When to Use the Passive Voice

April 25th, 2015 1:44pm - Posted By: Mark Cohen

In the active voice the subject of the sentence performs the action. In the passive voice the subject is acted upon.  The active voice requires fewer words and tracks how people think. 

Passive: This contract may be terminated at any time by either party on thirty day’s written notice to the other party.  (20 Words).

Active: Either party may terminate this contract on thirty day’s written notice to the other party.  (15 words).

I believe there is only ONE circumstance in which a lawyer should use the passive voice in writing, and that is when you want to hide the blame for something.

Active:  My client made a mistake.

Passive: Mistakes were made.  (But I'm damn sure not going to admit my client made them).

Even Better Passive: Mistakes may have been made.

I've seen others argue that it is also appropriate to use the passive voice when you don't know who performed the action.  For instance if you know the Governor was informed that the legislature had passed a bill, but you don't know who informed the Governor, you could write, "The Governor was informed that the legislature had passed the bill." 

However, I disagree with this use of the passive voice.  You could accomplish the same goal by writing, "The Governor learned the legislature had passed the bill."   Under this approach you use the active voice to focus in what is important -- what the Governor learned.  How the Governor learned it is probably not important, but if it is important, take the time to find out who informed the Governor so that you will better understand the sequence of events. 

So remember: There is only one situation in which a lawyer should use the passive voice, and that is when you want to hide the blame for something.

Posted in: Plain English

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What is Cohen's Law?

April 25th, 2015 5:07am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

Cohen's Law states that when a lawyer makes an argument to a judge or jury, the lawyer's persuasiveness peaks one minute into the argument and then drops sharply such that the longer the lawyer speaks the closer the level of persuasiveness comes to approaching zero. 

I had sensed this intuitively from decades of trial work, but formalized it in 2001 while serving as a Municipal Judge for the City of Boulder. 

Posted in: Legal

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Recipe for Cohen Slaw

April 25th, 2015 4:58am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

Recipe for Cohen Slaw:

When I went to full-time private practice in 2003 I wanted the domain name Cohenlaw, but some lawyers in Pennsylvania had that, so I took Cohenslaw instead. It worked well because while serving as a Municipal Judge in Boulder I had invented "Cohen's Law." (See graphic above). However, ever since then, about once a month, somebody makes a coleslaw joke, so I finally decided to create a recipe for Cohen Slaw. Here is the recipe:


1 pound medium carrots, peeled
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of wine vinegar
Pinch of ground clove
Pinch of cinnamon
Garlic salt


Grate carrots and put the grated carrots into a bowl. Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, clove, and cinnamon together, pour over carrots, and toss. Add garlic salt to taste. Serve with crackers, biscuits or bread. It is not an accident that there is no cabbage used in this recipe.

Posted in: Misc.

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Three Models for an Analysis of the Aesthetic Value of Country Music

April 21st, 2015 1:50pm - Posted By: Mark Cohen

Three Models for an Analysis of the Aesthetic Value of Country Music

Posted in: Humor

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How to Draft a Bad Contract

April 18th, 2015 12:06am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

How to Draft a Bad Contract (Click Here)

Posted in: Legal

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The Flow of Existence

April 16th, 2015 3:48am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

The Flow of Existence (click)

Posted in: The Big Picture

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April 16th, 2015 1:56am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

Most of us have heroes. Mine include Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Churchill, Harry Truman, JFK, Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, Sacajawea, and Grace Hopper (Google her). 

Sometimes a person becomes a hero because of a lifetime of work. Martin Luther King devoted his life to seeking equality through non-violent means.

Sometimes one becomes a hero by making a difficult, but courageous decision. President Truman ordered U.S. forces to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II and eliminate the need for a bloody ground invasion of Japan that likely would have killed millions.

Sometimes a person becomes a hero by risking their life to accomplish something great.   Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had no guarantee that the Lunar Module that landed on the moon would be able to blast off and reconnect with the orbiting space capsule.

A person may become a hero by taking a stand that may have severe consequences for them. Rosa Parks risked jail by choosing to sit in the front of a public bus. 

