, demanded the right to vote in the state’s House of Burgesses in 1638 and was denied
  • 144 years after Abigail Adams urged her husband to “remember the ladies” in the new constitution
  • 51 years after the Territory of Wyoming officially gave women the right to vote
94 years before women were able to vote for a women for president on a major party ticket
All of these ladies were born before the 19 Amendment passed and are shown here voting for a female president for the first time.

Other than 1791 (when the Bill of Rights was ratified), 1920 was the only year in which the Constitution was amended more than once.  The Eighteenth Amendment (ratified in 1919 and put into action in 1920) prohibited alcohol in the United States. Dare I say the Nineteenth was the more successful amendment? The Eighteenth was subsequently revoked by the the Twenty-First Amendment.

The Volstead Act at work:
The alligators in the New York City sewers were very happy that day!
  • Prohibition forced California vineyard owners to diversify production, to market table grapes, and to improve raisin production methods.
    • The raisins would be marketed under the Sunmaid label.
    • These raisins were very talented, recording several jazz albums, starring in a TV show, and creating their own video game. I think they also fought crime.
  • Sales of coffee, soft drinks, and cream sodas boomed.  
  • Many hotels converted their bars to soda fountains and lunch counters.

The U.S. population reached 105.7 million.  A third of all people lived on a farm, but for the first time we had more urban dwellers that rural dwellers (54 million to 51.5 million).

1920 saw the beginnings of many major brand names: La Choy Food Products, Seabrook Farms, the Good Humor ice cream bar, Mint Products, Inc. was renamed Life Savers, Inc., Baby Ruth was trademarked, Oh Henry! Candy bar created.

The “Lost Generation” became a force in American literature.  Among books published in 1920: Main Street, This Side of Paradise, Flappers and Philosophers.  Also, F. Scott Fitzgerald introduced Scribner editor Maxwell Perkins to the short stories of Ernest Hemingway.

The biggest oil deposits in the world outside of Texas were discovered in Alaska.

In a story too strange for fiction, Superman later played a vital role in diminishing the Klans influence.

The Ku Klux Klan was revitalized in 1920.  They terrorized the nation, in well-known ways. Decades later, President Johnson tasked J. Edgar Hoover with subduing the KKK. The FBI (as the former BOI was then known) won an enormous law enforcement victory—but it wasn’t eradicated.

KDKA in Pittsburgh had approximately 1,000 listeners to their first broadcast.

Mass media were born with the first commercially licensed radio station broadcasting live results of the presidential election.

Arthur Perdue had rather questionable taste in accessories, a trait his son did not share.

Perdue Farms was founded in Salisbury, MD.  Former railroad worker Arthur Perdue, 34, paid $50 to buy 50 Legthorn chickens, built a backyard chicken coop, and produced table eggs. Most U.S. poultry specialized in eggs because chickens were a riskier proposition.

Perdue family note: Frank Perdue was born May 9. He grew up to attend college for two years and play semipro baseball briefly, but he ultimately went to work with his father.

The first terrorist attack ever in the U.S. The bomb was a horse-drawn wagon packed with 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of cast-iron sash-weights that acted like shrapnel. It was detonated by a timer at noon on the busiest corner on Wall Street. Thirty-eight people were killed outright, 57 people were hospitalized, some of whom later died. All told, more than 400 people were injured. Suspects included Russians, Italian anarchists, and the KKK.

“League of Nations: Capitalists of All Countries, Unite!”
The USSR was also not terribly keen to join the League of Nations.

John Reed, pro-Bolshevik author of Ten Days That Shook the World, died. He was and still is the only non-Russian buried inside the Kremlin walls.

The League of Nations was established.  President Woodrow Wilson was a chief architect. Although his Fourteen Points became the framework for the League of Nations, the United States never joined. In 1920, Wilson was completely disabled, having suffered a blood clot while promoting U.S. joining. 

The blood clot left Woodrow Wilson paralyzed, partially blind, and brain damaged.  In 1920, First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson was the de-facto POTUS. She took over, controlled access to the president, and made policy decisions on his behalf. She held a pen in his hand to write his name. The French ambassador to the U.S. referred to her as Mme. President.

Overfishing of the Sacramento River forced the closing of San Francisco’s last salmon cannery.  Cannery Row is now a tourist attraction. Steinbeck’s  Cannery Row is a big seller in the shops there.

Charles Ponzi was arrested in 1920 and charged with 86 counts of mail fraud.

The world sugar price dropped from thirty cents a pound in August to eight cents in December.  Milton Hershey lost $2.5 million in the collapse, as did other large sugar consumers. Pepsi-Cola headed toward bankruptcy when Caleb Bradburn lost $150,000. Chero-Colo (later known as RC Cola) ended the year with over $1 million in debts that hung over the company for years.

In 1920 the second and “most spectacular” of the notorious Palmer raids was carried out.  All across the country, in one fell swoop, thousands of accused communists and anarchists were arrested. The raid was organized by J. Edgar Hoover, then head of the Bureau of Investigation’s General Intelligence Division. This began his political ascent.

California legislators enacted a new Alien Land Act to prevent Asians from renewing their leases on farmland.

Among the many parallels Burns highlights, he wrote, “…just as there were pleas to close the borders, so were there arguments to keep them open. The issue was an incendiary one…”

For more parallels between 1920 and 2020, check out this post from Cheapism. Automation of labor, marijuana legalization battles, forward strides in feminism, increasing income gaps… Many of the issues we see in today’s headlines are eerily similar to headlines from 1920.

