Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts

27 January 2022

Same Old Rodeo


It's a bleak cold January day, up here in South Dakota. The legislature has been called into session, and the usual barrage of anti-transgender, anti-abortion, anti-CRT, anti-academic freedom, and anti-[insert title here] bills are flying around the Capitol like the snowflakes they are. 

The impeachment hearings for AG Ravnsborg are on-going.

Governor Noem took time out of her busy schedule to go to a gun show in Las Vegas.

Somehow I believe that the firearms and ammunition business would continue to thrive out here, even if she hadn't attended. But she got on TV!

The Summit Arena in Rapid City, SD is going to host the Black Hills Stock Show from January 28-February 5th. This event generally hosts 200,000-300,000 attendees, and so the announcement was made: "As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, there are no health requirements or mandates in place for the event. The Monument officials encourage everyone to stay home if they are sick and be respectful of others." (KELO)  Which makes perfect sense when you realize that right now 1 out of every 25 South Dakotans has an active case of Covid-19. Come for the fun, stay for the ventilator…

So, how to chase the blues away in dark January? Watch TV!

My latest recommendation is Mr. & Mrs. Murder, an Aussie comedy-mystery on Netflix. "Nicola and Charlie Buchanan run an industrial cleaning business specialising in crime scenes". They're also funny, quirky, and it's always sunny and bright. Only one season, but 13 episodes, so enjoy!

Available now on Prime: the Death in Paradise Christmas Special.  

On my soon to be watched list are a couple of police procedurals: Bergerac (Britbox), set on the Isle of Jersey, and Candace Renoir set in France.

And I've just heard that the 4th Season of The Good Karma Hospital has dropped in Britain, which means it will be coming soon to Acorn, which I watch via Prime. TGKH stars Amanda Redman, which makes it a must-see in my book anyway.

Not so cheerful, but fantastically well done is the 1987 production of Carr's A Month in the Country (set in post-WW1 Britain) starring unbelievably young future stars Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh in their first screen roles, & Natasha Richardson in her second. The uncovering of the medieval mural is an experience in itself, along with the eventual discovery of who / what / why...  

Another wonderful walk down nostalgia lane is Cider With Rosie - there's one version, with Timothy Spall (2015), available for free on Amazon, and another (1998), with Laurie Lee (the author) narrating it available on Tubi.  On a dark January day, either is worth it for the wildflowers alone...

And let's not forget Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot:  Evil Under the Sun (1982) where he's joined by Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg, James Mason, Jane Birkin, Roddy MacDowell and/or Death on the Nile where he's joined by Bette Davis, David Niven, Simon MacCorkindale, Jane Birkin, Olivia Hussey, Jack Warden, George Kennedy, Angela Lansbury, Maggie Smith, and Mia Farrow all over-acting their little hearts out.

Back to Netflix and comedians:  we laughed our heads off at Russell Howard's Lubricant, Jim Gaffigan's Comedy Monster, Nate Bergatze's The Greatest Average American, Gina Yashere's stand-ups, including her on the new season of The Standups, and many, many more. Plus I just keep Tom Papa's You're Doing Great on file, ready to cheer me up on cold, gray days like today.

Enjoy!

13 January 2022

An After-Christmas Story


One of the fun things about the pre-Christmas television extravaganza is all the ads for things that you might never have thought of as good Christmas presents.  The brand-new car with giant bow, for example, would never have happened in my family, nor ever will.  

One of my favorites was the gift of Botox "for lines" - with supposedly 30-something actresses (played by, probably, teenagers) rejoicing at this touching proof of her husband's care instead of hitting him up the side of the head and checking his internet history and cookies. Every time it ran - which was often, I made up a new slogan for it:

"Botox: so that you never have to worry that your forehead moving again."

"Botox: make your face match your Chico's!"  

"Botox: because wrinkles are icky." 

"Botox: because they told me you'd love it." 

There was also the perennial ads saying, "Give the gift of lottery tickets to everyone on your list!" Because yeah, that way they get to know exactly how much money you're willing to spend on them -  three dollars.  Five, if you put it in a card. 

Speaking of gambling, the Royal River Casino, was advertising just about every hour on the hour that with every "100 points" you earned gambling, you'd get a piece of cookware!  Gamble your Christmas money away and get a free Dutch oven!  Sauce pan!  A skillet!  And then you can go home, and give your spouse that skillet as a Christmas present, which s/he may use as in the reaction to Botox for Christmas above.

BTW, this reminded me of Jean Shepherd's In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. I read this when I was a teenager, and loved it. The movie, A Christmas Story, only included a minimum of the book, but I understand another one - My Summer Story - included my favorite part, which was the Great Free Dish Giveaway.  

Now when I was a kid, besides Green Stamps at the grocery store, you could get glassware and/or dishes at the gas station (B.C. and Flintstone were popular glassware, and we had some of that). You could also get dishes and/or towels in laundry detergent, but my mother never bought those, because the dish/towel usually took up most of the box. Jean Shepherd's story is a classic of the giveaway with purchase sales technique: 

"Finally the doors opened and the mob surged forward. The Box Office roared with activity as we pushed and stumbled toward the marquee. Just inside the door Mr. Doppler and two ushers stood, packing cases stacked behind them, handing out to each lady a beautiful, gleaming butter dish. 

"What a start! Doppler, the master showman, realized that a smash opening was imperative for the success of any Big Time act. He could have opened with a prosaic cup or saucer, but his selection of a butter dish as an opener was little short of total inspiration. Handing a butter dish to housewives who came, almost to a woman, from Oleomargarine families was masterful. In fact, few people in the crowd had ever even seen a butter dish before and some had to be told how to use it. My mother, a reader of Good Housekeeping, recognized the rare object for what it was, a symbol of Gentility, Good Taste, and the Expansive Life. She was delighted... 

"Mr. Doppler beamed, his black suit crinkling as he clanked out butter dish after butter dish, distributing largess to the multitude. “Next week there’ll be a different piece, lady,” he said over and over. “Maybe a bun warmer, who knows?” Thus he insidiously planted the seed in the mind of each butter-dish clutcher that next week could be even more Exotic. The hackles of desire rose even higher as they filed into the darkened auditorium. “What is a bun warmer?” “You warm buns in it, you idiot!” Snatches of complex Table Etiquette debates drifted back and forth as the mob went up the aisle, butter dishes clanking. 

"...The incredible news of Mr. Doppler’s largess spread through the neighborhood almost instantly. Over back fences, through tangled jungles of clotheslines, up alleys, into basements, up front porches, into candy stores and meat markets, the winged word spread...  The following Friday the Orpheum drew crowds from a three-county area, a jostling throng that stood in long expectant lines to see Blondie Takes a Trip starring Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake and to receive as compensation for that trial by fire a Pearleen-finish Bun Warmer. Mr. Doppler did not fail his public. Bun Warmers flooded Lake County in a massive deluxe Hollywood Finish tide... 

"The third week saw the first cup and saucer combination, a two-piece bonus. The fourth week a petite, delicately modeled egg cup, the first ever seen in the Midwestern states. Week by week the crowds grew larger. The tension mounted as piece after piece was added to family collections. Speculation was rife as to what the next week would bring. Doppler usually just hinted as he and his aides passed out celery dishes and consommé bowls. “Maybe next week an Olive Urn, with pick.” ...

"I remember particularly the night we got The Big Platter, as it became known in our family over the years. The Big Platter—a proper name, like The House On The Hill, The Basement, The Garage. The Big Platter was important. There was only one Big Platter in every complete set of dinnerware, the crowning jewel in Doppler’s diadem...  

"Few of us at the time realized in the exultation of the moment that the end of the party was already in sight. Without warning one night the patrons were handed a finely sculptured grape-encrusted Gravy Boat. This windfall was greeted with hosannas in our innocence. The following week a strangely furtive Doppler dealt out to each female patron another Gravy Boat, all the while mumbling something over and over about: “The shipment was wrong this week. You can exchange this Gravy Boat for a dinner plate next week.”... And the next week, and the next weeks until... 

