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I feel silly doing this here, too…

But I am trying to save some folks trouble: Put simply, if you are seeking “Huff Paranormal” Steve Huff, you are in the wrong place. I am not that man. To my knowledge we are not blood related and I have had only the most limited interactions with him.

We are both easy to find via Google and we both are connected to heavy subjects—me to true crime and him to contacting the spirit world.

About that I will only say I’m a skeptic but I try to avoid judging others’ beliefs. And I’m not 100% skeptical, either. But enough.

Anyway, to clarify: If you are curious about the Steve Huff who says he is contacting deceased Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput via his spirit box, this is not his blog.

You’re welcome to stick around, though. I’ve transferred years of posts to this site, many of them my crime writing, and I may even update it more often, like I’ve said I’d do for like 10 years and not really done.

Email to Customers About the Coronavirus From That Weird Junk Shop Run By the Guy Your Dad Knows From High School (Plague Diary, 2)

 

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Folks,

Here at Jim’s Funky Junkatorium, our customers and associates are like family. Or at least people we see every now and then and may have followed home one drunken night last Christmas. Anyway, in the last few weeks, we’ve been laser-focused on the health and safety of our friends and loved ones.

We want JFJ customers to know that we’re following federal, state, and local agency guidance regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19). It’s an evolving situation and we are on top of it!

Steps that JFJ is taking to protect our customers and staff:

In-store

  • Cleaning common areas as well as the freight elevator where our cashier Brad spanks the spigot every day at 1:30. (Yes Brad, you funky-handed scamp, we know.)
  • We’re disinfecting our cash register and credit card terminals; we’ll also no longer accept cash pulled from between boobs or buttcracks.
  • We sanitize the restrooms whenever Pasty Pablo or Stinky Lucy aren’t in there providing “carnal concierge services.”
  • We’re periodically wiping down display items, baskets, dollies, carts, and Brad. Mostly Brad.

For Employees

  • We encourage all JFJ associates to be vigilant about their health. No one is allowed to play snot-rocket bingo in the breakroom anymore.
  • Associates should follow the CDC’s suggested hygiene practices to the letter
  • Asking associates to stay home if they, or a family member get sick. They may also choose to set themselves on fire.

For Customers

  • We ask our customers to follow the CDC’s suggested hygiene practices to diminish viral spread
  • Just a reminder – stay out of the freight elevator.
  • Questions about inventory are welcome! Call our hotline.
  • When shopping, avoid eye contact with Brad.

These are terribly uncertain times. The world has grown wicked creepy scary. But we’ll stay open providing you premium pre-loved goods that have definitely not been stolen or—in the case of personal items—looted from funeral homes. Promise!

We’re open every day, 8 am till midnight or whenever we’re sure Brad has gone home and isn’t watching.

Your JFJ family

Plague Diary, 1.

And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands. And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city. There was no one who wept for any death, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed it was the end of the world. This situation continued [from May] until September. ~ Agnolo di Tura, Siena, 1348 

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A medieval Plague Doctor (Wikimedia)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Agnolo di Tura, called The Fat.

I don’t mean to be melodramatic. In fact, I very strongly doubt the world in the grip of the Coronavirus Pandemicwill be anything like the graveyard that was Europe in the wake of the Black Death. Most things will go forward. There may even be opinion pieces written later about how it was all overblown.

One hopes, anyway.

I began with the passage above because this sentence is like a prose earworm in my brain, some days: “And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands.” If you read all of Agnolo’s narrative, you’ll see this is how it begins:

The mortality in Siena began in May. It was a cruel and horrible thing. . . . It seemed that almost everyone became stupefied seeing the pain. It is impossible for the human tongue to recount the awful truth. Indeed, one who did not see such horribleness can be called blessed. The victims died almost immediately. They would swell beneath the armpits and in the groin, and fall over while talking. Father abandoned child, wife husband, one brother another; for this illness seemed to strike through breath and sight. And so they died. None could be found to bury the dead for money or friendship…

You can read the entire piece here.

There are other readings as well, but the image of Agnolo, a fat man struggling in the heat to bury his children under a merciless sun, has never quite left me. The simplicity of his narrative has always struck me as sorrowful in a timeless way. The kind of devastation that has no point in history because whatever the year on the calendar, it would be the same for anyone in similar circumstances. The words of a man writing nearly 700 years ago, and it’s almost as if you can still hear him sigh.

I’m mostly just following the brush with this post, which is being written on the kind of day that has always given me the creeps, because it is so like bad dreams I had as a child.

It is windy and a little chilly outside. Clouds are rushing by, white and gray, and the sun isn’t really out but I can see blue sky as well. The evergreens that rise behind the houses across the street are restless in the wind, which doesn’t moan so much as it murmurs.

I had a lot of wind-filled nightmares when I was a child.