Sometimes a person becomes a hero by thinking outside the box. Albert Einstein dared to think about space and time in a different way, and changed the way we see the universe.

And sometimes an average person becomes a hero by standing up for or rescuing another in spite of the danger. A woman falls onto the subway tracks as a train approaches. A man jumps in to help her get out of danger. Often these heroes say they are not heroes at all – they did what any normal person would have done.

A person may become a hero because of a natural talent or because of a skill gained as the result of decades of hard work. Or both. Chuck Berry could “play a guitar just like a ringing a bell.” If you don’t think that takes talent, try playing Johnny B. Goode on a guitar at his speed.

You may become a hero simply by believing in yourself. On February 15, 1978, an unknown 197 pound kid won the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship by closing in on the much larger and quicker Muhammad Ali for fifteen rounds. Spinks had not even fought in the heavyweight division at the 1976 Olympic Games and had only eight professional fights when he fought Ali. 

There is one more type of hero. You can’t place this kind of hero in the company of the others, but they deserve mention. These are the daredevils. They risk their lives – not to accomplish something great like walking on the moon – but simply to tempt fate or set records that are ultimately not very important. They are the thrill seekers. Think Evel Knievel.

And when you combine daredevil with a creative mind and a little disrespect for authority, you may find a person that becomes this type of hero by virtue of a single act. One such man was Larry Walters. Larry was an ordinary truck driver, but he had always dreamed of flying. On July 2, 1982, at the age of thirty-three, Larry decided to live his dream. He tied 42 helium filled weather balloons to a lawn chair, and took to the skies with a pellet gun (to shoot the balloons when he was ready to come down), a CB radio, and some cold beer.

Larry catapulted up to 16,000 feet and began to shiver because of the cold. He was somewhere over San Pedro, California, when the pilot of a passing jetliner noticed him and alerted authorities. Larry started shooting balloons, but accidentally dropped the pellet gun overboard.

Larry eventually returned to Earth. A federal aviation official said, "We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, some type of charge will be filed," Mr. Savoy said. "If he had a pilot's license, we'd suspend that. But he doesn't." Ultimately, the F.A.A. fined Larry $1,500.00. Larry made the rounds on the TV networks and gained his fifteen minutes of fame. He killed himself at the age of forty-four.        

Posted in: Misc.

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How to Create Social Change

April 12th, 2015 5:43am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

In the spring of 1974 my high school still had a policy requiring every male student participating in sports to have a respectable haircut. No long hair, no ponytails, no exceptions. We also had to wear a coat and tie on game or meet days.

In March of 1974 a new student began attending our school. At the age of sixteen, Travis Ford (not his real name) stood 6’3” and weighed 220 pounds. He was built like a Greek god and many of his male classmates envied him. Many female classmates envied him as well because Travis had luxurious blond hair that flowed down to his shoulder blades.

Physical education classes were mandatory and it didn’t take the P.E. teachers (who also coached sports at the school) long to notice that Travis was a gifted athlete. Shortly after his arrival, the P.E. teachers encouraged Travis to stay after school, meet the track coach, and maybe run a few sprints. Just for fun.

Travis accepted the invitation and showed up for track practice on a gorgeous afternoon. And the one thing most of us wanted to see more than anything was to see Travis run the one hundred yard dash. So Travis dutifully positioned himself at the starting block, waited for the coach to blow the whistle, and then sprinted one hundred yards with his long hair flowing behind him. As Travis crossed the finish line, the coach clicked his stopwatch and announced the time. I don’t remember Travis’ exact time, but we all knew who the fastest kid at that school was that afternoon.

The track coach was a science teacher and was not a stupid man. He was also a coach on the football team. He knew immediately that Travis would be a successful sprinter, but he also knew Travis would make an exceptional tight end as well.

I don’t know whether this next part of the story took place that afternoon or maybe a day later, but at some point the track and football coaches called Travis into a conference room. I wasn’t present, but one of them probably said something like, “Travis, you are an exceptional athlete. We think you’d make a fine addition to our track team. And we believe we have a sport for you on the varsity football team as well.”

