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

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.

09 September 2021

Dying Drunk and other Victorian Habits


I read an article a while back called "Time to Reread 'Anna Karenina'" on (of all places) The American Conservative, just to see what their take on it was and it was:

"The reader watches as Anna, a brilliant socialite with a respected husband and a smart young son, falls from grace: she nearly dies in childbirth of her illegitimate daughter; is cast out of all polite society; is isolated from her son, family, and friends; drives herself mad imagining her paramour is in love with other women; and, ultimately, commits suicide. Through all this, Anna refuses to repent her decision to be unfaithful. If there’s one idea Tolstoy wants you to come away with, it’s that affairs have consequences."  And then goes on to blame feminism because reasons.

Now yours truly, a/k/a Every Volume Eve, knows that almost every author who has ever written about  adultery generally comes to the conclusion that affairs have consequences.  Even Casanova occasionally knew he went too far.  She also knows that Tolstoy had enough issues with sexuality to keep generations of Freudians on 24/7 therapy alert, but the essayist apparently didn't.* 

Nor, apparently, did he know that Anna Karenina was no feminist, but she was a drug addict.  He certainly didn't mention it. Specifically morphine. When she gave birth to that illegitimate daughter, which almost killed her, the doctor gave her morphine because that's all they had back then for pain, etc. As the novel progresses, so does her addiction, until she can't sleep, go out, or do anything without morphine.  Other people in the novel (such as her sister-in-law Princess Oblonsky, a/k/a Dolly) notice her addiction, and warn Vronsky, who knows already, but no one can figure out what to do. And the night before her suicide, Anna pours her "usual dose" of opium, and the next morning, takes a little more, and goes out and hurls herself under a train.  (Sorry if I spoiled the ending for you.)

Basically, Anna Karenina is a damn good portrait of addiction in action. True, the references are brief, often subtle, sometimes euphemistic, but they would have been perfectly clear to a Victorian audience.**  I think some of it is that most modern readers don't think in terms of Victorian ladies - even Russian Victorian ladies - being drug addicts. (Somehow humans always think sex, drugs, and wild music are modern.) But they were.  

For example, a common event in Victorian literature and memoirs is someone's illness and death.  Along the way, they're generally given either a cordial or an elixir. Both were primarily alcohol, mixed more or less with opium (whether it was called morphine or laudanum) or cocaine (Sherlock Holmes wasn't the only one on "a seven-per-cent solution"). Laudanum, "a tincture of opium mixed with wine or water" that's been called the 'aspirin of the nineteenth century,' was the primary painkiller available. It was recommended for a broad range of ailments from cough, diarrhea, rheumatism, 'women's troubles', cardiac disease and even delirium tremens. (VictorianWeb) When Oscar Wilde said, "I am dying as I have lived: beyond my means," he was drinking champagne on his deathbed by prescription. In fact, cordials for the sick and dying are mentioned in so many Victorian novels that I've decided most Victorians died drunk and/or high.  

Cordials were also given to babies, especially when they were teething, colicky, etc.  Godfrey's Cordial (a/k/a "The Mother's Friend") contained one grain of opium per two liquid ounces, and those two ounces were mainly alcohol.  It was notorious for being responsible for infant deaths, but it was just so handy, and it did shut the little darlings up.  So it got used.  A lot.  (Citation)  


Then there were tonics.  Most children, adolescents, and women were given and/or took tonics to "build up their strength" and/or keep them "regular":  the most famous of these, of course, is Lydia Pinham's Vegetable Compound, which was made up of an almost modern recipe of herbs (including black cohosh) suspended in alcohol.  (see here)  ("Just a spoonful of whiskey makes the medicine go down...")

And of course, there was paregoric (camphorated opium tincture), widely used to control diarrhea in adults and children. This is what Beth March takes in Little Women (it's referred to solely as "camphor" there but everyone at that time would have known it was paregoric) when she suspects she's caught scarlet fever from the Hummell family.  She also takes some belladonna (on doctor's orders!), which is a tincture of deadly nightshade, and can do everything from blind you to kill you.  All things considered, I'm amazed that Beth lived as long as she did.  