One that I never forgot came shortly after watching the 1964 film version of Richard Matheson’s I Am LegendThe Last Man On Earth, starring Vincent Price. In that nightmare, I woke to a murmuring and constant wind pushing its way through my childhood home, which was in ruins. One of my sisters was just a mummy in a creaking swing on the back porch. I found myself outside then, and I stepped over two mounds in the driveway that I realized were my parents’ graves.

The wind never stopped, and I know I thought that whatever happened to everyone had come with the wind.

The dream ended at my elementary school, with me standing outside my kindergarten classroom, which was in shambles. I heard the distinctive ringing bounce of a red gym ball on the cement behind me, as if someone had just dropped one, and I turned to see a ball bouncing away, but there was no one there who could have dropped it.

And so I come back to this wind outside today, and all the coronavirus news skittering across my Twitter feeds, on my big-screen TV, and the Agnolo di Tura in my mind, hunched and sweating over the dead.

No one wants to know that kind of sorrow. No one wants to know how alone the man must have felt.

So I guess even the worst-case scenario imaginings in my mind regarding coronavirus are enough to shake me a bit, to rattle my cage.

There are probably many lessons to learn from Agnolo di Tura. The one that will not leave my thoughts today is something that first occurred to me after my brother committed suicide 20 years ago. Then again after my sister died from septic shock in 2016.

Sometimes it is a curse to survive.

Mysterious Explosion at Salty Brine State Beach, Narragansett, RI (updated)

Google maps
Google maps

Update, 12:55 p.m. –A Twitter user receiving texts from the scene isn’t the greatest source in the world, but this is a worthwhile update to at least point out there could be many reasons for random explosions–like damaged gas lines or faulty grills:

Original post–First noticed reports of an explosion at Salty Brine State Beach in Narragansett Rhode Island on Twitter, from various bots that tweet interesting reports from websites used to monitor emergency services radios.

It is a gorgeous, warm summer day in most of New England, as perfect a beach day as you might imagine. Any beach in this region will be crowded, the roads leading to them thick with traffic as well.

The Providence Journal reports:

[Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management] Spokeswoman Rayna Maguire said details are still sketchy, but a 50-year-old woman who appeared to be “trapped” on the rocks had been taken to South County Hospital. There were no other reports of injuries.

Maguire said that witnesses reported the explosion was under the sand and blew the woman onto the rocks.

A few beachgoers tweeted what they heard or witnessed.

There are no indications right now as to the source of the explosion, however since April, 2013, it’s not much of a stretch for New Englanders to assume terrorism is afoot when something like this occurs.

United Airlines, NY Stock Exchange, Wall Street Journal all suffer ‘glitches’

After reports of major delays in airports due to a computer issue affecting United Airlines, the New York Stock Exchange and the Wall Street Journal all suffered from cyber problems. All at this point have been explained away by the companies themselves as technical problems, not cyber breaches.

Then there’s this, tweeted by the Anonymous newsfeed, @YourAnonNews, just before midnight on July 7:

This looks at first like a subtle nod at some kind of action to come, something YourAnonNews might do, but some who learned of YAN’s tweet after the tech issues struck had a different take:

Ms. Lopez’s take doesn’t feel like a stretch, either.

Writing about crime and cyber crime over time I came to realize that a vivid imagination can serve writing about true events by sparking lively prose, but it can be troublesome once you start trying to sleuth or guess about whatever you’re covering. The little dramatist in my head tries to take over and turn real world events into a suspense novel. And sometimes the real world is mundane. There are coincidences. Machines fuck up. People write faulty software.

I’m trying to blog more, just about things that interest me–news, crime, cyber crime, unsolved mysteries, cold cases, missing people, history, fitness–but as I do I become aware of the way some of my thinking has changed since I did it every day as a job and for myself. One of those changes is accepting that sometimes there really isn’t any drama there (wherever there is at that time). At least no more drama than the usual theater of things falling apart. As they do. [WSJ]

It’s probably nothing: the United Airlines Computer Glitch

Computers fail. Entire server farms full of computers fail. Nothing electronic is failsafe. So, the full stop that grounded United Airlines on the morning of July 8, 2015 might simply be a tech problem. Such issues have occurred before and will again.

It is worth it to note, however, that United Airlines has offered rewards to hackers who find security flaws in the company’s systems. Those rewards could be considered a challenge, or they could be considered by some an implied admission that there are flaws to find.

And as Sophos’s Naked Security blog also notes, United has had issues in the past with data insecurity.