And Travis probably replied, “Thanks, Coach. I’m flattered.”

“There’s just one thing,” the coach said, “You’re going to have to cut your hair. It’s the school’s policy.”

At this point, Travis probably waited just a second or two, leaned back a little, maybe smiled, then stood up and said, “You know, sports aren’t that important to me. I like my hair the way it is.” And then he left.

This was not the reaction the coaches had expected. This next part is conjecture, but it’s good conjecture. Within a day or two, one of the coaches suggested to another coach that maybe it was time to reconsider the haircut policy. “It’s his hair,” the other coach replied, “why should we care how he wears it?” Shortly thereafter the track and football coaching staff met to discuss changing the haircut policy. A few of the “old school” coaches may have been resistant – until they heard how fast Travis had run the one hundred yard dash. They soon reached a consensus – the haircut policy had to go. The head track and football coaches made an appointment to see the principal.

The principal was a really cool guy who loved to wander the halls and chat with students. And he never missed a football game. He had a doctorate in education. The coaches arrived in his office for their scheduled meeting and explained that they wanted to abolish the haircut policy. The principal, being an open minded man, was not averse to the reconsidering the policy, but if he had any hesitancy, Travis’ time in the one hundred yard dash quickly cured that. The principal abolished the haircut policy.

Posted in: Politics

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Jack - The Forgotten Guthrie

April 12th, 2015 5:40am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

Most people my age are familiar with Arlo Guthrie, the musician best known for his 1967 anti-war song, Alice’s Restaurant. Many have also heard of Arlo’s father, Woody Guthrie, the legendary folk singer who created such songs as This Land is Your Land. But few know of Jack Guthrie, Woody’s cousin and Arlo’s second cousin. That’s a shame because Jack was one of the most important country singers of the 1940’s. In his time he was far more commercially successful than Woody ever was.

Jack was born in Oklahoma in 1915, but his family moved to California in his late teens. There he learned to play the guitar and fiddle. Jack competed in rodeo and began singing in bars and clubs up and down the Pacific Coast. In 1937, Woody’s family moved from the Texas Dust Bowl to California, and the cousins teamed up to play music together. Soon they had a radio show on a Hollywood station – the Oke and Woody Show. The show was popular, but it paid no money, and Jack eventually gave it up and took a construction job to make ends meet.

Woody moved to New York City in 1939 where he soon hooked up with political activists and singers like Pete Seeger, but Jack stayed in California and became known as, “Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy.” In 1944, Jack asked some musician friends to help him record Oklahoma Hills, a song Woody had written several years previously and had stated anyone could use. Capitol Records loved the song and gave Jack a seven-year contract based on that recording. 

Before Capital Records released Oklahoma Hills, Jack was drafted into the Army and sent to Iwo Jima in Special Services as an entertainer. It was on Iwo Jima that Jack learned Oklahoma Hills had hit the top spot on Billboard’s list of Folk Songs and Blues back in the states.

A problem soon arose. Woody heard Oklahoma Hills on a juke box and contacted Capitol Records, claiming the song was his. Jack and Woody eventually agreed to share the copyright. Then, before being discharged from the Army, Jack was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Jack did not take the issue seriously and continued to write and record cowboy songs.

The popularity of Oklahoma Hills made Jack a hot commodity. Soon Earnest Tubb got Jack a gig on the Grand Ole Opry. However, by the spring of 1947, the tuberculosis was taking a toll on Jack.  Jack, who was six feet tall, weighed less than one hundred pounds. The doctors told Jack he was going to die, but this did not alter Jack’s energetic and upbeat approach to the western swing music he loved. His records were selling and Capitol Records wanted all the recordings Jack could provide. Jack did not let them down; he continued recording, eventually turning out more than thirty songs. He proclaimed that because he was going to die, he might as well leave a legacy.

Jack died from Tuberculosis in 1948. Arlo still sometimes plays Oklahoma Hills in concerts.

Posted in: Music

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Close Encounters of the Orange Kind

April 12th, 2015 5:33am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

Growing up in Denver I had several encounters with a few great Denver Bronco players over the years.