Well, read the rest  HERE. The chapter "Free! Free!" begins on page 121. 

And all I can say is that I hope that, at the Royal River Casino, a few skillets were hurled.

30 December 2021

The Problem of Time


It's December 30.  2021 is almost over. If you expect an elegy - well, I'm not sure how this is going to turn out. It might get bumpy.  For one thing, 2021 whipped by like a cobra in the jaws of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, which raises the question, shouldn't everyone have a pet mongoose, even if imaginary?  But let's move on.

The good stuff is that I've been writing and working at the penitentiary and writing some more - and all have been going very well.  Murderous Ink Press and I have grown very close, also the Bould Awards, and Michael Bracken has accepted 3 of my stories for 3 different gigs.  I sold my 31st piece to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine!  Life is sweet.  And other stories are out searching diligently for a home...
  
The bad stuff is that Covid is still with us and in South Dakota it apparently isn't going anywhere.  We've all lost somebody we loved, and more whom we liked, and many, many more we simply knew,  talked to, waved at, and all will be missed...  

Time slips and turns and knots you, 
time slips and goes and leaves you 
living in a haunted world, 
full of ghosts that linger inside your lids 
when you close your eyes.
— Eve Fisher, last stanza of "The Terror of Time"

Time is a tricky subject. Back in 1999 a man named Julian Barbour wrote The End of Time "advancing timeless physics: the controversial view that time, as we perceive it, does not exist as anything other than an illusion, and that a number of problems in physical theory arise from assuming that it does exist. He argues that we have no evidence of the past other than our memory of it, and no evidence of the future other than our belief in it."  (Wikipedia)  

Well, I read it, and felt the way I feel about a lot of philosophical approaches to whether or not or how or why anything is real, from time to free will. It can all sound pretty logical and/or convincing, but then there's the simple fact that, for example, I'll bet that Mr. Barbour still asks when dinner's ready, or "Do I have time for a quick shave?" Just as people who say there is no free will or that it's all Fate will still ask you to pass the salt.

So no, I don't buy into "time is an illusion" any more than that this whole thing may be an Alice in Wonderland dream (which I find much more plausible), simply because there's a whole lot of things that simply can't be done, but have been done, are being done, and will be done, here and hereafter, that have a beginning, middle, and an end:

Sex.
Pregnancy and childbirth.
Gardening.
Cooking.
Natural disasters.
Taking a walk.
Learning a language.
Learning anything.
Teaching anything.
Life.
Death.

Yes, there may be spooky action at a distance between particles, twins, lovers, etc. but something's moving, something's changing, something's interacting.  Maybe it is all in our minds - but what's wrong with that? The rules still hold. It's only in dreams that they don't. 

"It's astounding
Time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely
(Not for very much longer)
I've got to keep control" 
— Richard O'Brien, "Time Warp", Rocky Horror Picture Show

And time always fleets forward. No wonder time travel has always been popular in fiction, from H. G. Wells on. Most of writers adhere to the general theory that if you can go back in time, you either wouldn't be able to alter the past or if you do, you'll completely disrupt the present you came from (see Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder).  Some writers have used time like a thread to knot in on itself like Robert Heinlein's By His Bootstraps, which seems weird until you read his All You Zombies, which gives the knots an extra twist.  And I simply do not have the time to analyze all the timeless time shenanigans of Kurt Vonnegut, except to say that I can hardly wait to see Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time.

COMPLETE SIDETRACK:  There's also some pretty bad time-travel writing, and my secret cringeworthy favorite is Michael Crichton's Timeline.  Let's face facts, it's basically, a male Disneyworld Joust fantasy, where all the male time travelers are in awe of how brimful of zest and zowie and kabang the Middle Ages are. At last, life lived to the full! It helps, of course, that they didn't arrive in a plague year, they didn't have to experience medieval dentistry or medieval childbirth, and they keep escaping everyone who wants to kill them by (mostly) running like hell. And they can all eat, drink, & use up precious resources - not to mention kill people who were real in the past - without changing the quantum future they came from. Which is impossible, because it's like a maximum of 20 generations and you'll find a common ancestor with every other individual alive on the planet - so sooner or later one of them had to have wiped out their great^20 grandmother and they'd go poof! But no one goes poof. Whenever I want a really good laughing rant against bad time writing, I read Timeline.

Yes, I know, some of the same arguments could be made about Claire Randall in the Outlander series, but they don't bother me because they're romantic fantasies and Gabaldon never pretends any of it's serious science. Crichton always did.  

But back to the problem of time:  Personally, I think we're never comfortable with time because is it's alien to us. Time is always too fast or too slow.  The nostalgia of the endless dreamy Saturday afternoons of childhood is counterpoised with the endless horrific waiting for medical test results. The measure of time is a steady beat, but our impressions of it are infinitely elastic. The time from Christmas to Christmas for children and for adults are entirely different. And then there's boredom:

"The English are not a very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity." — George Bernard Shaw

“Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” ― Susan Ertz

We never get used to time. We are not fish in water, or birds in air, or even humans in air. All our lives, we struggle with time, fight it, lose it, find it, watch it, use it, beat it, waste it, fear it, hate it, try to conquer it, and eventually lose it. Time, that continuum in which we live and move and have our being, is not our natural habitat. Alien to our dying day. It's a container, a prison, a fiendishly complex videogame, etc., that I believe is specific to this space/time continuum we live in for right now

What comes next - well, to each their own spin. Maybe we're all right.

Meanwhile,  

"May we always be grateful for the past, find joy in the present, and remain excited for the future." 
— Anonymous

Goodbye, December!

16 December 2021

My Brain on Old Movies


Notes from my brain as I rewatched Otto Preminger's Laura:

My God, look how young Vincent Price was in 1944. This was nine years before he began his career in horror movies. Otherwise he'd never have gotten the 4 year gig on radio as The Saint.  But I have to say when I was young I read my way through a stack of Charteris' The Saint novels, and Price's was certainly not the voice I ever imagined for that British swash-buckler.  (You can listen to the episodes  HERE.)  Meanwhile, Price's Shelby is tall and soft and definitely a gigolo, which makes the idea that Gene Tierney's [breathtakingly beautiful] Laura would fall for him a real problem. Judith Anderson's Ann Treadwell (Laura's aunt) is more understandable, although I think they should have had Agnes Moorehead reprise her role as Emily Hawkins in Since You Went Away. She would have eaten Shelby alive, purring the whole time.

Musing: Agnes Moorehead is the main reason to watch Since You Went Away, because I find the movie pretty saccharine, not to mention trite, melodramatic, and I get tired of watching Claudette Colbert only being filmed from one angle. Oh, and I keep waiting for Jane to run into one of the posts as she runs after Bill's departing train. They spoofed that in some movie, but I can't remember which one.

BTW, Dana Andrews (Detective McPherson) and Gene Tierney had real chemistry.  I looked it up, and they ended up doing 5 movies together - Tobacco Road, Belle Starr, Laura, The Iron Curtain, and Where The Sidewalk Ends. BTW, my favorite Dana Andrews movie is The Best Years of Our Lives.

And my favorite comment about him comes from Radio Days, where all the kids are down at the Rockaway shore and talking about their favorite actresses:

Young Joe's Friend #1: My favorite is Rita Hayworth.

Young Joe's Friend #2: I like Betty Grable.

Young Joe's Friend #3: I like Dana Andrews.

Young Joe's Friend #2: Are you kidding? Dana Andrews is a man.

Young Joe's Friend #3: She is? (IMDB)

And I'm always happy to see Clifton Webb. 

He alternated between character actor and leads, nominated 3 times for an Academy Award - Laura, Sitting Pretty, and The Razor's Edge - and deservedly won it for The Razor's Edge (and if you've never seen it, watch it - Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney are the leads.)  He also played Frank Galbraith in Cheaper by the Dozen (with Myrna Loy as his wife), and his character, Mr. Belvedere (in Sitting Pretty and Mr. Belvedere Goes to College) was the model for Mr. Peabody in my favorite cartoon series of all time, Rocky & Bullwinkle.  