BOTTOM LINE FOR WRITERS: consider a plot that has historical roots; consider a character whose family traditions, money, or values have deep historical roots. And stay curious!

INVENTING KIDS

The National Inventors Hall of Fame hosts Camp Invention every year!

Children are incredibly imaginative, and sometimes they are incredibly inventive as well. Children have probably been inventing things forever! I found this information amazing and entertaining—and I hope you do, too. Some bits helpful to writers even surface here and there!

Louis Braille, blind from age 3, learned of and simplified a method of silent communication created for the French military. Braille was born in 1824.

At the age of 15, Chester Greenwood set out to solve the problem of cold ears in winter, created the first earmuffs, and patented the invention 1877 at the age of 19.  He improved the design and sold earmuffs for soldiers during the First World War. 

Writers note: Earmuffs were his idea but his grandmother sewed the beaver skin pads.

In 1905, at age 11, Frank Epperson accidentally invented popsicles.  He left a mixture of soda water powder and water in a glass and left in the stirring stick. After a cold night outside, he had the world’s first popsicle. 

Writers note: He didn’t immediately do anything with the idea. In 1922, he served it at a fireman’s ball and the success led him to patent the idea, first under the name Eppsicle, but changed it to Popsicle because that’s what his children called it.

In 1921, at age 15, Philip (Philo) T. Farnsworth diagramed an electronic television system.  It transmitted the first image six year later.

In 1922, Canadian Joseph-Armand Bombardier (age 15) unveiled the first version of a snowmobile to his family.  It traveled half a mile. He continued to modify it, and by 1959, his efforts had resulted in the Ski-Doo.

At age 16, in 1930, George Nissen came up with the idea for the trampoline.  He was struck by circus acrobats bouncing in their catch nets and set out to create something that would allow people to bounce higher. He started with canvas stretched on a metal frame, moved on to nylon, and eventually trademarked “trampoline.” He traveled the world demonstrating the trampoline and promoting his invention. At age 92, he could still do a headstand. 

Writers note: Nissen completed the early work on his invention by taking over his parents’ garage for a workshop. 

Alternate version: as a teenage gymnast, George Nissen and his coach created a bouncing rig of scrap steel and tire inner tubes to help him get the power and height to do a back somersault. 

Writers note: Perhaps one of your characters contests the accepted story of some invention.

As a teenager in 1934, Jerry Siegel got the idea for Superman.  His artist friend Joe Shuster made sketches. It took four years to find a publisher.

In 1962, 5-year-old Robert Patch used shoe boxes and bottle caps to make a vehicle the could be a dump truck, a flatbed, or a box truck.  His father happened to be a patent attorney and applied for a patent in his son’s name. At the time the patent was granted, Patch was 6, the youngest patent holder ever at that time.

Abbey Fleck was inspired to create Makin’ Bacon at age 8.  She and her dad created the prototype and patented their idea in 1993. It has been enormously lucrative. 

Writers note: She had the idea, her father helped and supported her to make it happen, and her grandfather took out a loan to pay for the first 100,000 units.

In 1994, K-K Gregory (age 10) invented Wristies.  These are fingerless fuzzy sleeves for the hands and forearms, worn under mittens. She tested them on her Girl Scout troop. Her mother worked hard with K-K to get the business going. 

Writers note: At an early age she met with patent attorneys, shopped fabrics, and wrote license and sales agreements. After 16 years exploring options, she returned to business and is CEO of her company.

In 1996, on a trip to Hawaii, Richie Stachowski (age 10) lamented that he couldn’t talk to others underwater. Back home, he researched aquatic acoustics, worked on prototypes, and came up with the Water Talkie.  Besides the people at the public pool who allowed him to test there, his mother helped him set up a company for inventing toys. Toys ‘R’ Us ordered 50,000 units. At age 13 he sold his company for a ton of money.  Again, the kid inventor was seminal but not alone!

Kelly Reinhart (age 6) invented the Thigh Pack when her parents challenged their children, on a rainy afternoon, to draw a picture of an invention, promising to make a prototype of the winning idea.  Inspired by holsters worn by cowboys, Kelly’s idea was a thigh-pack for kids to carry around their video games. They tried them with other children, refined the prototype, and patented it in 1998. The company Kelly started, T-Pak, sold nearly a million dollars’ worth of Thigh Packs and discussed possible military applications with the Pentagon before selling it in 2001. 

Writers note: In 2002, she started a not-profit to teach kids how to become inventors. Maybe you have a character who learned from Kelly?

At age 11, Cassidy Goldstein invented a Crayon Holder, which she patented in 2002.  This invention was intended to allow kids to continue to use broken, short crayons. 

Writers note: The unintended consequence was to help kids with poor fine-motor skills handle crayons. Consider the unintended consequences of the invention of plastics.

Sarah Buckel, age 14, invented magnetic locker wallpaper in 2006.  She asked her father, COO at MagnaCard to make magnetic wallpaper for her so she could decorate her school locker and not have to scrape off the decorations at the end of the year. He ran with the idea, Sarah helping with patterns and age-appropriate accessories. 

Writers note: Like many of the inventors described here, Sarah’s father’s faith in his daughter’s idea significantly contributed to the success of the invention.

Hart Main (age 13) got the idea for  ManCans in 2010.  His sister was selling typical scented candles at a school fundraiser. Main teased that she should try more “manly” scents. 