Calomel (mercury) was used to treat everything from mumps to typhoid fever, and all of women's gastrointestinal troubles. Since mercury softens the gums, it was also given to babies for teething.  In real life it cured nothing, but it caused a lot of mercury poisoning, which had long-term consequences, especially in the babies.  Part of the reason you rarely read of a man being treated with calomel in a novel is that it was also used for syphilis, so to mention it as a treatment was to basically declare that he was an immoral rake, and pity his poor wife.  (In real life, see Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston's father.)

Cocaine lozenges were recommended as effective remedies for coughs, colds and toothaches in the Victorian era, not to mention indigestion, melancholia, neurasthenia.  Holmes was not the outlier that Dr. Watson would have us think.  

With all that laudanum, cocaine and alcohol floating around, the list of Victorian addicts is long.  Besides Anna, there's Anne Bronte's Lord Lowborough in the The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (she apparently studied brother Bramwell and copied his addictions with microscopic accuracy) to Dracula. (Addiction is addiction, folks, and Dracula certainly has all the symptoms, including using everyone and everything around him to get his next fix of that sweet, sweet stuff.)  Wilkie Collins used opium to good effect in both The Moonstone and The Woman in White).  

And in real life, there's Elizabeth Siddal, Gabriel Dante Rossetti's wife, who died of an overdose of laudanum in 1862, while Rossetti himself became a chloral hydrate addict. 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge also got high, which should surprise no one who's read Kubla Khan:

"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea."

Elizabeth Barrett Browning started taking laudanum for pain when she was 14 years old, and only managed to give up her addiction 30 years later, after her marriage to Robert Browning, when she realized that otherwise she would never have children. 

And none of this was considered illegal or particularly immoral, as long as you could earn a living, have children, carry on in society, etc.  

Today we live in a world in which the demarcations are clearly marked:  legal / illegal drugs; prescription drugs / illegal drugs.  But in the Victorian world those markers didn't exist.  You could buy anything, use anything legally.  The Victorians might be tightly buttoned when it came to sex, but with drugs and alcohol, there were no limits, other than morality and social standards, and to be honest, those were also much more fluid than ours.  Except for a few cranks like Bronson Alcott, everyone drank.  (For one thing, only a madman would drink Thames or Potomac or any river water.)  And when it came to pain and sickness, everyone took drugs.  Hard drugs.  It was all they had.



* Proof? The Kreutzer Sonata, Pierre's first marriage in War and Peace, and the fact that Tolstoy sired 13 children while declaring the swinishness of carnal love and the institution of marriage.  But then Rousseau had 4+ children and put each and every one of them in an orphanage, while writing the 18th century classic on permissive child education, Emile. So there's was a lot of hypocrisy around.  BTW to those who believe Mrs. Tolstoy was entirely to blame, just a reminder that Sophia copied and edited the manuscript of War and Peace (1,225 pages) seven times from beginning to end at home at night by candlelight after the children and servants had gone to bed, using an inkwell pen and sometimes requiring a magnifying glass to read her husband's notes.  

** They also often miss the rather plain reference to birth control in Ch. 23.

26 August 2021

One Dark Night


Vanity Fair has done a damn good job of summing up the situation with regard to South Dakota's Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (pronounced Rounsberg), who on September 12, 2020, more or less at 10:22 PM, swerved over on the side of the road and hit what he is still claiming he thought was a deer.  Instead, it was a man:  Joseph Paul Boever.  Mr. Boever went flying into the air and into Ravnsborg's windshield, leaving his glasses in the front seat of Ravsnborg's car.  Which Ravnsborg never noticed until investigators told him about it. 

Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek came out after Ravnsborg's 911 call that night, checked the area over, found nothing, and then gave Ravnsborg a ride to his home. There he loaned the AG one of his personal vehicles to drive to Pierre. At no time that night did the sheriff give our AG a sobriety test. The next day an alcohol test showed no alcohol in Ravnsborg's system, which is exactly what you'd expect from a test given 15 hours later.  