Excuse me while I wallow in nostalgia:  Mr. Peabody, Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties, Boris Badenov, Natasha & Fearless Leader, Fractured Fairytales, Aesop & Son, Bullwinkle's Corner & Mr. Know-It-All...  

And Myrna Loy was also Frederic March's loyal wife in The Best Years of Our Lives, which brings us back to Dana Andrews, and back to Gene Tierney:

Very beautiful, with great range. Watch Laura, and then watch her Oscar nominated performance in Leave Her to Heaven and The Razor's Edge. Great success, interrupted more than once by tragedy.  Manic-depressive before anyone knew what that really was, and the shock treatments made her lose much of her memory.  And of course, hers was the source of the tragedy in Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd:  her daughter, Daria, was born deaf and mentally disabled, because a fan broke a rubella quarantine and infected the pregnant Tierney while she volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen.

EDITORIAL INTRUSION:  GET YOUR DAMN VACCINATION OR STAY HOME!!!!

YOUR ACTIONS DO HAVE EFFING CONSEQUENCES!!!

Otto Preminger was a great director. Here are the ones (besides Laura) that I remember watching a long, long time ago:

The Man With the Golden Arm 
Bonjour Tristesse
Anatomy of a Murder
Exodus
Advise and Consent
Bunny Lake is Missing (this one will twist your head off)
Hurry Sundown (Michael Caine in one of his many appalling American accents, but otherwise, like all of these, very educational for a young girl/teen in the 1960s…)

Oh, and can anyone point me to where I can find a maid like Bessie Clary, Fidelia (Since You Went Away), Matilda (The Bishop's Wife), etc., etc., etc.?  

Oh, damn - the movie's over. What's up next?  
The Bishop's Wife, or The Man Who Came to Dinner?  
Monty Woolley's in both, 
        and Bette Davis is in The Man Who Came to Dinner
               and she starred with Humphrey Bogart in Dark Victory
                       and Bogart starred with Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray in We're No Angels...
                             and...

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

02 December 2021

Yesterday's Gossip is Today's Headline


The problem with living in a small state (or town) is that it's almost impossible to keep a secret.  You can try, but you're not going to succeed.  The stories float out on the wind, like the breath between your neighbors' lips.  But it's also a gift, because there is endless entertainment. 

A few examples:

(1) Back in October the South Dakota Supreme Court unsealed the search warrant records for South Dakota's own billionaire, T. Denny Sanford, but most of us had heard about this and have been discussing it, and what it was for, 2 years or so.  So, you who aren't South Dakotan might ask, "What were the search warrants for?"

"Sanford’s electronic devices came to the attention of investigators with the South Dakota attorney general’s office after a technology firm reported that child pornography had either been sent, received or downloaded on his device, according to one of the people who spoke to AP. Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg determined there was sufficient evidence to move toward prosecuting Sanford, but passed the case to the U.S. Department of Justice because it spanned to Arizona, California and Nebraska, according to both people." (AP News) (my emphasis added – also, that's quite a span, don't you think?)

There has since been fallout, including National University in San Diego putting a hold on changing its name to Sanford National University specifically because of the charges.  And a lot of executives at Sanford Healthcare have quit, some with 8-figure golden parachutes. And… Well, any more would be just repeating the gossip. I'll report more when it finally comes out on the news.

(2) Corey Lewandowski. Everyone's been talking about that hot mess since 2019.  

(3) The Covid-19 outbreak at Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls back in 2020:  I (and others) first heard about it well before it came out in the news, from people who were desperately trying to get the word out and warn everyone what was coming, while the CEO and other executives (and certain SD officials) were trying to cover it all up like a cat in a litter box.

My note:  This is why I don't have my knickers in a twist over China's supposed malfeasance about Covid-19, because I don't remember many cities, states, or businesses in America being really open and forthcoming about having a Covid outbreak in early 2020… Everyone tried to cover it up here in the United States, too.

(4) The story of Governor Kristi Noem's 2020 meeting with Executive Director of the South Dakota Appraiser Certification Program to discuss her daughter's getting an appraiser's certification had been circulating for some time. It finally made the news in October of this year, as someone pointed out that the same executive director was apparently urged to retire and given a $200,000 payout. (Argus)  The investigation is ongoing.

BTW, my favorite story about Governor Noem is an on-going lawsuit by "Blue State Refugees" (hereinafter referred to as the BSR) who wanted to protest Covid vaccine mandates at the Capitol on Pierre. Now the BSR is an unofficial organization of people who responded to Governor Noem's call last year to "Move to South Dakota and enjoy your freedoms!" And they came. And they want to protest. "The state, though, says it has banned all political demonstrations from the capitol grounds in November and December to accommodate the annual holiday and Christmas displays and decorations at the Capitol." Well, Governor Noem  quickly announced that they would indeed allow the Blue State Refugees to assemble, and the Blue State Refugees – via their lawyer – announced “We resolved the issue whether the protest will take place next week. The lawsuit is not dismissed. It’s going forward.” Why?  "We need to have some kind of assurance that they will not be enforcing this policy, not just now but into the future." (KELO) (Argus) If you're surprised that the BSR can't take "yes" for an answer – I'm not. If you invite people to come, promising them total freedom to do anything they want…

Speaking of doing anything they want:

(5) Our State Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack was arrested for a DUI and driving without a license on January 18, 2020, and (after spending the night in jail) plead down to a misdemeanor of careless driving (a popular charge given to powerful people arrested for various problem driving incidents, see AG Ravnsborg), and then on October 4, 2020 got the court to seal the records.  But word got around:

“The sealing of Mr. Cammack’s record was the final step in a common and lawful process occurring thousands of times a year in South Dakota,” Nelson wrote. “But the coincidental timing of those events did nevertheless appear suspicious, even though it was not.”   (Cammack: Sealing of Court Case...)  (My Note: I'm trying to think of anyone who is not a politician or mover/shaker who has gotten a record sealed and can't think of one.  Thousands? I doubt it.) 

 And from "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" file:

(6) Cammack's son, Chris, received more than $700,000 in state coronavirus relief funds designed to help businesses in South Dakota recover losses suffered during the pandemic, plus more than $300,000 in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal government to keep 10 workers employed. His business? A taxidermy business called Prairie Mountain Wildlife Studios.

BTW, up here in South Dakota, the first question that most people asked was, "What taxidermy place has 10 workers?" Seriously, try 3.  Maybe 4.

Anyway, Prairie Mountain Wildlife Studios was listed as being in Union City, SD, and it once was - but in 2014 or 2015, Chris and his family and the business all moved to Cypress, Texas. 


NOTE: This image from Google Maps shows the Cypress, Texas properties owned by Chris Cammack. The Brush Country/Prairie Mountain studios building has a red roof at the top of the image, and the home just to the south has a gray roof. Photo: Google Maps See the link at SD NewsWatch below.

Not only that, but back in March, 2020 Chris lobbied hard for special hunting licenses for non-residents (like him) of South Dakota to hunt on land they still owned in South Dakota.  Oh, and Chris also received PPP loans at the same time in 2020 and 2021 for two taxidermy businesses that have nearly the same names in both South Dakota and Texas totaling $798,217 to pay employees at both locations.  And it gets worse - but read it all for yourself at (SDNewsWatch).  We'll see if any of the money - loans, relief funds, etc. - gets clawed back.  I'm not holding my breath.  

And a reminder that domestic abusers are dangerous to more than the folks at home:

(7) I read with shock, horror, and absolute revulsion the story of the man who ran through the Christmas parade up in Waukesha, WI. Apparently the driver had a history of violence at home and abroad, and had used his fists, his gun(s), and his car as weapons before. No surprise to me, because back in the 1990s, I experienced sitting in my car, trapped between a berm and other cars, as a man gunned his car directly at me. He was a domestic abuser, with an expired license, who'd just smashed out the windows of his house, and, still angry, decided to use his car as a weapon against the first woman he saw. Which was me. I was lucky: at the last moment he swerved away. But it was still pretty damn scary.  I wrote my fourth blog with Sleuthsayers on it - read it here:  (The Circuit Administrator's Tale)  

And now for something completely different!