Writers note: His parents encouraged him to move beyond the tease. Hart used $100 from his newspaper route and came up with scents like Coffee, New Mitt, Bacon, and Fresh Cut Grass to add to his candles. 

Another note: Hart uses relabeled Campbell Soup cans, after donating the contents to soup kitchens across Ohio.  

In 2014, 12-year-old Shubham Banerjee, created a Braille printer from a LEGO Mindstorms set. Although Braille printers were available for $2,000, his printer cost $200.

Also in 2014, Alicia Chavez at age 14, in response to news stories of children who died with accidentally left in hot cars, came up with the idea of the Hot Seat.  It’s basically a small cushion that the child sits on in a car seat that connects to the parent’s smartphone. If the smartphone moves more than  20 feet from the car and the child is still in the seat, it sounds an alarm.

Students at the Melania Morales Special Education Center in Nicaragua created their own language, a form of manual sign language entirely independent of any other language system. Before the establishment of a school specifically for deaf students in the 1980s, Nicaragua had no system of sign language; children were taught to read lips. Students created their own system to communicate with each other, with the youngest children generating most of the grammatical systems.

Innovate Tech Camps in Australia

Bottom line: kids continue to invent. Why not one of your characters?

A student at Camp Invention

VERY MARRIED – OR NOT SO MUCH

Decades ago, the title of this book first brought that phrase to my awareness. Legally, of course, very married is nonsense—as are a little bit or sort of married. Legally, either you are or you aren’t. Is being married for a long time the equivalent of being very married? Many seem to think so. Marie Hartwell-Walker wrote “How To Beat the Odds: Tips from the Very Married” and featured a single photo of an elderly couple. Her article lists 13 tips from “long-married couples.”

I’ve paraphrased these tips below.

  • Commit to the commitment, and don’t even consider divorce
  • Give it all you’ve got, 100% from both partners
  • Bring a whole person to the marriage, not someone who expects the partner to make him/her whole
  • Make time for each other
  • Be a team (in duties, responsibilities, and decisions)
  • Learn to engage in friendly fighting: stick to the issues, be respectful, no name-calling, etc.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff
  • Do sweat the small stuff if it’s going to fester and grow big
  • Follow the golden rule
  • Be each other’s greatest fan, especially in public
  • Make yourself appealing
  • Respect each other’s families
  • Make special days special

Becky Whetstone (15 Things the Very Married Have That You Probably Don’t) makes many of the same points. But she also estimates that 12% or fewer of married couples are truly happy. Although neither of these lists specifically mention politics or religion, the Pew Research Center has data indicating that the former is more important than the latter:

  • Among those married since 2010, 39% have a spouse who belongs to a different religious group.
  • However, a 2016 survey found that 77% of both Republicas and Democrats who were married or cohabiting say their partner was in the same party.

Many of these tips, in one form or another, are included in Katherine Willis Pershey’s Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity. As the title indicates, she highlights another factor often presumed to characterize the very married: sexual fidelity. Many presume—and common sense would tell us—that sexual infidelity will harm a marriage.

Sean Illing’s article “A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together” is an interview with James J. Sexton, author of If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late. Sexton says couples come to his office for “big reasons like infidelity or financial improprieties.” But he also says that people fall in love quickly but fall out of love slowly, so there are lots of little things that precede the big reasons.

At one point, Sexton says Facebook is an infidelity-generating machine.  “It’s a huge factor now, and it’s getting worse every day. I can’t remember the last time I had a case where social media was not either a root cause or implicated in some way.” He says, further, that “…Facebook creates these very plausibly deniable reasons for you to be connecting with people emotionally in ways that are toxic to marriages.” So, he’s affirming that sexual fidelity isn’t the only issue.

Indeed, Jenny Block wrote a whole book praising sexually open marriage. In her opinion, sex isn’t the issue so much as the secrecy and deception that usually accompany a sexual liaison with someone other than the spouse.

That philosophy was shared by a high school friend of mine who, in adulthood, was a sexual free spirit. He was very open with his wife, who gave her permission for him to make booty calls and have f*ck buddies. At one point, she helped him write a personal ad seeking a “girlfriend” and interviewed the candidates with him. They had been married 25 years when he died.

So, sometimes couples set their own rules. Ours is a second marriage both for me and for my husband of many, many years. Before marriage, we agreed to two things: if either of us got sexually or emotionally involved with someone else but it didn’t threaten the marriage, don’t tell; and, if the marriage is threatened, for any reason, we would seek counseling before taking any other action. I realized that I felt very married when I stopped tracking our finances separately, calculating my financial status if the marriage ended.

A different version of very married is presented in COUPLES IN THE EMPTY NEST: VERY SEPARATE MARRIED LIVES (susanorfant.com). The thesis is that empty nesters have three choices: learn how to be a couple again, divorce, or stay married but lead very separate lives in terms of friends, activities, etc.

And speaking of those who are not-so-very-married: Hartwell-Walker (above) reports that 41% of first marriages, 60% of second marriages, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. According to “8 Facts About Love and Marriage in America” (pewresearch.org) although the marriage rate has declined, between 1990 and 2015 the divorce rate among adults ages 50 and older doubled, and among those 65 and older, the divorce rate roughly tripled. Although the Pew report just mentioned found that only 23% of the general population consider legal rights and benefits a very important reason to get married, Sexton (above) emphasizes that marriage is a legal contract, and that few people examine that ahead of time.