My first face to face meeting with a Bronco was when I was in high school in the mid 1970's. We lived near I-25 and Yale in Denver, on a street that bordered the Highline Canal. It's hard to imagine now, but the area had an almost rural feel to it then. There was a frontage road along I-25 (then known as the Valley Highway), and one of our pastimes in winter was to throw snowballs at cars on the frontage road. If a driver stopped to chase us down, he was out of luck because we could run across the dry canal bed and the driver would be unable to get his vehicle across the canal. This worked well for many years until one day we ran across the canal bed and came met Bronco linebacker Joe Rizzo. It turns out Rizzo lived down the street from my family and we had sought refuge from an aggrieved driver in his back yard. Joe was none too happy with the snowball throwing and made his feelings on the subject clear. After that he was very nice to us and sometimes paid my brother and me to shovel snow from his driveway. He sold real estate in the off season and sometimes we would see him knocking on doors asking people if there were interested in selling their home. Joe may be the only NFL player ever to graduate from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at King's Point. He may also be the only man to ever play linebacker and punter in college. He had a 90 yard punt in one game while at King’s Point.

My next encounter with a Bronco came a few years later when I was in college. I worked in the kitchen at a pizza place in Glendale one summer. This was a great job because I could eat all the pizza I wanted and drink all the beer I wanted. (3.2% beer was legal for 18 year olds at the time). Sometimes I delivered pizzas and on those nights I could not drink beer.

One night in the summer of 1978 I delivered a pizza to an apartment off of Leetsdale Avenue. When I approached the apartment I detected what police officers usually describe as "a strong odor of suspected cannabis." My eyes almost popped out of my head when a famous Bronco great opened the door. There were a bunch of other guys seated around a large table and they were playing poker. I was bulked up at the time (It was the age of Arnold, Franco Columbu, and Lou Ferrigno) and I said something to the player along the lines of, "You're not as big as I thought you would be." He just got a big old smile on his face, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "I'm big enough, my man." He made me eat a slice of pizza and gave me a big tip. I still love that guy. (And he’s still famous).

My third and final encounter with a Bronco was a year or two later. I was still in college, but that summer I worked as an armed guard at night at the Colorado State Bank Building in downtown Denver. I loved that job because I could read all night (and I liked to read) and go up on the roof and look out over the city.

One of my duties was to lock most of the doors at 6:00 p.m., and on the remaining unlocked door was a sign indicating that after hours visitors had to sign in at my desk.

One night I was reading at my desk when Bronco Defensive End Lyle Alzado walked briskly through the unlocked door, did not even look at me, and strode straight to the elevators like he meant business. He had veins popping out of his neck and a very determined look in his eyes. He was wearing a polyester shirt that showed off his massive chest and arms.

This is a dude that I knew bench pressed more than 500 pounds. This is a dude that had fought an 8-round exhibition bout against Muhammad Ali at Mile High Stadium just a few weeks ago. Humans are born with a survival instinct, and mine told me to not mess with Alzado that night, so I did the smart thing -- nothing. Alzado went on to play for the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Raiders. He died of brain cancer at the age of 43 arising from his admitted use of anabolic steroids.

Posted in: Personal

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The Treasure of Pirate Dad

April 10th, 2015 4:41am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

"C'mon boys," my father urged, "time to get up."  My brother and I slowly came to life.  "I've found a treasure map," he continued, "but we've got to start right now -- before the pirates come back for the treasure."  It was a sunny morning in the summer of 1964 and we were vacationing near Gloucester, Massachusetts.  I was six and Roy was three.

The thought of searching for buried treasure got us hopping; every child knows about buried treasure, but how many are fortunate enough to come into possession of a genuine treasure map?  We were ready in an instant, but after discussing it with my mother, my father decided we had time for breakfast before we set out on our journey.

"Show us the map, show us the map," we sang in unison.  Looking around to make sure no one was watching, my father carefully removed the map from his shirt pocket and revealed it to us.  It was old and wrinkled; dotted lines traversed it and a giant "X" marked the spot where the treasure was buried. 