A true Thanksgiving-ish story: 

A few years back, I was walking on a trail in Lake Herman State Park here in South Dakota. Now that park has wild turkeys, deer, fox, coyotes owls, hawks, seagulls, pelicans, and once in a while some eagles, roaming free. And this day, the flock of wild turkeys was right there, in the middle of the trail, eating and gobbling. Well, I did a big loop around them, because I didn't want to disturb them. And I got back on the trail further up, and walked on.  Well, after a while, I realized there was this tremendous rushing sound behind me, almost like water. So I looked over my shoulder, and by God, there was the whole flock coming towards me. RUNNING towards me. So I stopped. And they all skidded to a stop around me.

So there they were: gobble-gobble-gobble. Hooking their necks and looking up sideways at me. Gobble-gobble-gobble. I mean, it was interesting, but I didn't have any corn with me or anything, so after a while I said, "Well, you caught me, now what are you going to do with me?" Gobble-gobble-gobble. And after a while, they finally got tired and went on. And so did I, chuckling away. But later, I thought, "I wonder if that's how a wooly mammoth felt, surrounded by humans in the Ice age?" and then, "If turkeys ever learn how to make and use tools, we're screwed." 




BTW, one of the ways we South Dakotans can tell a BSR is by the 4-way stop test.  There aren't a lot of traffic lights in most small towns around the state, because we (used to be) frugal, and low population, so what we have is a lot of 4-way stop corners. A South Dakotan knows to pull up to it, stop, and take turns, starting with whoever got there first or the person on the right. A BSR invariably just blows on through, leaving us all shaking our heads and muttering under our breath...  

18 November 2021

Things Fall Apart


[Sherlock Holmes said,] “It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

“You horrify me!”

“But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser."

— Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

Living in South Dakota, and most of that time in a small town, I agree with Holmes' assessment 100%.  

I've related in many a blog the ins and outs of various government corruption and malfeasance, from EB-5 to Gear Up! to the death of Joe Boever, and more.

I've also sat in a courtroom and watched as a grandfather, convicted of molesting all four of his grandchildren, was given a slap on the wrist from a judge because the man "had an unblemished record."  

And then there's the petty stuff: small towns where "everyone takes care of each other", so they don't have to enforce the rules.  With predictable results:  people don't shovel their sidewalks unless they feel like it, a noted person (with money) was allowed to turn numerous private properties into private junkyards, and the memorable time when one man threatened to shoot anyone that set foot on his property.  And then complained because the volunteer fire department watched his house burn down. 

BTW, there's no feud like a small town feud, unless it's a small town church feud.

Back on January 13, 2019, in my post "What We're Best at Being Bad At", I said that South Dakota was really good at embezzlement. And we are. To quote myself:

"Besides grifting on the state level, there's also one heck of a lot of small potatoes embezzlement here in South Dakota, much of it fueled by gambling addiction and/or medical bills. $500 from the local VFW; $1,500 from a doctor's office; $2,500 from a nursing home. Interestingly, other than the public humiliation, the punishment is usually a slap on the wrist: the main penalty is to pay the money back and do community service. Rarely is there any jail time. Perhaps that's why it's so common…
But sometimes it's bigger: Just recently, up in Kingsbury County a family-run grain elevator has gone bankrupt because the family was hedging commodities and lost as much as $15 million of other people's money." (HERE)

At the time I didn't go into details, because so much of it was "gossip".  Well, it's now two years later, and "Jared Steffensen of the Arlington, S.D., area, pleaded guilty to theft by deception in his H&I Grain Inc. business, at a June 29, 2021, hearing at the Beadle County, S.D, courthouse at Huron. He speculated on grain trades, and then failed to pay millions to farmers. He and his wife, Tami, could face five years in the state penitentiary. His mother, JoAnn also pleaded guilty to a felony of failing to inform state regulators that her company was failing financially." (AG Week)

SD grain elevator

Former H&I Grain Inc. site at Hetland, S.D, original location for a family business that ran into legal trouble when Jared Steffensen of Arlington, S.D, accelerated speculation in grain trades, costing ~32 farmers and companies millions of dollars.
Photo taken May 6, 2019, Hetland, S.D. Mikkel Pates © Agweek

Citing“criminal mentality” (for one thing, the scam went on for months) and “lack of remorse,” Circuit Judge Kent A. Shelton sentenced Jared and Tami Steffensen each to terms of five years in state prisons and made them liable for restitution of $4,966,491.80 to farmers, as well as other costs. And had them marched out of the courtroom, in handcuffs, back to jail. (Ag Week)

But the neighbors know, in the words of Greg Albrecht, whose family lost more than a million dollars, "We're never going to see nothing out of it." And they probably won't.

And that's not the worst scam:

On November 4, 2021, Robert "Bob" Blom, a feedlot operator in Corsica, South Dakota (pop. 592) was sentenced to 91 months in prison after pleading guilty to a Ponzi scheme. Basically, he ran a custom cattle feeding operation in which he resold cattle he didn't have in inventory to investors, falsified invoices and used the money to pay back old investors.

He owes $24,282,865.94 to people he conned – life-long neighbors, who definitely feel that he's getting way too little for his crimes. "Was there any plea bargaining for me?" asked Rod Myer, a cattle feeder that worked with Blom for 14 years and was a victim in the case. "I hear a lot in the courtroom today on how Bob felt. Well, how do you think I felt?… There goes my life savings." (Argus)

That's TWO multi-million dollar peculations occurring in TWO rural counties in South Dakota.

Now here's the deal: if you live in Corsica, SD (pop. 592), in Douglas County (pop. 2,835), or if you live in Hetland, SD (pop. 46) in Kingsbury County (pop. 5,187), you know just about everyone in the entire county.  You went to school with them, to church with them, etc. You've known them all your lives.  You trust them. "A man's word is his bond" is a common saying.  A handshake could seal major contracts.  And suddenly, one family in each of these counties, in absolute cold-blood, screwed everyone - life-long friends and neighbors – out of their life savings. 

It's not even the money, as much as that hurts. As Jeff Hampton, a friend of Blom’s for over 50 years, said, "Bob should never see the light of freedom again — those are hard words coming from a friend.” Then he turned to Blom. “You’ve destroyed the trustworthiness of a man’s word.” (Ag Week)  And he only got 7.5 years in prison.  

Let's put it in perspective:

In South Dakota, you get drunk and kill someone in a bar-brawl, you can - and many do - get life without parole for 1st Degree Manslaughter.  If you hit and kill someone while driving drunk, at least 10 years.  (Does not apply to state officials driving late at night on rural roads who run into deer with glasses. They get misdemeanors. And complain about that.)  One recent case involved 4 young men who were all charged in the shooting death of a man named Jordan LeBeau. The actual shooter got 40 years, but Kevin Rice got 60 years - not for shooting the victim - but for not stopping the shooting.  (Argus)  

Meanwhile, financial crimes get a slap on the wrist. 5 years. 7.5 years.  You have to be Bernie Madoff to get a life sentence.  Otherwise...  Well, all those people shouldn't have trusted them, right?  We'll set up a payment plan.  And - sort of related - Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls recently finally admitted to not doing enough to stop Covid back in the beginning, when 1,294 workers got Covid and 4 died - and paid a fine of $13,000.  This is around $10 a survivor OR $3,250 per death, which tells you how much a meat-packing plant worker's life is worth.  

Watch your backs, folks. There is no Eden, and even in Eden there was a snake.  Why not in South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, and act like Goodfellas?  God, I wish I was joking.




04 November 2021

Nature's Bounty?