I can speak to that. Only after I married in New York State did I learn that my husband had the right of domicile—i.e., determining where we would live. If he wanted to move and I refused, he could divorce me on the grounds of desertion. When I took a job and moved elsewhere, we had a commuter marriage only because he did not divorce me on the grounds of desertion! 

Note to writers: know the rights and responsibilities that are included in the marriage contract, because they vary widely by state.

Despite everyone’s best efforts, life can throw all sorts of obstacles in the way of a lifetime of wedded bliss. If one partner develops Alzheimer’s and forgets the marriage entirely, what is the spouse’s obligation or possible response?

If one partner suffers an accident that makes physical affection impossible, is the spouse entitled to seek affection elsewhere? How can a couple keep their marriage healthy and strong if they are separated through geography, incarceration, military deployment, deportation, or some other element out of their control? After two people have been happily married for decades, is the widow/ widower still committed to the marriage when their spouse dies?

Bottom line for writers: there are many potential elements for being very married, but the one absolute is the commitment to remaining married. Consider all the ways you could show your characters’ strong or weak commitment to a marriage/relationship.

HOLIDAYS FOR DAYS AND DAYS

Here in the US, we tend to associate the entire month of December with celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Bodhi, and other holidays celebrating family, giving, and the days finally getting longer again. But there are a lot of other holidays in December! Some are international, like World AIDS Day (December 1st), and some are relatively local, National Illinois Day (December 7th).

Are we all supposed to visit Illinois? Does Illinois become the center of government? I’m not sure how this holiday works.

Many of the major religious holidays celebrated in December feature lights, reminding us to hope for spring in the northern hemisphere. Yule logs are burned, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah candles are lit, Christmas trees are wrapped in strands of LED bulbs, just like in days of yore. In the southern hemisphere, similar holidays take place in June. Some anthropoligists estimate that Australian Aborigines may have the been the first people to recognize and celebrate the turning of the seasons in June.

Because it’s Australia, they celebrate by swimming naked in the coldest lake they can find.
Australia again! There are 14 indigenous languages featured on their new coin.

December is the last chance we have to celebrate 2019 as the United Nations‘ designated Year of Indigenous Languages, Year of Moderation, and Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. You can practice moderation by learning only 1,000 of the 2,680 languages currently in danger of disappearing! Memorize only half of the periodic table!

Celebrate the glory of this fruit all month! And watermelons.

You can also celebrate your favorite causes or interests all through December. Not only is December International Human Rights Month, it is also Stress-Free Family Holiday Month (seriously?!) as well as Quince and Watermelon Month.

There are plenty of serious holidays and observances in December. There are too many to list here, but this is a sampling from around the world.

  • International Day for the Abolition of Slavery (December 2nd)
  • Pearl Harbor Remembrance (December 7th)
  • Kazakhstan Independence Day (December 16th)
  • South African Day of Reconciliation (December 16th)
  • Remembrance Day for Roma and Sinti killed by Genocide (December 19th)

Best of all (in my opinion) there are plenty of bizarre, odd, strange, perhaps even weird holidays in December. Every day of the month has at least two or three chances to sit back for a moment and reflect on how lucky you are not to be celebrating something that day. A few of my favorites are below, but there are many, many more online!

Mutt!
  • Bifocals at the Monitor Liberation Day (December 1st)
  • National Mutt Day (December 2nd)
  • International Ninja Day (December 5th)
  • Faux Fur Friday (first Friday in December)
  • Pretend to Be a Time Traveler Day (December 8th)
  • Pick a Pathologist Pal Day (December 13th)
  • Cat Herders Day (December 15th)
  • Barbie and Barney Backlash Day (December 16th)
For all your EXTERMINATE needs
  • Answer The Telephone Like Buddy The Elf Day (December 18th)
  • National French Fried Shrimp Day (December 21st)
  • International Dalek Remembrance Day (December 21st)
  • Phileas Fogg Win A Wager Day (December 21st)
  • National Pfeffernusse Day (December 23rd)
  • A’Phabet Day (December 25th) (No “L”!)
  • National Whiner’s Day (December 26th)
  • Fruitcake Day (December 27th, but I think my father is the only person who actually celebrates this)
  • Tick Tock Day (December 29th)

If you still haven’t picked a bizarre holiday, you still have a chance to celebrate Make Up Your Mind Day on December 31st!

Happy Kwanza (December 26th through January 1st)

Wednesday’s Child

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe . . .

A Child’s Similes

This was part of a solicitation on behalf of a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence with their children.  The last line is heart-wrenching,and it raises a question: was the bruise on Erica or someone she loved?  All of this led me to explore two topics—child abuse and child bystanders in families experiencing domestic violence and abuse.

Writers, note: it behooves you to know about these things so your writing is realistic.

It turns out that data on child abuse is relatively easy to come by.  From the National Children’s Advocacy Center:

  • 91.6% of victims (all types of abuse) are maltreated by one or both parents.
  • 90% of victims of child sexual abuse know their abuser.  Besides parents, other perpetrators known to the victim included foster parents, other relatives, neighbors, and daycare providers.
  • Rates of physical abuse and neglect are affected by socioeconomic status, being more common for families living near or below the poverty line.
  • Child sexual abuse occurs at all economic levels of society.
  • Most children delay or never disclose child sexual abuse to friends, family, or authorities.
  • Few children falsely report being abused (2-10%).
  • Medical evidence is found in less than 5% of substantiated child sexual abuse cases.
  • Child neglect is the most common type of abuse in the home.
  • At least 20% of substantiated child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by females.
  • Male and female victims of sexual abuse are equally traumatized.
  • Children with disabilities are two to three times more likely than children without disabilities to be abused.