"Where did you find it?" I asked.

"I bought it from an old sea captain," said my father.  My brother and I were in awe.

Dad paid for breakfast and we drove to the beach.  We exited the green Buick station wagon, eager to begin our quest.  "Aren't you boys forgetting something?" my father asked.  My brother and I looked at each other.  "We're going to need some shovels to dig up the treasure; you'd better take your shovels and pails."  We gathered our plastic shovels and beach pails.

"Alright," said my father as he examined the map, "the first thing we have to do is find the rock with the dragon painted on it."

"There it is," I said as I pointed.

"Over there," said Roy.  The three of us walked to the dragon.  My father examined the map closely. Dad was sure smart; he could even read old pirate maps.

"Now we have to walk twenty paces to the piece of driftwood," my father said.  We carefully walked twenty paces and, sure enough, we ran smack into a piece of driftwood.

"Now whadda we do?" I asked.  He studied the map.

"Now we must face the sun and walk fifteen paces in that direction."  He showed us the map; there was a drawing of the sun on it and a dotted line connecting it with the driftwood.  We began walking, counting our steps out loud.

"Giant crab!" my dad shouted.  My brother and I jumped sky high.

"Dad," I said, "don't do that.  Let's find the treasure."  My brother started crying and it took my dad a minute to get him calmed down.

"Well," he said, "it looks like now we have to go forty paces toward the tallest tree on the far side of the beach."  He showed us the map and we walked it off together.  When we completed our forty paces, a giant "X" appeared in the sand.  "Start digging," my father smiled.

In an instant my brother and I were hard at work with our orange plastic shovels.  We dug pretty deep, but found nothing.  "I don't think it's here," I said.  "Me neither," echoed Roy.

"Should we give up?" my father asked.  "The pirates probably buried it pretty deep to make sure nobody would find it."  We resumed digging and soon hit something hard.  We scraped at it with our hands and saw we had found a flat wooden surface.

As we dug more, we realized we had struck a wooden chest -- about one foot long and one foot deep.  With help from my father, we removed the heavy wooden box and set it down in the sand.  The only problem was there was a lock on it.

"The sea captain gave me this key," my father said.  He handed it to me, but I couldn't open the lock.  "Let me try," said my dad.  He jiggled the key and the lock popped open.  We opened the chest and saw more coins than we had ever seen -- pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and half-dollars. 

That was years ago.  As I got older I began to question whether my father hadn't staged the whole episode.  After all, pirates probably stopped burying treasure long before the U.S. Mint started producing Kennedy half-dollars.  The ancient treasure map could have been aged by pouring coffee on it.  And why wouldn't the sea captain have gone after the treasure himself? 

Well, maybe my father pulled the wool over our eyes, but it was a great adventure for two little boys.  And I still have the chest.

Posted in: Personal

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The Bloodhounds That Saved Christmas

April 10th, 2015 4:34am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and at the North Pole

Every darn reindeer had the flu – or a cold;

Santa’s sleigh was jam packed, and none too light

But with no healthy reindeer there would be no Christmas flight;


The reindeer were nestled all snug in their beds,

While double doses of Ny-Quil danced in their heads;

And Santa at his laptop singin’ the blues,

Prepared to email the children with his sad, sad, sad news;


Mrs. Claus made hot cocoa spiced with Jim Beam,

Fearing for Santa and his sick reindeer team;

When out in the snow there arose such a clatter,

Santa told his old lady to see what was the matter;


Away to the window she flew like a jet,

She nearly knocked over the old TV set;

The flood lights on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the luster of mid-day to the objects below;


When, what to her wondering eyes should appear,

But eight big, beautiful bloodhounds with two-foot long ears;

Santa, she said, you’d better come quick,

These hounds can flat fly, they might do the trick;


In a flash the bloodhounds were hooked to the sleigh,

“Damn,” said Santa, “this is my lucky day!”

More rapid than eagles the bloodhounds they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;


“Now, Slobber! Now, Drool!, now Big Tongue and Vixen!

On Carter! on Reagan! on, Clinton and Nixon!