One of the great things about this time of year is that, even after Halloween, people are racing to give you new ideas on ghosts, goblins, and how to kill people, with or without Nature's little helpers.  Two articles from Atlas Obscura leapt out to me:

First of all, consider the Manchineel Tree*.  Related to poinsettias, it's a nice looking tree, with fruit that looks kind of like the "little green apples" of the old Roger Miller song (older than dirt). 


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchineel#/media/File:Hippomane_mancinella_(fruit).jpg

BUT:

You might be tempted to eat the fruit. Do not eat the fruit. You might want to rest your hand on the trunk, or touch a branch. Do not touch the tree trunk or any branches. Do not stand under or even near the tree for any length of time whatsoever. Do not touch your eyes while near the tree. Do not pick up any of the ominously shiny, tropic-green leaves. If you want to slowly but firmly back away from this tree, you would not find any argument from any botanist who has studied it.  Supposedly it killed Ponce de Leon.  (Manchineel Tree)

Gives new meaning to the Genesis admonition "if you eat of the tree you will surely die."  Now I think that the average mystery writer can think of a couple of ways of utilizing the Manchineel Tree, with the help of say, some rubber gloves and mass disposal of all cooking utensils, and I'll just leave that idea simmering away in the back of your minds.

The Manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella) is found in the Caribbean, Central America, the northern edges of South America, and south Florida. Florida, of course, is host to other toxic plants, including the spotted water hemlock, (Cicuta maculata, a/k/a spotted parsley, spotted cowbane, and the suicide root) which looks like this:


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicuta_maculata#/media/File:Cicuta_maculata.jpg

Occasionally mistaken for parsnips, this is considered to be North America's most toxic plant. "A quarter-inch of the stem is enough to kill a person" according to naturalist and botanist Roger Hammer, a naturalist and botanist. Unfortunately for us all, the range of the spotted water hemlock is the entire freaking United States, and I can show you a lovely crop growing up along the Big Sioux River here in Sioux Falls.

Or perhaps it's actually cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum), which grows everywhere, and is tall, herbaceous, and looks like a much larger, taller, thicker Queen Anne's Lace (daucus carota, a/k/a wild carrot).  According to Alaska's Poisonous Plants

"The sap of this plant contains various phototoxic chemicals that can make the skin (especially light skin) extremely sensitive to sunlight and more prone to sunburn. Skin contact with juice from the plant followed by exposure to sunlight can cause dermatitis, which can range from a mild, red rash to severe skin blistering."

Well, I'm not going to wade in to find out.  But people actually ate cow parsnips and lived.  From Wikipedia:

"The young stems and leafstalks were peeled and usually eaten raw, while early American settlers cooked the plant.[25] In terms of taste, texture, and nutrients, the peeled stalks resembled celery, which gave rise to the common name "Indian celery". The natives were aware of the toxic effects of the plant, knowing that if the outer skin were not removed, one would get an "itchy mouth" or blistering skin.[4][26] Pregnant women were warned away from the flower bud stalks to prevent newborns from asphyxiating when crying."

And this leads to (me, at least) the eternal question, how in the world did humans learn to eat some of this stuff?  

Take ginkgo seeds, from the ginkgo tree.  The ginkgo is the oldest living tree species on earth, an actual “living fossil” that's existed in their current form as far as the Middle Jurassic Period, or 170 million years ago (my emphasis added).  And they're very popular.  Their green fan-shaped leaves are aesthetic and pleasing, and turn a beautiful gold in autumn.  They can grow anywhere, through anything.  But a lot of people are severely allergic to their pollen, and their fruit stinks - "like vomit-laced poop" - and is inedible. (I would strongly advise against ginkgo supplements, no matter how hard they're pitching you.)  What you can eat is the cooked nuts - after a long, involved process requiring gloves and other precautions. And even then, the nuts contain trace amounts of a neurotoxin that can cause nausea and headaches, so you should only eat 10 nuts a day.  (Atlas Obscura)

But ginkgo is a more or less a garnish food.  What's even more fascinating to me is when people take something that is absolutely poisonous and transform it into edibility through a long, involved process of grinding, boiling, rinsing, leaching, etc. - how in the world did they survive to find out that the product would be edible?  Think about acorns and cassava.  

Acorns have bitter tannins, which interfere with the ability to metabolize protein. In order for humans to eat them, they have to be chopped and then soaked in several changes of water, until the water no longer turns brown. This can take several days. After that, they can be ground up and used like flour.

And there's manioc, a/k/a cassava.  Cassava root has cyanide in it, so it obviously has to be prepared carefully. Sweet cassava should be peeled, chopped up small, boiled until very tender, and the cooking water discarded. Bitter cassava (which is often grown because the animals won't eat it) has to be soaked in water for 4–6 days, boiled until tender, and then all the cooking water discarded.

Well, people aren't eating many acorns anymore, but cassava is the main carbohydrate for much of Africa and South America.  And people are still getting poisoned by it:  In 2017, 28 people died in Venezuela from cyanide poisoning from being sold raw bitter cassava roots instead of sweet cassava roots.  (They look alike, apparently.)  (El Pais)

Either way, whether it's ginkgo seeds, cow parsnips, acorns or cassava, what runs through my mind is a Monty Python routine:  

"Nuts, roots and seeds! Nuts, roots and seeds! Come and get your fresh nuts, roots and seeds!"

"Hey, there, my husband tried that root.  Took one bite and dropped dead, he did."

"Well, madam, we don't guarantee safety. You could try cooking it."

"Cook it? You didn't say nothing about cooking it."

"Haven't you heard? Everything's better if it's cooked. Or ground up a bit."

"My Aunt tried that. Ground it up cause she'd lost all her teeth. Took one bite and she dropped dead, too."

"Well, I've heard that some people are chopping it up, and rinsing it a few times first."

"How many times do you rinse it?"

[Shrugging] "Trial and error. Depends on the root. You got any relatives you don't like to try it out on?"

"Well, there's me husband's crowd from the shore. Bunch of clam eaters."

"And if that doesn't work, you could boil the hell out of it, and then drain it all off."

"It all sounds like an awful lot of work. Don't you have any potatoes?"

"Not for another three thousand years. Meanwhile, you get this right, and you could have a nice bowl of tapioca pud for your tea."

"Well, I suppose it would make a change...  I'll take two. But mind, if this doesn't work, I'm sticking with cattails."

Happy post-Halloween!




*Political Sidenote - the Manchineel tree is so toxic I propose calling Joe Manchin "Manchineel Joe".


21 October 2021

How To Cook A Wolfe


The September 6, 2021 New Yorker Food Issue featured reprints of articles from cooks/writers such as M. F. K. Fisher, Anthony Bourdain, and Susan Orlean, as well as Chapter 6 of Vladimir Nabokov's Pnin, which is about a dinner party with perhaps enough pirozhki for even my insatiable appetite for tiny savory pies.  

But the article that rang my bell, blog-wise, was Adam Gopnik's Cooked Books.  Originally published April 9, 2007 as "What's the Point of Food in Fiction?" it starts off with this proposition:

There are four kinds of food in books: food that is served by an author to characters who are not expected to taste it; food that is served by an author to characters in order to show who they are; food that an author cooks for characters in order to eat it with them; and, last (and most recent), food that an author cooks for characters but actually serves to the reader.  (New Yorker)

 Now it is true that most books have food in them.  The glaring exception being, of all things, The Tale of Genji, 1066 AD, which has endless detailed descriptions of clothing, handwriting, perfumes, flowers,  ghosts, and sex.  But the only mention of actual food is medicinal, when a woman asks a lover that he please not stop by that night since she still reeks from eating garlic, believed to cure colds.  

But most of the time, food is a way of giving the characters something to do, or a reason to get together.  Especially if someone's going to be poisoned by foxglove in the sage dressing, fish paste in the sandwiches, or just hit with a frozen leg of lamb that will be roasted later on with (I hope) rosemary and garlic.  