So far United has only acknowledged vague computer issues. And sure, that’s probably what it is. In case it’s not, the information may show up in searches like this, first. [NBC]

Reductions of Arms, Naval Holidays and Unexpected Eruptions of Insanity

On February 24, 2014, American Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed considerable cuts in US military spending. Hagel’s  cuts seem rational in light of the United States’ costly involvements in various conflicts for more than a decade. From a Defense Department press release:

Hagel called the reductions — including shrinking the Army to its smallest size since before World War II and eliminating an entire fleet of Air Force fighter planes — “difficult choices” that will change defense institutions for years to come, but designed to leave the military capable of fulfilling U.S. defense strategy and defending the homeland against strategic threats.

Hagel admitted there are risks in his proposal. For example, the Defense Dept. report says Hagel’s plan “calls for reducing to as low as 440,000 active duty soldiers from the current size of 520,000, while ensuring the force remains well trained and equipped.” Any reduction in troops for a country that’s had so many stationed overseas for so long seems risky.

There is optimism in the idea of making these cuts. They show strong confidence in our technological advantages and suggest reduced national posturing in favor of calm command of the situation.

That said, I was looking through papers from this date 100 years ago when I found an article that made me question my positive response to Hagel’s press conference.

Great Britain was the leading world super power in the early 20th century, though several nations nipped at its heels.

On February 26, 1914, an article published on American wire services detailed an address from the English First Lord of the Admiralty in which he urged an interesting plan for England and Germany. He proposed both nations take a “naval holiday” and halt construction of battleships for a year. According to the article, “Widespread interest was aroused by the proposal” and significance “attached to the offer,” which the lord made during a discussion of naval expenses and “the inevitably heavy increase in armaments if the rivalry continued.”

The article stated that the official’s plan came about because “the situation in Europe was much clearer […] than it had been for some time.”

The report continued, saying there were “strong evidences of a desire for peace and the greatly improved relations between Great Britain and Germany rendered the moment favorable for the resumption of the consideration […] of a naval holiday.”

Winston Churchill, circa 1914. From a copy of the Ontario Argus, 2/26/1914.
Winston Churchill, circa 1914. From a copy of the Ontario Argus, 2/26/1914.

The First Lord of the Admiralty speaking of Europe’s clear “situation” and good relations between his country and Germany was Winston Churchill, then 40.

Approximately 5 months after his address, World War I began.

In 2014 perception of our world situation is clearer than it would have been for anyone taking the temperature of the times in 1914. Anyone curious and engaged with access to the internet can get a better grasp on the situation in Ukraine in 50 minutes than 1914 English military intelligence might have had on tensions in Austro-Hungary in 5 months.

So it would be silly to use the irony of Churchill’s proposal coming a scant few months before the Great War to predict events in the world today. And the parallel is weak, if you poke at it–for example, America’s proposed draw-down of troop force is for the US alone. It’s budgetary, not pacific. Chuck Hagel didn’t invite China or Russia to do the same because the world situation seems just fine now; he knows it’s not.

Ignore the coincidence, then, and take what happened so soon after Churchill’s open hand to Germany as a word to the wise. In February, 1914, Churchill said there were “strong evidences of a desire for peace.”

Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on June 28. The war began on July 28.

Five months from now, everything will likely be fine and Hagel’s announcement won’t seem ironic. After all, in our hyper-connected world, how could things change that fast and a nation as powerful as the United States not have some warning?

Well… each year, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) issues a “Preventive Priorities Survey.” Its purpose is to evaluate possible future violent conflicts around the world. The survey also determines how likely a given conflict might be in the year to come.

The 2014 survey, issued in mid-December 2013, has a number of solid predictions for what they call Tier I, high priority conflicts, including:

-A severe North Korean crisis caused by a military provocation, internal political instability, or threatening nuclear weapons/long-range missiles

-A mass-casualty terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland or a treaty ally

-A highly disruptive cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure

-Renewed threat of military strikes against Iran as a result of a breakdown in nuclear negotiations and/or clear evidence of Iran’s intent to develop a nuclear weapons capability

-Increasing internal violence and political instability in Pakistan

Venezuela, which is currently in such a state of unrest that Pope Francis has called for calm and dialogue, was highlighted on the CFR’s 2014 conflict map. It was labeled Tier III, or “low priority.”

Ukraine, which in the last week toppled its President after months of protest, was not highlighted at all. Now the Russian military is on alert as tensions rise between Russia and the new, still wobbly Ukrainian leadership over the Crimea.

It isn’t that World War III may be right around the corner. That’s a stretch. But even today, Venezuela and Ukraine alone prove that international affairs can explode in remarkable, unpredictable ways. Those events can defeat the deeply informed minds in the United States Defense Department or the experienced analysts at the CFR and render their plans and warnings moot. Just as in the past, when a chain reaction of chaos blooming across Europe confounded–perhaps–a mind like Winston Churchill’s.

I wonder if Churchill ever thought of that “naval holiday” proposal as the Great War raged, and shook his head in dismay.

[Defense.gov]