(Above:  The Highmore Road at night.  BTW, the victim was carrying a lit flashlight.
Vanity Fair)  

Five months later, Ravnsborg was finally charged with 3 misdemeanors: careless driving, driving out of his lane and operating a motor vehicle while on his phone. Maximum sentence $500 fine each and 30 days in jail, and we all knew that there was no way he would ever, ever, ever serve a day in jail. The obvious thing to do was plead guilty, pay the fine and go on his merry way.  

But he wouldn't. And nobody in South Dakota has been able to figure out why.  

Instead, his attorneys - as you may remember - tried to defend the AG by saying that the victim was attempting to commit suicide by throwing himself in front of Ravnsborg's car. A number of people quickly pointed out that this plotline literally came straight from the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, where a man threw himself in front of one of the heros in order to send him to prison for murder.  (Soap)  

And his trial started tomorrow.  Except!  Ravnsborg is going to take a plea deal tomorrow, according to his attorney, and put an end to the whole show.  (News)  So why now?  Why not before?  Who knows?  

But:  The gag order ends after the plea deal. Back in February, Governor Noem had called on Ravnsborg to resign and then the investigators' interviews with Ravnsborg were released by the South Dakota Department of Public Safety (undoubtedly with Noem's permission).  Ravnsborg's attorneys, understandably enough, were furious at this tainting of the pool, and got a gag order on any further information, interviews, evidence, that might be in the record. After the plea deal, all of that can come out in a tsunami.

And:  In 2022, Governor Noem and AG Ravnsborg's are up for reelection.  Marty Jackley, the former AG, has already announced his plans to run against Ravnsborg.  And I'm willing to slap a five on the table right now saying Jackley will win.  

Because:  Let's just say Ravnsborg doesn't have that many friends in South Dakota. Each and every one of us knows that he got special treatment all the way:
  • The Sheriff himself came out, and gave him a ride home, loaned him a car, and gave no alcohol test on the night of the crash.  
  • The investigation took almost 5 months, during which Ravnsborg was never arrested, booked, or had to post bail.  
  • Three misdemeanors.  Three misdemeanors.  Three misdemeanors.  There are people sitting in prison for vehicular manslaughter.  
(Yes, there are people who say, "Well, he's innocent until he's proven guilty", but if you ask them what would have happened if they'd hit a person and left them for dead, almost all say, "Oh, I'd be in jail.  If I was Native American, I'd be in prison right now."  We know how the deck is stacked.)

Also:  Boever's widow has filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit against Ravnsborg.  (See above about the tsunami of evidence waiting for the end of the gag order.)  (Argus)

Also:  There was a significant cry in last year's legislature for Ravnsborg's impeachment. But the result was a 57-11 vote to suspend further impeachment action until the criminal case against him is resolved.  Well...  

Meanwhile:  Right before Ravnsborg hit Boever, he'd been reading an article on a right-wing website about Biden and corruption and China.  The cell phone data proved that.  Now last I heard, you're not supposed to read while driving even if it is a dark night on a lonely road where you really don't expect anything but deer to be.  And we all know that.  So, from the very beginning, if Ravnsborg would have been willing to admit that he had been driving distracted, and missed seeing Boever on shoulder and hit him.  Or if he'd at least given a press conference at any time saying "I cannot express my sorrow and my heartbreak at the death of Mr. Boever.  It was not deliberate, it was a horrible accident, and I will always regret that night," etc. - if he'd done that, he just might have kept his reputation and his career.  But I think it's shot.  He ran away.  He kept his mouth shut.   He admitted nothing.  

All it takes is one dark night to ruin everything.  And Mr. Boever is still dead.