Side note:  While Gopnik mentions James Bond's (a/k/a Fleming's) obsession with food, the quote I remember best is Felix Leiter's discourse on martinis in Thunderball.  I read it in junior high, sitting in the back row during some godawful boring assembly.  Now I'd already had a martini or two (this was the summer my mother worked her way through the Bartender's Manual with interesting results for all), and didn't like them:  I was too young, and favored Cuba Libres.  But the passage stuck with me.  The trouble was I was reading the entire Bond series at the time (a thing, like work my way through the Bartender's Manual, that I never plan to do again), and I couldn't remember which one it was. But here it is, found at last: 

The Martinis arrived. Leiter took one look at them and told the waiter to send over the barman. When the barman came, looking resentful, Leiter said, “My friend, I asked for a Martini and not a soused olive.” He picked the olive out of the glass with the cocktail stick. The glass, that had been three-quarters full, was now half full. Leiter said mildly, “This was being done to me while the only drink you knew was milk. I’d learned the basic economics of your business by the time you’d graduated to Coca-Cola. One bottle of Gordon’s Gin contains sixteen true measures – double measures that is, the only ones I drink. Cut the gin with three ounces of water and that makes it up to twenty-two. Have a jigger glass with a big steal in the bottom and a bottle of those fat olives and you’ve got around twenty-eight measures. Bottle of gin here costs only two dollars retail, let’s say around a dollar sixty wholesale. You charge eighty cents for a Martini, one dollar sixty for two. Same price as a whole bottle of gin. And with your twenty-eight measures to the bottle, you’ve still got twenty-six left. That’s a clear profit on one bottle of gin of around twenty-one dollars. Give you a dollar for the olives and the drop of vermouth and you’ve still got twenty dollars in your pocket. Now, my friend, that’s too much profit…”  

But moving along, back to Gopnik and cooking from/ with/ in/ off the books.  First, I find it sad that he never mentioned Fanny Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, which combines murder, friendship, race relations, my favorite lesbian couple (outside of Angela Thirkell's Hampton and Bent) in all of literature, and a lot of cooking.  Ms. Flagg even provides excellent recipes for everything except - well, read the book.  Those fried green tomatoes really are delicious.  But maybe it was too low-brow for Gopnik.  

On the other hand, he likes Robert B. Parker's Spenser, who does cook a lot.  The thing is, to me, I was never interested in any the dishes Spenser made.  And his constant production of cornbread was always a mystery to me, when a light, flaky buttermilk biscuit is just as easy to make and tastes better with gravy.  

Another author Gopnik didn't mention was James M. Cain, which is a shame, because Mildred Pierce is both my favorite of all his works, and the one that finally taught me how to make those light, flaky buttermilk biscuits with the simple line: "She made pie crust, for biscuits."  100% correct.  All you have to do is make a short pie crust made with baking soda and buttermilk, barely knead it, and cut thick.  

BTW, Cain often seems to describe every meal the hero or heroine has, which makes sense considering how many of his novels are set in hard times.  He also uses food and sex kind of interchangeably. 

In The Postman Always Rings Twice, Frank's first meal at Nicks' diner is "orange juice, corn flakes, fried eggs and bacon, enchilada, flapjacks, and coffee", and it's Cora who makes the enchiladas.  She's hot in more ways than one.  

In Mildred Pierce, Mildred is an excellent cook, but it doesn't hurt that she uniforms her staff and self in "sharkskin dresses, of a shade just off white, white with a tint of cream in it, and... little Dutch caps... Always vain of her legs, she had the dresses shortened a little. Now, she hurriedly got into one, put on her Tip-Top shoes, stuck on the little cap... she looked like the cook in a musical comedy."  It works:  her ex-husband Bert and her first ex-lover Wally eye her legs and her restaurant, but it's her current lover, gentleman ne'er-do-well Monty Beragon, who takes her home:  "I've been looking at that damned costume all night, and with great difficulty restrained myself from biting it. Now, get it off." 

 In noir, sex and food and ambition are all wrapped up as tight as Cora's enchiladas.

Of course, when we talk of detection and food, we have to talk about Nero Wolfe, whose life revolves around books, orchids and food:  solving mysteries at high prices is how he pays for them.  I have a copy of The Nero Wolfe Cookbook (by Rex Stout and the Editors of the Viking Press).  And I've read a lot, if not all, of the Nero Wolfe stories and novels.  

A few things leap out:  

Nero Wolfe was as obsessed with eggs as Anthony Bourdain.  Eggs burgundian, coddled eggs, eggs au buerre noir, apricot omelets, bacon and apricot omelets, strawberry omelets, shirred eggs (one scoop of flour away, I hate to tell Wolfe, from toad in the hole), clams hashed with eggs, forty minute scrambled eggs, etc., - none of which I have made, because I need a Fritz to make something that time-consuming that early in the morning.  Nor have I nor will I ever make my own scrapple, brioche, or green tomato jam.  And Fritz puts sugar in his buttermilk biscuits - Anathema!  

Stan Hunt © The American Magazine (June 1949) – Wikipedia

Also, frankly, Fritz often overdoes the richness:  the flounder swimming in cheese over buttered noodles is enough to make Gunter Grass' Flounder choke on his sorrel.  And there's ingredients you can't even hope to find today in most American butcher shops, much less grocery stores: kidneys, tripe, turtle steaks, quail... and starlings?

Of course, things used to be different.  In my childhood I remember seeing kidneys, liver, gizzards, and brains for sale right there in the meat counter at Safeway. Grossed me right out. Now you have to ask at the local if they even have liver, and they'll look at you funny. (And they do not carry songbirds, thank God.) 

Also, Wolfe - or Fritz - never seemed to have heard of sweet red peppers, which certainly existed prior to modern times.  Green peppers show up in recipes where they never should, including Fritz' Hungarian Goulash (p. 94), which I have made, replacing the green peppers with red, and using a strong Russian vodka in place of Polish vodka.  It was pretty good, served with buttered noodles, Celery and Cantaloupe Salad (p. 35), Tomato Tarts (p. 51), Corn Cakes (p. 80), and Blueberry Grunt (p. 59).  We had 10 for dinner, including ourselves, and we all ate well.  But I have a feeling that Fritz would have served more unctuous side dishes than we did.  What Nero Wolfe really needed with every meal was a side of lipitor.  

And, looking over the cookbook, and the novels, I have to agree with what Archie Goodwin said in The Final Deduction:  

“At the dinner table, in between bites of deviled grilled lamb kidneys with a sauce he and Fritz had invented, he explained why it was that all you needed to know about any human society was what they ate. If you knew what they ate you could deduce everything else—culture, philosophy, morals, politics, everything. I enjoyed it because the kidneys were tender and tasty and that sauce is one of Fritz’ best, but I wondered how you would make out if you tried to deduce everything about Wolfe by knowing what he had eaten in the past ten years. I decided you would deduce that he was dead.”

Ya think?


PS - Some people have asked about the on-going shenanigans in South Dakota, from the further fallout of the Pandora Papers, to the current investigations (two!) of our Governor, to the apparent race to see how many state legislators can get a DUI covered up, to the SD Senate Majority Leader's son, who got almost $750,000 in coronavirus relief funds for a SD business which was actually located, operated, and paying (some) taxes in Texas - fear not, eager readers.  All shall be revealed.

07 October 2021

Pandora's Box


Who Let the Dogs Out?


Last week was our Governor's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week, as the following stories broke wide open:

(1) Governor Noem's daughter flunked her appraiser's test so our Governor met with her daughter and the supervisor of the state employee who oversaw her application in a closed meeting. The result was that the daughter got her license and the employee was "encouraged" to retire. Gov. Noem has been tapdancing as if she's in a house infested with cockroaches trying to explain that none of this had anything to do with political pressure, just an attempt to "streamline" the process of becoming an appraiser, and "eliminate barriers to licensure". At least for her daughter. (AP News) (Meanwhile, someone on the appraisal board has since leaked that the daughter flunked her test 4 times, not once.)