To the top of the porch! To the top of the deck!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash like all heck!”


So up to the housetops the bloodhounds they flew,

With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

With their big ears spread wide, the hounds they sure flew,

In three seconds they went from zero to mach two.


And more than one kid heard sounds on their roofs,

But, the sounds were of paws rather than hooves;

Down each chimney Santa came with a bound,

While the roof supported the weight of eight hounds;


In the morning each child woke, feeling giddy as Jello,

Asking parents why the icecicles were yellow;

In less than one night Santa delivered his toys,

to all good little girls and good little boys;


They got dolls and trumpets and ropes to skip,

And G.I. Joes with the kung-fu death grip;

The hounds dropped Santa off at his home at the pole,

and consumed gallons of water from his big reindeer bowl;


Then they spread their long ears and leaped into the sky,

and as they looked down they heard Santa cry;

“The bloodhounds saved Christmas, who cares if they drool?

If not for those hounds, I would look like a fool;”


And away the hounds flew, to their home in the south,

where they chased raccoons and slept on the couch;

But they heard Santa exclaim as he faded from sight,

“Merry Christmas to all, and all a good-night.”

Posted in: Poetry

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Our Friend, the Mountain Lion

April 10th, 2015 4:30am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

It is that time of year again – time to bash the mountain lion.  I, for one, am tired of this annual hate mongering and I think it is high time to set the record straight.  Mountain lions have always been peace-loving animals.  When the pilgrims first landed on Plymouth Rock, the mountain lions taught them how to plant corn.  The mountain lions taught them to hunt turkeys.  The mountain lions taught them to make pumpkin pie.

But the white man was not content to live in peaceful coexistence with the mountain lion.  As an ever-increasing number of colonists arrived, the white man began to push the mountain lions off their land.  Rather than wage war with the white man, the mountain lions decided to move west of the Appalachians -- to the unoccupied lands surrounding the Great Lakes.  Many of them settled in and around the area we now call Detroit, which is why their football team is named the Detroit Lions.

As more and more people came to America, the poor mountain lions were pushed ever westward.  Finally, these once proud creatures were placed on reservations, though it is now more politically correct to refer to them as national parks or, worse, “cougar enhanced areas.”

Despite this cruel and unjustified treatment, the mountain lion has served bravely whenever the security of this great nation has been threatened.  Think about it.  Why did the Japanese never even attempt to invade the United States in World War II?  That's right -- it was because they were scared of mountain lions. 

Is it not true that one well-placed mountain lion on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository could have prevented the assassination of President Kennedy?  Think of the great mountain lions this country has produced over the years: The Pink Panther, Top Cat, Snagglepuss, and, of course, the Mercury Cougar.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment I have a dream.  I have a dream that one day we will live in a nation where creatures will not be judged by the fur on their skin, but by the content of their character. 

From the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire to the great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, let lions roam.  From the redwood forests of California to the Gulf Stream waters of Mississippi, let lions roam.  When we let lions roam, when let them roam in every village and hamlet, in every state and city, we will be able to speed up that day when of all of God's children, man, mountain lion, skunk and porcupine, every creature (except for snakes) will be able to join hands and sing," Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God almighty.  Free at last!”

Posted in: Humor

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How I Write

April 10th, 2015 4:26am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

Writing is simple.  Here is my step-by-step guide.

First, use the bathroom.  Unless you have an overactive bladder or IBS, you shouldn’t have to go again for at least one hour.  Thus, you have already eliminated one possible excuse you might otherwise use to justify not writing.

Second, find a quiet place where family, friends, missionaries, and door-to-door salespeople cannot bother you.  If the phone rings, ignore it.  (If you must answer, try saying, “North Korean Defense Ministry, how may I help you?”).  I get a lot of good ideas this way. 

Third, sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, breath easily, and visualize a big dumpster on a hot day.  Smell it.  See the flies buzzing around it.  Now visualize all the nitpicky little rules your high school English teacher drilled into you, and toss them into the dumpster.  Good.  Visualize all the cookie cutter formulas reviewers love to use as a checklist in writing their reviews, and toss those into the dumpster too.  Walk away from the dumpster.  Don’t look back.  You feel better already, don’t you?