(Memorial on Highway 14 for Joseph Boever.
Vanity Fair)

12 August 2021

Back Inside


I spent the July 31/August 1st, 2021 weekend inside the pen doing an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop for the first time since January, 2020.  (Allan couldn't join me, because of his health.  He's doing fine, but the long walkways and those damn stairs would kill him.)  

A lot's happened at the pen since March, 2020, when the pen was locked down:

  • The warden, deputy warden, and a few other officers were "walked out" in July, 2021 after an anonymous complaint about numerous problems at the penitentiary, including nepotism, sexual harassment, shoddy equipment, lack of safety regulations, etc., reached the Governor's desk.  (HERE)  "The investigation is on-going" is what we hear from Pierre.  What we hear on the ground is "no one here knows what the hell is going on, or what the investigators are looking into or for, the place generally has the air of a hornet's nest that was just kicked wide open, and no one knows how/when this is going to end."  I believe the technical term for what's going on is a shitstorm.  
  • But they're hiring.  Send in your application today!
  • On July 27, Governor Noem ended the mask mandate at the pen to "improve staff morale".  Not surprised, not thrilled, but also wish she would remember that the virus came into the pen in the first place through the staff.  And the Delta variant is here and about to be everywhere (see Sturgis, below).  Of course, our Governor doesn't believe in any of that.  
  • On August 5, Sturgis officially began, although the bikers started arriving way before that.  Over 700,000 are expected.  Since our state's population is 880,000, Sturgis almost doubles the entire population of South Dakota for the duration.  Our Governor appeared for a press conference on Monday (Aug. 9) in Sturgis, riding her horse, wearing her cowboy hat and carrying a flag.  Rode that horse up on stage and said, “Welcome to South Dakota.  Welcome to freedom.”  So there's that.  Sigh. 
    • NOTE:  Actually, the last thing you should probably say to 700,000 bikers is "feel free to do anything you damn well please", because some of them are Bandidos, Diablos, Hells Angels, etc., and they will take you up on it, and you probably won't like it.  But of course, I'm sure Noem has a security detail...
    • Anyway, yeah, since we're already in a surge, we're all expecting a Hokusai of a wave coming in, and sooner or later, masks are going to be back at the pen.  

Meanwhile, back at the pen, I'd forgotten how young many new prisoners are.  And I'd almost forgotten how bouncy young meth-heads are.  Somewhere along the line, someone had bought a bunch of "Light Up Silicone Squishy Chicks" to use as giveaways at one of the prison family pow-wows to the little kids.  There were leftovers, and they got stashed in with the AVP supplies, and when they were found - well, they are cute, fun, and hilarious, and they hypnotized at least two of our attendees.  Which might have been the point.  I looked them up on Amazon:



And I quote from the ad:

Balls light up when squeezed, also helps relieve stress and develop child’s motor skills.
☛:A soft stretchy puffer ball that lights up, easy to use and easy to play, good for kids and adults.
☛: Amazing Flashing Puffer Ball Chickens, super fun to play with!
☛: Great stress reliever for adults and children: Release all of your tension at once!
☛:This product can be used as a stress relief toy, it can also be used as samples for display. It's durable and can [be] used for a long time.  [My emphasis.]
 
Depends on who's using it.  One of our participants played so hard with his - Gollum and The Precious had nothing on him - that it deflated, and all its lights went out, and he was known as "chicken killer" for the rest of the day.  However, sweetness and light returned when - lo and behold! - the next morning the chick had re-inflated to light and life and squishiness.  Amazing stuff.   

Seriously, it takes a long time to get a boy's brain back into some semblance of order after meth, and it doesn't help that there's no real treatment at the pen.  They have drug/alcohol classes, but only an hour a day.  And often nothing until they're 6 months away from being released.  Then it's back to the cell-halls where they're bouncing off walls again.  More and earlier would be helpful.

BTW, right now there's no AA / NA at the pen, (1) because Covid disrupted everything, and (2) also partly because you have to be able to pass a background check, and there is a certain percentage of AA / NA attendees who are prison graduates and so unable to host them.  Ironically, they would be the best at it, because they would understand the situation right down to its core.  (Zoom meetings aren't allowed, for security reasons.)  