(2) Corey Lewandowski. Read it all here: (The Bulwark; The Daily Beast) BTW, Ian Fury, Noem's official spokesperson, said “Corey was always a volunteer, never paid a dime (campaign or official)." To which I instantly responded, "So, you are saying that he did it for love."

(3) AG Ravnsborg (the one who hit a deer with glasses, remember?) has referred Noem’s use of the state plane for various things (private trips, campaigning for Trump, fundraising, etc.) over to Government Accountability Board for review. (Dakota News) Considering that Noem's been calling for Ravnsborg's impeachment / resignation (to be fair, so have we all), this may end up being filed under Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Cold.

And

(4) The Pandora Papers:


By now, you'd have to be under a rock not to have heard about the Pandora Papers, leaked documents from a coordinated, global investigation of how the wealthy and powerful store millions of dollars in secretive trust funds, leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and reported on by the Washington Post and other partners. Naturally, the state which leads the list in housing these very dicey funds is South Dakota.

"South Dakota now rivals notoriously opaque jurisdictions in Europe and the Caribbean in financial secrecy. Tens of billions of dollars from outside the United States are now sheltered by trust companies in Sioux Falls, some of it tied to people and companies accused of human rights abuses and other wrongdoing." (Washington Post)

Now I am proud to say that in one way, I actually broke this story, on SleuthSayers, back on June 20, 2012. It's just that no one listened. As the once and [probably] future AG Marty Jackley once told me, "Call me when there's a crime." To quote myself:

And the latest hot businesses are shelf corporations. These are entities that are created by lawyers incorporating a bunch of corporations that exist in name only—no assets, no employees, and no board members except the agent filling out the paperwork. (It’s sort of like the residency corporations, who have an owner and a person doing the mailings, and that’s it.) Anyway, if you want to start a business, you pay a fee to the incorporator, and you’ve got a corporation. And you the purchaser get complete anonymity. And no taxes. And no accountability. The following is a pitch from Corp95.com: https://corp95.com/

“South Dakota is one of the best kept secrets in the corporate formation world. The state has NO corporate income or franchise taxes. Their annual fees are minimal ($50 per year) and they allow for the most privacy of ownership than in any other state. South Dakota is a low key environment and does not require that its businesses maintain any physical presence in the State. Formation is fast and requires a minimum of personal information. You will pay no more and sometimes less than some of those states that claim to offer privacy but do not actually do so. Why form your company in a state that claims to have no taxes, but then charges high fees to compensate for this. South Dakota truly does offer the most privacy at a very reasonable ongoing fee. Call us at 800-859-6696 and let us provide you with the details for formation of your business entity in this friendly state.” The Wild West Continues (my emphasis)

Corp95 is still making the same pitch, and has been joined by a host of other sharks looking for chum.

But the whole thing started with the late, great[ly interesting] multi-elected Governor "Wild Bill" Janklow, who changed South Dakota law to allow all kinds of things that just weren't allowed in other states. For example, in the 1970s Citibank, which had invested heavily in credit cards, was going bankrupt what with high national interest rates. South Dakota was in a major recession. Citibank promised 400 jobs RIGHT NOW if Janklow abolished the "anti-usury" laws that South Dakota (and all other states) had, so he did - in a single day.*

Seeing the success of that repeal, Janklow went on to deregulate trusts. Back in the 17th century, 'judges fought back against a permanent aristocracy by creating the “rule against perpetuities”, which limited the duration of trusts to around a century, and prevented aristocratic families turning their local areas into mini-kingdoms. In 1983, Janklow abolished the rule against perpetuities and, from that moment on, property placed in trust in South Dakota would stay there for ever.'

“It’s a clean industry, there are no smokestacks, we don’t have to mine anything out of the earth or anything, and they’re generally good paying jobs,” said Tom Simmons, an expert on trust law at the University of South Dakota, when we chatted over coffee in central Sioux Falls. Alongside his academic work, Simmons is a member of South Dakota’s trust taskforce, which exists to maintain the competitiveness of the state’s trust industry. “Janklow was truly a genius in seeing this would be economic development with a very low cost to the government,” he said. (By “the government”, he of course means that of South Dakota, not that of the nation, other states or indeed other countries, which all lose out on the taxes that South Dakota helps people avoid.) The Guardian

Anyway, the ICIJ's and Washington Post's reporting focuses on two Sioux-Falls based trusts: Trident Trust, an international company that opened its Sioux Falls office in 2014, and the South Dakota Trust Co., created by a founding member of Janklow's task force in 2002.

Details from the Washington Post and ICIJ investigations include:
  • The family of Ecuadorian brothers William and Roberto Isaias created trusts with South Dakota Trust Co. in 2012, soon after the brothers were convicted of embezzling government bailout money for their failed bank. Their conviction was later overturned.
  • Family members of Carlos Morales Troncoso, the former vice president of the Dominican Republican, opened several trusts with Trident in 2019 that contain $14 million in personal wealth and shares of a sugar company. The company is "accused of human rights and labor abuses, including illegally bulldozing houses of impoverished families to expand plantations."
  • Federico Kong Vielman, a powerful businessman from Guatemala, moved $13.5 million to Trident 2016. His family is linked to a former dictator and gifted free hotel stays to a former Guatemalan president, likely in exchange for "political favors." U.S. labor officials have accused his family's palm oil company of underpaying workers and exposing them to toxic chemicals. U.S. environmental authorities later found the company released pollutants into a river and the issue was resolved in an arbitration panel.
  • Guillermo Lasso, president of Ecuador, opened two new trusts with Trident in 2017 after his country made it illegal for public officials to store assets in tax havens and as media reports questioned his interests in a bank in Panama.
  • José “Pepe” Douer Ambar, a businessman from Colombia, had a trust with Trident. He settled a case with the U.S. government after an investigation found he was involved with "a vast enterprise to sell drugs in the United States and launder the proceeds."
  • Horst Happel, a business leader from Brazil, created a trust with Trident in 2018. Happel settled a case with the Brazilian government after allegedly colluding to underpay local farmers. He also settled a case with the U.S. government after he allegedly violated limits on futures trading.
  • Christopher Pallanck was formerly married to Cleopatra Cameron, an oil heiress from California who put millions in a Trident trust. Pallanck was granted full custody of their children and Cameron was ordered to pay child support. Trident successfully argued to the South Dakota Supreme Court in a 2017 case that it didn't need to pay out the child support, SDPB previously reported.

"Trident told the Post it complies with all regulations and cooperates with authorities. South Dakota Trust Co. declined to comment on its individual clients but told the Post it exceeds review standards by screening clients for criminal activity and legal or regulatory concerns. Bret Afdahl, director of the South Dakota Division of Banking, told the Post that the state audits trust companies and can penalize firms that do not meet standards, such as confirming the identities of all customers. He said foreign clients and assets receive extra scrutiny." (NPR) (my emphasis)

HA HA HA HA!!! Remember Paul Erickson (former Vermillion, SD Republican operative) and Maria Butina (the Russian spy who loved him and the NRA)? They founded two LLCs which were obviously shelf corporations. Bridges LLC was set up in 2016, and Medora Consulting LLC in 2018 - both "located" in an apartment complex in Sioux Falls, both without any stated purpose or partners. But may well have been laundering money from Aleksandr Torshin and an as-yet unidentified Russian oligarch with a net worth Forbes estimated to be about $1.2 billion. (Vox) Nobody, as far as I know, ever checked into them.

Still it's all harmless, right? Just a place to park money, and it's their money, and someday I might win the lottery, so we need this, right?

"Well, here is an example from one academic paper on South Dakotan trusts: after 200 years, $1m placed in trust and growing tax-free at an annual rate of 6% will have become $136bn. After 300 years, it will have grown to $50.4tn. That is more than twice the current size of the US economy, and this trust will last for ever, assuming that society doesn’t collapse altogether under the weight of this ever-swelling leech.