Writers: any one of these statements could be a plot point.

 

The National Children’s Alliance provides additional data:

  • In 2015, an estimated 1,670 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States.
  • Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S. annually.
  • Children in the first year of life have the highest rate of victimization, 24.2 per 1,000 children.
  • Types of abuse vary, but three elements are most common: neglect, 75%; physical abuse, 17.2%; sexual abuse, 8.4%.
    • NB: some children suffered more than one type of abuse.
  • 90% of alleged abusers are related in some way to the child victim.
  • 40% of abusers were a parent or caregiver.
  • Nearly 25% of abusers were themselves children.

Writers: consider these behaviors for your villains.

Several studies have analyzed the cycle of child sexual abuse, including at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London and the University of New South Wales Faculty of Law in Sydney.   Among 747 males studied, being a perpetrator was correlated with their reports of having been victims of sexual abuse.  The overall rate of having been a victim was 35% for perpetrators and 11% for non-perpetrators.  Of 96 females studied, 43% had been victims but only one became a perpetrator.  Males who were abused in childhood by a female relative or who had lost a parent in childhood were more likely to become a perpetrator.  The bottom line: there is evidence of a victim-to-victimizer cycle for a minority of male perpetrators but not for females.

When someone says “abuse” images of physical abuse are likely to come first to mind.  However, as I learned when I volunteered at Hanover Safe Place (providing services for those suffering sexual assault and/or domestic abuse), there are at least five types of abuse.

  1. Physical abuse: hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, etc.  This type of abuse may include denying medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drugs on the victim.
  2. Sexual abuse: coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent, including marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence, or treating someone in a sexually demeaning manner.
  3. Emotional abuse: undermining a person’s sense of self-worth and/or self esteem by constant criticism, denying one’s abilities, name-calling, or damaging one’s relationship with children.
  4. Economic abuse: making a person financially dependent by taking total control of financial resources, withholding access to money, forbidding attendance at school or employment.
  5. Psychological abuse: including—but not limited to—intimidation; threatening harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets or property; forcing isolation from family, friends, school and/or work.

Writers: if you have a domineering character, consider the last three forms of abuse as tools to use.

DoSomething.org posted 11 facts about child abuse.  Some of those facts not covered in the preceding:

  • Approximately 5 children die every day because of child abuse.
  • 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys are sexually abused before they turn 18.
  • In 2012, 82.2% of child abuse perpetrators were between the ages of 18-44, of whom 39.6% were between the ages of 25 and 34.
  • Victims of child abuse/neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as juveniles, 28% more likely to arrested as adults, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime.
  • About 80% of 21-year-olds who were abused as children meet the criteria for at least one psychological disorder.
  • 14% of all men and 36% of all women in prison were abused as children.
  • Those abused as children are less likely to practice safe sex, putting them at greater risk for STDs.
  • They are also 25% more likely to have a teen pregnancy.

Last but not least, according to National Public Radio, through WBUR, the effects of abuse and mistreatment add up over children’s lives.  Abuse and neglect survivors are much more likely to have physical and mental health problems later on, including higher risk of suicide and running afoul of the law.  Summing across years, 12.5% of children overall have experienced at least one episode of abuse or neglect by age 18.  The numbers are worse for minority children: 21% of African-American children, 14.5 percent of Native Americans, and 13% of Hispanic children.

Minority Children Affected by Abuse

 

HOW CHILDREN LIVING WITH DOMESTIC ABUSE ARE HARMED

It turns out that finding data on this topic was more difficult than finding info on abuse of children per se, but there are indices of the harmful effects of witnessing abuse.

Development and Psychopathology (Vol 15, Issue 2) included a research report documenting that children exposed to high levels of domestic violence had IQ’s that were, on average, 8 points lower than unexposed children.  The researchers attribute this to the harmful effects of extreme stress on brain development.

The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (Vol 71(2)) included a meta analysis of 118 studies of the psycho-social outcomes for children exposed to “interparental violence.”  Child witnesses exhibited more child problems, and witnesses’ outcomes were not significantly different from those children who were physically abused themselves.

Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal (Vol 32, (8)) reported that children and adolescents living with domestic violence are at increased risk for emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.  They’re more likely to develop emotional and behavioral problems, and they’re more vulnerable to other adversities.  The researchers concluded that the impact of living with domestic violence can endure even after the child is safe.

Children exposed to complex trauma (including witnessing domestic violence) often experience lifelong problems that put them at risk for additional trauma and cumulative impairment (e.g., psychiatric and addictive disorders, chronic medical illness, legal, vocational, and family problems).  These may extend from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. (Psychiatric Annals, 35(5).)

Children exposed to maltreatment, family violence, or loss of their caregivers often exhibit depression, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and disorders of anxiety, eating, sleep, communication, separation anxiety, and reactive attachment.

The literature on complex trauma suggest seven primary domains of impairment in exposed children: attachment, physical illness/disease, affect regulation, alterations in consciousness, behavioral regulation, cognition, and self-concept.

Writers: consider the POV of a child witness to domestic abuse.

Emma Katz in Child Abuse Review points out that the forms of domestic abuse beyond the physical are still harmful to children.  Perpetrators’/fathers’ coercive behavior toward women (psychological, emotional, verbal, financial abuse; isolation and monitoring their activities) spills over to children.  They often prevented children spending time with their mothers and/or grandparents, visiting other children’s houses, getting involved in extra-curricular activities at school.  These non-violent acts isolate children, dis-empower them, and create a constrained world that stunts children’s resilience and development and contribute to emotional/behavioral problems.