But the workshop went really well.  There's hope.  A lot of hope.  And many of the graduates came back for the Refresher the next weekend.  

I'm also back doing the Lifer's Group.  We're currently working on trying to get some new legislation written before the next session begins January 11, 2022.  (South Dakota has, I believe, the shortest legislative session in the country - 38 working days - and I'm still making up my mind as to whether that's good or bad.)  Here in South Dakota, all life sentences are life without parole, and you can also get a life sentence for first degree manslaughter.  So the Lifer's Group is working on: 

(1) Ending life sentences for first degree manslaughter - remember, manslaughter is "the unlawful killing of a human being without express or implied malice." (Merriam-Webster)  So why should they get life without parole?  
(2) Changing life sentences so that only certain crimes would get life without parole:  first degree murder, certain criminal sexual conduct, terrorism, etc.  

Wish us luck.  And if you know any good constitutional lawyers who would like to volunteer their time, send me their names. 

On a more fun note, the Lifer's Group has a Religious Enlightenment Conference and a Talent Show to plan.  

Oh, and for those of you who might be in the neighborhood, the Lifer's Group will have a lot of artwork in the Tallgrass Recovery Art Show at the Post Pilgrim Art Gallery, 2121 E 10th St, Sioux Falls, SD.  The Opening is on Friday, August 27th at 7:00 PM.  Come on down and join me!


It's good to be back.

29 July 2021

Pro Tips


Luck has a lot more to do with success in life than most people want to admit.  Which is exactly why most trust fund babies are "born on third base and think s/he hit a triple."

But even luck has its limits:  If you never write anything, you'll never get published, because last I heard the "Secret Arts Patrons Society" (a/k/a SAPS) have quit going around door to door paying random strangers for ideas.

See above if you never submit anything.  

Sometimes it takes all day to write one decent sentence.  That's all right.  There's always tomorrow, when you can rewrite it and make it better.  Or make it worse.  You never know.  

BTW, read all the really good literature you can get your hands on, but also keep some really bad books* around, so that when you're really depressed, you can remind yourself how bad writing can get and still get published.  You may not be Stephen King or John LeCarre, but you can do better than this.  Hope!

*No, I'm not providing a list - I don't need that kind of hate mail. 

BTW, when you do hit the writing zone, and the words flow out like water, it helps to keep the following items handy:

  • Something to eat
  • Something to drink
  • A squirt gun full of water so that if anyone tries to interrupt, you have something with which to drive them away.  Sort of works on cats, too.

If someone is keeping two sets of books, they're doing something illegal.  They're also probably keeping that 2nd set as insurance against their boss.   

Speaking of insurance, the more ads you see for an insurance company, the less likely you'll ever get a claim paid, because those ads are all paid for with your premium checks.

This probably also works with all those pharmaceutical, bank, and investment firm ads.  

If everyone is "deep state", there is no deep state, and the person telling you that is probably themselves bat-s*** crazy, with a side of fries.

This works with anything else where it's said, "Everyone is… i.e., "Everyone is crooked" means, "I'm a corkscrew."

If someone offers you a bribe, they're doing something illegal.  They're also making a comment on your morals and your intelligence that I personally believe deserves defenestration.  

Any scheme that soaks the ultra-wealthy in the name of riding out the apocalypse / doomsday in style is fine with me, but it takes great panache to continue the grift for 14 years and still not have built anything but an extra-large barn with a lot of guns.  (Hell, I knew a guy who had a bunker with land mines in his property and all from his own funds. And he was picky about who he'd allow in when The Day came.)  Meanwhile, Barrett Moore is still raising money for his Haven.  (See Here)  Of course, Jim Bakker is still selling survival gear (HERE).  I have been assured by those who have watched his ads that Bakker tells his customers that they can take the 60 meal bucket (600 calories per meal, which is a hell of a lot less than McDonalds - you're gonna get svelte!) and when it's empty, turn it into a personal toilet. Pro tip:  There is a lot of money to be made from the Doomsday business.  