Fourth, now you must escape your analytical mind.  Remember, the root word of “analytical” is “anal.”  Writing is not a logical process.  If you write in a left-brained state, an obnoxious little voice inside your head will criticize every sentence as it appears on your monitor.  “That sentence sucks,” it will say.  “I’ll never be a good writer.  I am a failure and always will be.  Maybe I should move to Finland.” 


There are proven techniques to help free yourself from your analytical mind.  A glass of good cabernet is one, but that is not always feasible, particularly if you like to write while driving.  If wine is not an option, a few minutes of meditation should do the trick.  Count backwards from one hundred in multiples of three.  Draw a picture of a platypus with your non-dominant hand.  Utter a few lines from your favorite movie.  One of my favorites is, “Captain, it is I, Ensign Pulver, and I just threw your stinkin' palm tree overboard! Now what's all this crud about no movie tonight?”[1]  It does not really matter how you do it – just get your mind into a creative state.

Now you are ready to write.  This is the fifth step. Don’t think about what you are going to write.  Thinking is bad.  If you type “the” and immediately sit back to ponder whether you might have used a better word, go back to Step Four.  Have another glass of cabernet. 

Just write.  If you don’t know what to write, type one sentence – whatever comes into your mind.  If the best you can do is, “The car was red,” that’s fantastic!  Now you have a storyteller and an object – a red car.

Now write a few more sentences – whatever comes into your mind.  “Joe hated red cars.  He had hated them ever since his stepfather made him take the red Volkswagen on the night of his senior prom, more than ten years ago.”  Wow, we have a character – Joe.  We know he is ten years out of high school.  We know he had a stepfather.    

We need a plot.  Write a few more sentences – whatever comes into your mind.  “But this car was different.  Not only was it red on the outside, it was red on the inside.  Blood red.  And it was his stepfather’s blood.  Yes, Joe had some ‘splainin’ to do.”

Now we have our first paragraph! 

I do not enjoy outlining or creating character profiles.  That is work, and I don’t like work.  I prefer to just write, knowing that I will edit and change things as my story progresses.  By the time I complete this book, there may not be a red car, or a Joe, or a stepfather.  Maybe my subconscious will come up with an idea while I am sleeping.  The point is that I got something down on paper – I now have some raw material that I can shape and mold a little bit more each day.

That’s how I write. 

Oh, I forgot to tell you.  This process works for me; it might not work for you.  If this does not work for you, toss it into the dumpster and find something that works for you.

[1]That line was uttered by Jack Lemmon in Mister Roberts.  He was talking to James Cagney, who played the role of Captain Morton.  

Posted in: Writing

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Nuclear Weasel Mist

April 10th, 2015 4:21am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

The scent of tobacco from a man’s pipe,

Pine martens scour my sink with steel wool,

Chester Allen Arthur was not a snipe,

But for a time he had some pull.


When was Casey at the bat?

My friend drove drunk and had to pick up litter;

Would Mudville have been better off

With a designated hitter?



Significant dust in an insignificant world,

Right past a museum,

Prince says maybe we can do the Twirl.


I did not mean it when I said,

JFK was never dead;

From that subject I stay away,

Because I fear the CIA.


Cars have bodily fluids,

Marsupials are cute;

Some people worship Druids;

Keith Jackson uses verbs like “Scoot.”


Tony Orlando was underrated,


Barry Manilow is often hated,

But on the hog he’s living high.


My grandpa may have been in the Klan,

We once played Kick the Can;

Is Food Court where you seek redress when you digest bad yams?

I do don’t like green eggs and ham.


Whiskers on kittens,

Raindrops on roses;

Do they make prosthetics

For Bloodhound noses?


Shoney’s, Waffle House, and Sambo’s,

Speckled chocolate Easter eggs;

Donna Summer on the radio,

In our refrigerator is a pair of L’eggs.


Of this thing called life,

What is the gist?

Love and strife,

Barney Fife,

Nuclear Weasel Mist.

Posted in: Poetry

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