Bottom Line for Writers: domestic abuse as it affects children is a rich vein for writers to mine.  Consider the complex possibilities: whether a character, whether now a child or adult, was a child also abused, the child’s gender and age, and the time since exposure to the abuse.  Consider whether a child witness would actively support the mother/victim (e.g., urge her to leave her abuser) or identify with the aggressor.  Take it anywhere!

This Gun for Hire

Information Writers Need About Contract Killers

handgun
I recently blogged about the going rates for body parts on the black market, and for human trafficking. Given how my mind works, that led me to murder for hire. Murder for hire is so much a part of popular culture and fiction—and so much info seems to be out there about illegal activity—that I was surprised to find only sparse and conjectural data about murder for hire. But here’s what I found, starting with the most concrete and mind-blowing.

Cost Per Hit

list of contract killers cost
Although the average payment for a “hit” is $15,000, if the offered rates are anything to go by, it can range from a few hundred dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars. And per the above list, it varies greatly by country.
From what I could find, hitmen are almost always men, between the ages of 25 and 49, unmarried. Murder for hire might stem from revenge, expediency (easier than getting a divorce), or a misplaced wish to spare the victim hurt. But by far the most common reason for murder-for-hire is either insurance policy payouts or a romantic relationship gone wrong. A study in Australia (supported by less rigorous data in the U.S.) indicates that contract killings account for 2%-4% of murders. The most common weapon is a firearm.  In determining a fee, the hitman needs to consider both risk and expected expenses.
Reliable information on the cost of murder for hire is hard to come by for several reasons—most especially that successful contract killers go unpunished and don’t talk about it. But fees depend on a number of factors, including:
  • the difficulty of the hit
  • the prominence of the target
  • the financial standing of the employer
  • the financial needs of the hitman

And from low to high cost:

  • straightforward murder
  • murder that looks like suicide
  • murder that looks like an accident
  • murder that looks like natural causes

HOW TO HIRE A CONTRACT KILLER

  • search online
  • check for references (really)
  • don’t meet the killer in person
  • don’t exchange names
  • don’t give a reason for the hit
  • pay in bitcoin to avoid traceability, use an escrow to pay when job is done
  • other than bitcoin, if you do know the hitman, consider jewelry, barter, etc.
  • don’t pay 50% up front because he might take the money and run
  • if you advertise, don’t accept the first two respondents, who are probably undercover law enforcement
  • to hire anonymously on line, don’t give real name, address, credit card, or phone number, and hide your IP through Tor Browser

WRITERS BEWARE

You can’t just troll around on sites like 18th Street Gan Hitmen on the dark web marketplace. If you try to get info by pretending to be a hitman, you will be asked to prove yourself by hurting a specific person in specific ways.

Why might no one take on your job?

  • You don’t have the deep pockets for an assassin who specializes in political targets, disguising homicide, or disappearances.
  • If you don’t have a reputation within the criminal world, you are a liability: you might be an undercover cop, get cold feet, or brag about it when drunk.
  • You don’t seem to have enough to lose if it fails.
police car with lights illuminated

Reasons for failure.

  • Most people who want someone killed don’t know the criminal underworld, so look to family, acquaintances, neighbors, or others who are inept or inexperienced.
  • Most people won’t do it, and would likely call the police.
  • Talking publicly and widely about wishing someone dead.
  • Mistakenly believing that not actually doing the act means no criminal liability.
Bottom line for writers: Murder for hire could be a powerful part of your story

Why Daisies? Why Not?

lettuce
Didn’t know lettuce is a member of the daisy family? Lots of people don’t. And there is much else that is surprising about this enormous plant family. But even so, so what? Well, I got interested, and when I’m interested, I explore and write. But why read this blog? Because writers can bring plants into their work in any number of ways.
  • as a character’s hobby
  • as a character’s work
  • as a reflection of a character’s character or personality
  • as a reflection of a character’s aesthetic taste (or lack thereof)
  • as factoids characters can drop into conversation to amaze and astound
aster
[Source: Plantopedia]
The big picture. Technically, the daisy family—also commonly known as the sunflower or aster family—is the Asteraceae family. It’s huge.
  • 13 subfamilies
  • 1,911 genera
  • 32,913 named species
  • for size, it’s rivaled only by orchids. Which is larger is unknown.
  • mostly annual or perennial herbs, it also includes shrubs, vines, and trees
  • this family grows worldwide, except Antarctica and the extreme Arctic
Many daisies are known primarily as food. Dandelions head this section for a reason. They were introduced into the New World by European immigrants who ate the greens—but now are more often considered a weed than a food.

 

safflower
Besides lettuce, important food crops include endive, chicory, artichokes, sunflowers, and safflower.
tarragon
Daisy species are used as culinary seasoning: tarragon, salsify, and stevia, for example.

 

chamomile
“Daisies” such as camomile are used for herbal teas. Also included here are pot marigold, and echinacea, which is used in medicinal teas. In fact, many species are used as traditional anti-parasitic medicine.
ragweed
Species such as ragweed cause allergic reactions such as so-called hay fever. Other varieties cause contact dermatitis—as many who work with flowers can testify.

 

dahlias
[Source: Midwest Living]
Many of us think of daisies first as flowers, but many varieties are important for the flower industry. Besides dahlia, think Gerbera daisies, calendula, zinnia, chrysanthemum, and many others.