Although I still want to know how many true Doomsday preppers would be satisfied with a 600 calorie meal?  That's one Big Mac, no fries.  

It's never a good idea to hold an exorcism in a public place, but Home Depot?  

"Police in Lackawanna County announced they broke up a reported 'exorcism' that happened inside a Home Depot, in Dickson City Tuesday." The group was performing an exorcism for the dead trees in the aisle, i.e., the lumber. I want names, church affiliation, and how many beers went into this decision. (News

It's never a good idea to spread a pandemic among your own constituents, but as we all know, the GOP and various media outlets have been ignoring that pro tip for quite a while.  Recently, however, Fox News "It's all a hoax!" pundit Sean Hannity, Senator Tommy Tuberville, Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy and others have been begging people to get the vaccine.  My personal theory is that (1) lawsuits are coming and (2) they've begun to realize that, in the immortal words of Barry Hughart, "Corpses cannot pay taxes!" (Bridge of Birds) Nor can they be signed up for monthly or even weekly payments to the politicians or PACs or media outlets. Well, you can sign them up, but they won't pay.  Keep your customers alive.

Speaking of keeping customers alive, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is August 5-14, with of course a few days on either side of that to get "ahead of the crowds".  Projected attendance this year is over 700,000.  Meanwhile, South Dakota Covid cases are rising fast:  the Delta Variant, of course.  Since for some reason I doubt that all 700,000 rallygoers will be fully vaccinated, masked, and socially distanced, the pro tip is either get a lot of health insurance or STF home.

Finally, if you happen to be driving late at night and looking at your cell phone and hit a man and kill him and the sheriff doesn't give you an alcohol test and instead loans you his personal car to drive yourself home and the alcohol test is given the next day and no charges are filed for months and when they are they're three misdemeanors and you can pay $1,500.00 and make it all go away and you have the money because you're the State Attorney General, the pro tip is DO IT.  And quit blaming the victim.

BSP:  "The Sweet Life" is in the current issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.


And because you know that you've always wanted to read a mystery where Mrs. Elton of Emma is the detective, determined to catch the killer, especially if it's Harriet Smith, my "Truth and Turpitude:  Murder at Abbey-Mill Farm" is in the current issue of Crimeucopia: The Cosy Nostra, now available at Amazon.com.

15 July 2021

A Republic, If You Can Keep It


On June 30, 2021, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem announced that she was sending 50 National Guard troops to Texas to help secure our border, that the deployment would last between 30 to 60 days and that it would be paid for by "private donation."  The donor was not a South Dakotan, but from Tennessee:  Willis Johnson, billionaire Republican donor, who made his fortune building an "international junkyard empire." — Argus

Many of us South Dakotans were irate at the thought of our National Guard being hired out per some out-of-state billionaire's behest.  From Governor Noem's Communication Director, Ian Fury:

“The Governor has authority under SDCL 5-24-12 to accept a donation if she determines doing so is in the best interest of the State. The Governor has additional authority to accept donated funds for emergency management under SDCL 34-48A-36.”

But "experts say it sets a troubling precedent in which a wealthy patron is effectively commandeering U.S. military might to address private political motivations."  And South Dakota State Senator Reynold Nesiba (D) said, “This could set a dangerous precedent to allow anonymous political donors to call the governor and dispatch the Guard whenever they want."

To which I - and many others said – No kidding. 

Allow me to share why:

Once upon a time Rome was a Republic consisting mostly of free farmers surrounding the city-state of Rome. But Rome was always paranoid. They always thought their neighbors were out to get them, and the best thing was to conquer them first. (See the Punic Wars.)  

