Sunday, July 22, 2007


Back in May, I and about a thousand others reported on the giant pig that 11-year-old Jamison Stone killed in Alabama. It weighed in at 1,051 pounds, was photographed by a newspaper and was reportedly a wild boar.

The first reaction by everyone was that it was a hoax. Of course that was also the first reaction to Hogzilla, a giant hog killed in Georgia, but when investigators dug up the carcass they discovered it was indeed an outlandishly oversize hog. It wasn't quite as big as first claimed, but it was indeed humongous.

Turns out that the Alabama pig really was as big as claimed, but that's where the truth in the story ended. Field & Stream, the venerable hunting and fishing magazine, reports that the 11-year-old really did kill the pig, but there were several key facts that the "hunting guide" failed to tell anyone. Number one, the hog was killed on a fenced hunting preserve, and number two, it was so tame its previous owner had named it. The owner of the preserve bought Fred the pig from a farm four days before the hunt, invited the local newspaper to tag along, and took the little boy and his father straight to the giant pig. In other words, the "hunt" was roughly akin to what farm boys experience every November at hog-killin' time. They walk out to the hog lot, pull out the .22 and start the process of converting pig to pork.

Now the boy and his dad apparently didn't know the pig was a farm animal when they hunted it, but they certainly knew it was a game preserve because it charged by the pound for pigs killed.

This once again points out the unsavory practice of canned hunts, in which animals are confined on fenced farms and "hunters" pay big bucks to go out and take target practice on tame animals. The most notorious of these in recent memory was the case of Troy Gentry of the country music group Montgomery-Gentry, who pleaded guilty to shooting a tame bear with a bow and arrow, and then tagging it as though he had killed it in the wild. Presumably Gentry, the pretty-boy half of the music duo, was trying to improve his redneck credentials by pretending to be a brave hunter who tracked down a dangerous bear in the wilderness with only his trusty bow. Too bad the wilderness in this case was a three-acre woodlot surrounded by an electric fence, and the bear had the suspicously cuddly name of "Cubby."

(You're a real macho man, Troy. Maybe you should dump Eddie Montgomery and join The Village People. )

While Gentry's action was illegal, what the Alabama game farm did was perfectly legal. However, it was about at unethical as anything I can think of. Canned hunts not only take away the dignity of the animals, they damage the reputations of all hunters. The owner of the preserve should have to pay not only cruelty to animals, but cruelty to that little boy for the ridicule he's had to suffer for his prize pig.

As a side note, Field & Stream has a quiz this month to see whether you can tell the difference between a wild boar and a farm pig. If you plan to hunt in Alabama, it might come in handy.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Monster stalks the unfriendly skies

Somewhere in the bowels of the U.S. Department for Homeland Security, a mad scientist is laughing maniacally as his creation rises from its slab. Its boots clump-clump across the floor and it roars its displeasure at the lightning bolt called September 11 that breathed life into its dead body. Small children flee from its withering glare. Women scream and men tremble with fear. The monster sees, and is satisfied.

Dr. Frankenstein is alive and well, and his monster is terrorizing airline passengers everywhere. Only the monster that the Frankensteins in government created isn't wearing its signature black t-shirt and suit coat: she's wearing a flight attendant's uniform.

Since Congress passed new laws making it a crime to interfere with a flight crew, stories just keep cropping up about grouchy flight attendants who have decided that annoying passengers are a threat to national security. More and more, the targets of the flight attendants seem to be children. A three year old and her family were kicked off an AirTran flight in South Florida earlier this year. Last year, a woman was removed from her flight for breast-feeding her infant. In 2003, a Northwest Airlines flight attendant finally pleaded guilty to assault after spiking the drink of an unruly 19-month-old with a prescription depressant.

Last week, an Express Jet Airlines flight attendant kicked Kate Penland and her 19-month-old son Garren off a plane in Houston, telling the pilot that the mother threatened her. The mother and other passengers say there was no threat; the flight attendant was simply annoyed because the child kept talking while she did her pre-flight safety instructions. After Penland refused to use "baby Benadryl" to quiet the child, the flight attendant invented the threat and had the pilot return to the gate to eject the mother and her son.

Sara Nelson, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, was interviewed about the situation on CNN Friday morning, but apparently failed to grasp the concept that this was a child. Nelson rambled on about the government's failure to provide security training to flight attendants, who she described as our "first line of defense" against terrorism.

Personally, I think Nelson is being unfair to the U.S. government. Our nation's flight attendants are doing a bang-up job at defending us, and we should be proud of their successes. Thanks to the billions of tax dollars spent and the coordinated efforts of brave stewardi like those mentioned above, we have absolutely nothing to fear from babies.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Profiled in Owensboro, Ky., newspaper

Suzi Bartholomy plans to feature Precious Blood in her column in The Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer tomorrow. (The paper costs a dollar per day to view on line, so be prepared if you attempt to read the column. The Google link to Suzi's name is the best I could do because of the accessibility of the web site.)

Suzi is an editorial assistant, columnist and avid reader, whose husband, a literature professor, runs a popular poetry reading series. Her regular column and her News and Notes column are widely read in Owensboro and the surrounding area. I worked with her when I was assistant city editor at the M-I.

Perhaps Kentucky, better than any other place, proves the adage, "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet." And perhaps no towns in the state but Whitesburg, where the crime detailed in Precious Blood occurred, and Owensboro are more illustrative of that fact. Whitesburg is in the far southeastern reaches of Kentucky, and Owensboro is in the northwest. Whitesburg lives and dies by coal, but corn is coin of the realm in Owensboro. Whereas Whitesburg is a mountain town, Owensboro is a river port. And while Whitesburg has a mere 1,600 residents, Owensboro is the third largest city in the state with a population of 55,000 and a metro population of 111,000. Despite those differences, Owensboro residents should identify with the folks in Whitesburg.

Letcher County, where Whitesburg is located, is on the Virginia border, but Pike County residents like to point out that their county, not Letcher County, is the eastern-most in the state. Owensboro is in the western third of the state, on the Indiana border, but people in Paducah scoff at the idea that Owensboro is western Kentucky. But more than anything, the two are similar in the closeness of their residents. Owensboro is a small town masquerading as a city. Its longtime residents are every bit as intimate at those in Whitesburg. I hope Owensboro residents enjoy Precious Blood, and find some common ground with their neighbors 300 miles to the east.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Back in action

With a new baby and two crashed computers, I've been limping along on the Internet lately. One of my machines (my older, slower one) is back up and running now, so I should be posting more again.

For those of you who may have missed the earlier post, In Cold Blog is in full swing now. That blog is a joint effort by 30 true-crime authors, police officers, prosecutors, crime victims, and editors. It is the brain child of Corey Mitchell, author of Strangler, Evil Eyes, Hollywood Death Scenes and others. I've kept up with my once-a-month duties on that blog. You can find my latest post updating the case I wrote about in Precious Blood at that site.