 

And, BTW, chrysanthemum as well as several less familiar species have useful insecticidal properties.
marigold
[Source: Garden Design]
Marigolds serve important industrial purposes. It is used in commercial poultry feeds, and it’s oils are used in colas and in the cigarette industry.

 

Several varieties of daisies are copious nectar producers and are thus important for beekeepers. These include sunflowers, knapweed, and some species of goldenrod. Goldenrod in particular has a high protein pollen which helps honey bees winter over.
Bottom line: just imagine all the ways a little knowledge of the daisy family might season your writing!
yarrow

Happy Anniversary, 1984

george orwell 1984
Original cover of 1984 [Creative Commons]
June 8 marks the celebration of the 70th anniversary of 1984 by George Orwell, published in 1949. It will be a day to celebrate this classic novel, its impact over the last several decades, and the important lessons it teaches us.

Originally titled Nineteen Eighty-Four, the novel now goes by its more popularized title, 1984. For those who were not assigned this book to read in school:

Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life—the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language—and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written. [Goodreads]

In the novel, Great Britain (called “Airstrip One”) has become a province of a superstate named Oceania, which is ruled by “the Party,” who employ Thought Police to persecute independent thinking. The Party’s leader is Big Brother, who may not even exist. The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, is a Party member. Although Smith is an outwardly diligent and skillful worker, he secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.

1984 george orwell movie
A still from the 1956 film [Source: Bustle]
Since 1984 has been published, it has introduced several words, terms, and concepts into the English language, such as:

Since its publication, 1984 has won numerous awards, been translated into at least 65 different languages, and has been listed as one of the most important historical novels in history by such organizations as Time magazine, Modern Library, and the BBC.

Have you read 1984? What was its impact on you?

What You Think Upon Grows Day

What You Think Upon Grows Day (2)

Today is What You Think Upon Grows Day. It’s a day to remind oneself and others of the power of positive thinking. Studies have shown that there is a major difference in the lives and health of optimists and pessimists.

According to the Mayo Clinic,

Positive thinking doesn’t mean that you keep your head in the sand and ignore life’s less pleasant situations. Positive thinking just means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way. You think the best is going to happen, not the worst.

What You Think Upon Grows Day

Positive thinking like this does lead to health benefits, such as:

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

What You Think Upon Grows Day

If you consider yourself a negative thinker, it’s a good idea to identify those negative thoughts and begin to reprocess them as positive. For instance, if you think to yourself, “There’s no way this will work,” you can rephrase the thought to say, “I can try to make this work.”

What You Think Upon Grows Day

Remember, these thoughts and actions do not go away overnight. It takes time and practice to become a positive thinker. Why not start on What You Think Upon Grows Day? It might be the perfect start to a new, healthier lifestyle.

Birds Here and There

birds here there
Keeping a nature diary has spotlighted how often I look for and at birds. Bird feeders just outside my kitchen provide many opportunities as I eat breakfast or lunch. Until now, my focus was mostly on beauty, dominance, and learning the names of the locals.

 

birds here there
Now, it seems I have a very narrow window on birds of the world: there are approximately 10,000 different species worldwide! They have a few things in common, however: they have feathers, wings, lay eggs, and are warm-blooded. They are thought to have evolved from theropod dinosaurs. They have hollow bones which help (most of them) to fly. (Kiwis are an exception. They are flightless. And, FYI, they lay the largest eggs relative to their body size.)

 

About 20% of bird species migrate long distances every year. And birds have the same five senses as humans: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.

 

But amid these commonalities are enormous variations.

 

Sight: birds use sight for flight, evading predators, and finding food. They are especially good in perceiving motion and detail—2 to 3 times better than humans. Those with more widely positioned eyes have a wider field of vision, including being able to see directly behind themselves. (Think evading predators and evading attacks.) They have an inner eye membrane to help protect their eyes and clean them often. During flight they often spread their wings to protect their eyes, and when attacking they go for the eyes of their adversary. The owl, famously, has to turn its whole head to see.

 

ostrich head
The ostrich is the largest bird in the world, and they have the largest eyes of any land animal. They are approximately the size of billiard balls, and are actually bigger than their brains. Also, FYI, ostrich eggs are the biggest and they have the fastest maximum running speed (97 kph, just over 60 mph).

 

But in spite of eye size, other birds (e.g., murres) have been shown to see, and recognize, it’s partner several hundred meters away out at sea.

 

peacock eye
Compared to mammals, birds have relatively large eyes. In general, bigger eye means better vision. In fact, bird eyes are bigger than they look, because all but the pupil is covered with skin and feathers.

 

Diurnal birds that become active at dawn have larger eyes than birds that become active later after sunrise. Nocturnal birds (with the exception of kiwis) have relatively larger eyes.

 

People have three types of photoreceptors in the retina: red, green, and blue. Birds have these AND ultraviolet—which they use to find food as well as partners.

 

Birds use their right and left eyes for different tasks. Domestic chicks use their left eye to approach their parent. Male black-winged stilts are more likely to direct courtship displays toward females seen with their left eyes. When peregrine falcons hung, they rely mainly on their right eye. New Caledonian crows show individual preferences for one eye or the other when constructing tools or prying prey out of crevices. The stronger the preference for one side is, the better the bird is at problem solving, foraging, etc.