"If the richest members of society are able to pass on their wealth tax-free to their heirs, in perpetuity, then they will keep getting richer than those of us who can’t. In fact, the tax rate for everyone else will probably have to rise, to make up for the shortfall caused by the wealthiest members of societies opting out, which will just make the problem worse. Eric Kades, the law professor at William & Mary Law School, thinks that South Dakota’s decision to abolish the rule against perpetuities for the short term benefit of its economy will prove to have been a long-term catastrophe. “In 50 or 100 years, it will turn out to have been an absolute disaster,” said Kades. “Now we’re going to have a bunch of wealthy families, and no one will be able to piss away that wealth, it will stay in the family for ever. This just locks in advantage.” (The Guardian)

And every year "the legislature passes an annual bill supporting the industry, following updates by a task force that holds unadvertised meetings to discuss trust laws around the world." Nice. (Dakota News Now)

And, of course, some South Dakotans are making money off of it. USD Law Professor Tom Simmons says “A lot of my students are working in the trust industry, they’re great jobs, they enjoy them and they are raising families in South Dakota, where otherwise they may have left." (Kelo-TV) Really? according to Republican State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, 500 people are employed in South Dakota's mysterious trust industry, which is 0.1% of total SD employment. (And I'll bet most of them are administrative assistants making $25-40K.) There are also "Help Wanted" signs everywhere you turn in Sioux Falls, so I think 500 people could find other work in South Dakota as we get going with "BUST THE TRUST" slogans, signs, legislation…

But, but, but…

  1. This is a nice state, full of nice people, who would never do anything wrong;
  2. This is a nice state, full of nice people, who would never be so impolite as to raise a ruckus no matter what. (Most South Dakotans avoid conflict as if it were an unsedated colonscopy)
  3. This is a nice state, full of nice people, which is why we can have basically a one-party government with no accountability, no transparency, and no public access, because what could possibly go wrong?
  4. This is a nice state, full of nice people, but we're freaking broke (again), because we don't have a big labor force, we don't have any taxes (other than sales and property tax), and all the big money we get seems to go in other people's pockets or just freaking vanishes (EB-5, Gear Up, and probably a few of these secret trusts), so we have to get money from somewhere, and we just won't look into it too deeply BECAUSE
  1. This is a nice state, full of nice people, who would never do anything wrong. (Repeat on an endless loop.)

$50.00 a year, folks, and this too can be your dream LLC in South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, but act like Goodfellas.




*The elimination of usury laws led to the meteoric rise of T. Denny Sanford, who founded First Premier Bank, which made its name and its money on being one of the major subprime credit card providers (high interest - try 79.9% on a $300 credit limit in some cases - to those with low credit ratings ). Mr. Sanford, currently [semi-]retired, is the patron of Sanford Health (formerly Sioux Valley Hospitals & Health Systems), and much, much, much more.

23 September 2021

The Neverending Saga


Many of you, and even myself, had thought that the Ravnsborg saga had come to a miserable squibbling end, but the saga continues.  Back in January 27, 2020 at the Aberdeen City Council meeting our Attorney General Jammin' Jason bragged – and I am not joking – "One thing I'm good at, it's driving" (see Here).  This quote has not held up well.  Besides killing Joe Boever on that fateful September 12, 2020 night, JJ has racked up some speeding tickets. His latest was on August 23, 2021, four days before his plea deal:  

Footage from a deputy sheriff’s body camera shows Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg being pulled over for speeding in Pierre last month.

“Good evening,” the Hughes County deputy says.

“Good evening,” Ravnsborg responds.

“The reason I stopped you is because you’re doing 57 in a 35. Any reason for your speed?” the deputy asks.

Ravnsborg, driving his personal vehicle, hands over his insurance and registration but says he’s missing something.

“Yeah, I don’t have my license with me,” he says.  (NPR)


BTW, here in South Dakota, the unwritten rule of speeding is that you can go 5-10 miles above the 55/65 mph speed limit in between towns (there's a lot of fairly empty land in South Dakota), but when you hit town you go the speed limit.  57 in a 35 mph zone means AG JJ was driving almost 60 mph in a city - the capitol city of South Dakota.  And without a license.  This really is straight from the "you can't make this up" files.  We all breathlessly await what kind of fine he'll get.  If any.  

Then again - people are pissed.  

Governor Kristi Noem and the South Dakota Department of Public Safety handed the full investigation file over to to South Dakota Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch. Noem is pressuring the Legislature to impeach Ravnsborg.  (Here)

Secretary of the Department of Public Safety Secretary Craig Price, in a cover letter to Gosch that also was released, summarized the report, and sharply criticized the prosecution:

“In my opinion as a 24-year law enforcement officer, and in the opinion of the highly trained highway patrol officers involved in this investigation, Mr. Ravnsborg should have been charged with 2nd Degree Manslaughter,” Price wrote. “The prosecution team was well aware of that position. The South Dakota Highway Patrol stood ready and willing to provide expert testimony regarding the crash and the facts of this investigation at trial, a position that was also made clear to the prosecutor.”  (Mitchell Republic)

Meanwhile, the South Dakota Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Chiefs' and Sheriffs' associations said in a joint press release on Friday, that "we are unified in requesting Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg resign as South Dakota Attorney General.  Ravnsborg’s involvement in the death of Joe Boever on September 12th have resulted in a lack of confidence in his ability to effectively carry out his duties as the chief law enforcement officer in South Dakota.  We are not commenting on the pending criminal case or impeachment process as we recognize his right to due process."  (RCJ)

And he still might not get impeached:  From The South Dakota Standard: 

A powerful insider told me last week that most of them have no special feelings for Ravnsborg. He is not one of them, and they hold no regard for him. But he is a Republican, and it will produce bad publicity for him, the state and the party.  Frankly, they just want it to go away as quietly as possible. If that means Ravnsborg serves until the end of 2022 — based on the belief that he will not be renominated for a second term, much less elected to one — that is what they would prefer.

Maybe.  But people are really pissed.  

Meanwhile, though, I've been thinking about something else which relates to the death of Joseph Boever and many other mysterious deaths in South Dakota, something that links them all, that seems plausible enough, until you start counting it all up - and that is the accusation or ruling of suicide.

Back on November 1, 2004, Morgan Lewis, German professor at Northern State University in Aberdeen was found dead at the doorway from a gunshot wound to the back of his head. Obvious homicide, right? And the coroner did call it a homicide. "But a year and a half later, it was declared a suicide, After a year and a half of haggling among officials, the police declared it a suicide. This declaration was made after some kind of expert organization was called in to examine the case. The report of that organization on which the decision was based was withheld from the public."  (Northern Valley Beacon)

Pro tip: It's almost impossible to commit suicide by shooting yourself in the back of the head.

Or by shooting yourself with a shotgun to the gut (in a lonely field, btw), as was determined by then  Attorney General Marty Jackley about Richard Benda, who - as soon as he was declared dead by suicide - was blamed for embezzling all the missing money in the EB-5 visas for cash scandal in 2013.  

(NOTE:  EB-5, the only immigrant program in the US that allowed a person to buy citizenship for $500,000, is officially, for now, dead, having not been renewed by Congress in June.  See HERE)

And I still don't buy the "shot his family and himself and set fire to the house while the safe walked out the door like a pet potbellied pig" with regard to the Westerhuis tragedy.  
(see my SleuthSayers posts "A Little Light Corruption" about both the Benda and Westerhuis cases HERE and my "Halloween Ain't Over by a Long Shot" update on the Westerhuis case HERE)

And, of course, Mr. Ravnsborg planned to use the "victim threw himself into my car and through my windshield" suicide defense.  If Ravnsborg hadn't done a plea deal, and he'd gotten away with the suicide defense, that would have been the fourth high-profile death in South Dakota declared a suicide while the rest of us stand around with our mouths open going, "WTF?"  

Which makes me wonder, how many more "suicides" in this state... weren't?  

I might have to do a little research.  If I do, I'll let you know what I find out.