 

So far it is know that songbirds, ducks, falcons, and gulls can sleep with one eye open. A study of mallard ducks showed that those sleeping in the center of a group were more likely to have both eyes closed, whereas those on the edge were more likely to keep the eye facing outward from the group open.

 

There is also evidence that birds can sleep on the fly, e.g., swifts and glaucous-winged gulls.

 

Hearing is the second most important sense. Their ears are located behind and below the eyes and are covered with soft feathers for protection. The ears are funnel shaped to focus sound. Here again, owls are special. Their face plates (facial discs) help direct sound. Surprisingly, so called “ear tufts” of owls and other birds have nothing to do with hearing.

 

barn owl
Birds’ hearing is much more acute than humans  for sound recognition, though with a smaller frequency range than humans. They are especially sensitive to pitch, tone, and rhythm changes. They use this sense to recognize other individual birds, even in flocks. Birds use different sounds, songs, and calls in different situations to identify predators, mark a territory, or offer to share food. FYI: owls simply devour small prey whole (think insects, mice, etc.) and regurgitate indigestible bits like bones and fur.

 

bat san diego zoo
[Source: San Diego Zoo]
Bats and oilbirds (and perhaps others I haven’t read about) use echolocation. Bouncing chirps and clicks off solid objects is used to navigate through dark caves.

 

Touch is more important to people than to birds. Even so, birds are very sensitive to changes in air temperature, pressure, and wind speed, changes which are transferred down the feather to nerves in the skin. Some have special feathers around their bills that seem to serve a purpose when feeding.

 

Mutual preening—which involves manipulating one another’s feathers—is important in courtship for many bird species. On the other hand, they have fewer nerves in their legs and feet, which makes them less sensitive to extreme cold. Shore birds have extremely sensitive touch receptors in their bills, aiding them when feeding through mud, water, etc.

 

Taste is not well defined in birds. Depending on the species, they have fewer than 50 or as many as 500 taste buds, compared to 9,000-10,000 in humans. Birds can taste sweet, sour, and bitter, and can identify suitable and most nutritious food sources—but this is less important than sight and hearing. For those of us who hope to discourage squirrels and raccoons from a particular food source, birds are impervious to spicy-hot, as in cayenne pepper infused birdseed.

 

Smell is the least developed bird sense. They have small olfactory centers in their brains. Therefore, some claim this debunks the myth that nesting birds will reject a fledgling that has been handled by humans. In fact, songbirds cannot detect the human scent.

 

That generality aside, vultures, kiwis, honeyguides, albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters all use keen senses of smell to locate food, often from treat distances or when the odor is not noticeable to humans.

 

And now to some interesting (to me) facts about birds.
 
  • Hummingbirds can fly backwards. The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest living bird in the world, with a length of just 2 inches. Larger hummingbirds, on average, weigh less than a nickel. The smallest ones weigh closer to a penny
  • Chickens are the most common species of bird in the world.
  • Homing pigeons are bred to find their way home from long distances, and have been used as messengers for thousands of years. During WWI and WWII, Pigeons were used in this way, but also for reconnaissance.
  • Pigeons can learn to play pingpong, among things.
  • They are excellent at visual signal detection and other similar tasks.
  • A great tool-making bird is the crow. Not incidentally, they (along with ravens and rooks) have large brains compared to other birds. They mainly make probes out of wood, twigs, or wire to catch or impale larvae. But crows are among the only that create their own tools.
  • Tool use in other birds is mostly shown in intricate nest building.
  • Although not making tools, other birds use them. For example, a parrot may use a tool to wedge to crack nuts. Gulls often drop shellfish in front of cars to crack them open.
  • Although parrots are renowned for being able to talk, ravens in captivity are even better at mimicking human speech, as well as the sounds of car engines revving or toilet flushing. In the wild, they sometimes imitate other animals, such as wolves or foxes as a way to get them to make carcasses bird edible.
acorn woodpecker
  • Acorn woodpeckers store acorns in holes they drill in trees or other wood items. They have been known to store up to 50,000 acorns (each in its own tiny hole) in a single “granary” tree
  • While on the water, the black and white coloring of penguins camouflages them both from above and below by blending with the surround.
cardinal
One bird I especially like is the northern cardinal. It’s one of the most popular birds in the U.S. Indeed, the cardinal is the state bird for seven states: Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and North Carolina.

 

Although male cardinals are brighter, females have more elaborate songs. One cardinal may have more than two dozen song variations. Both sexes sing, and sing year round.

 

Cardinals are territorial—the territory defended against competitors by the male—and are noted for trying to fight their reflections in mirrors, windows, and other reflective surfaces. Cardinals are monogamous while together, and may mate for life.

 

They eat various seeds, fruits, berries, grains, and insects depending on what’s available.

 

bluebird
Another favorite is the bluebird.  They can be found throughout North America, including my back yard. Bluebirds, too, are monogamous throughout a breeding season, and may breed together for more than one season. Also like cardinals, they are territorial. The male tends to defend the outer territory while the females defend the nest.

 

A bluebird can spot caterpillars and insects in tall grass at a distance over 50 yards. They especially like live mealworms.

 

In my experience, bluebirds tend to come to the feeder in pairs—sometimes more than two pairs at a time. I think of them as family birds.

 

My backyard aviary is alive with goldfinches, purple finches, titmice, mourning doves, robins, grackles, starlings, house finches, and sometimes mocking birds, hummingbirds, crows or hawks. Right now, I know less about many of these birds. Sufficient unto the morrow.

 

Bottom line for writers: Nature writing can enhance any genre. Consider bird details for your next story.