By 267 BCE, they'd conquered the entire peninsula of Italy.  Then they went abroad, and fought Carthage (present day Tunisia) in three Punic Wars. In between the First and Second, Rome conquered the entire Greek world. And by the end of the Third Punic War, here's what they'd gained, territorially:

Rome 145AD

But in order to do this, Rome built the largest military of its day. Now soldiers had originally been free farmers who went off to fight and then come back home to their lands. But after 100 years of war, the  army was no longer made up of "citizen soldiers" or "free farmers". For that matter, the free farmers were pretty much bankrupt, and trying to find a job in the city. The Roman equivalent of factory farming were latifundia, plantations that produced cash crops – cattle, wine, olive oil, wine. They were owned by patricians (BTW, all the Roman Senators were patricians, and most were very wealthy), run by overseers and worked by slaves. (They didn't have John Deere back then.) There were no controls over the overseers, and no attempt to treat slaves humanely. Cato the Elder argued that it was cheaper to work slaves to death and buy more than to treat them well. (Fun guy.) After a while, the landowners found it cheaper still to produce wheat and barley in overseas colonies using slave-labor (Sicily, Spain, Africa): the original outsourcing.
  • BTW, slaves were everywhere: Almost the entire population of Carthage was enslaved after the 3rd Punic War - farm & factory labor – and all those Greeks (a favorite source for tutors and skilled labor). Julius Caesar's campaign in Gaul (cd France) sent back 1,000,000 slaves. This flood of slaves meant it was often cheaper to buy a slave than hire a worker, and even when it wasn't, the presence of so many slaves kept wages very low; around 30% of Italian population were slaves.
Now the irony is that while the Senate saw itself as the guardian of republican liberty, for most of the Republic it spent most of its time and energy protecting the right of a few hundred families to get and keep almost all the land, wealth, and power in Italy. To do this, bread and circuses become the order of the day: low-cost food and free admission to entertainment and bath houses. This kept the poor shut up, if not happy. 

But let's get back to the military, which expanded rapidly, constantly. Rome was more or less at perpetual war (at least around its vast borders) until its fall around 476 CE. Back home, the senators squabbled over who got to be governor of the richest provinces, and who would be one of the two consuls elected every year by the Senate. The consuls ran the executive branch of government and for years the judiciary. Each consul was also the equivalent of a commander-in-chief, commanding an army of two legions strong (20,000 men).  Almost every Senator wanted to be consul.  The fights over that office led to blood feuds, which I'm not going to go into (look up the Gracchi brothers - you could start HERE).  


Rome 117AD

Rome, ca 117 CE

Late in the Republic, Marius (157-86 BCE) and Sulla (138-78 BCE) were rival generals. Marius was a wealthy plebian general, who bought his Roman citizenship. Sulla was a (rare) poor patrician general, who was opposed to any and all reforms. Marius made some changes to the army, but the most significant was making his men swear an oath of loyalty to him, not the Republic, not the Senate. Of course, every other general did the same.  From then on, the legions followed their general, whatever or whoever they were fighting.

Sulla and Marius' rivalry exploded into violence in 88 BCE, when Sulla took his troops and marched on Rome.  This was the first time that Roman troops marched on Roman citizens, but it would not be the last. Marius responded in kind. The result was a 5 day blood orgy of horrific looting, rape, arson, pillage, mutilation and killing.  But then Marius died (of natural causes!). Sulla took over, and retired in 79. Everyone felt the Republic would be just fine now, ignoring the fact that these two had just shown future generals how to take over Rome. And Julius Caesar, 21 when Sulla retired, was the man to do it.

Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) traced his descent all the way back to Aeneas, son of Venus, daughter of Jupiter; after his death, he would be deified. He made his name as a military commander in Gaul, and he made sure everybody knew about his exploits by writing the Commentaries. He was superb at power politics, willing to pay, bribe, subvert, seduce, or marry anyone he had to in order to get ahead. In 60 BCE he formed a triumvirate with Pompey and Crassus to take over Rome. Crassus - banker, provider of fire-insurance and owner of silver mines, was the equivalent of a billionaire in his own day. Pompey had mopped up the Spartacus revolt with typical brutality, and was mega-rich thanks to provincial governorships in Asia. He also married Caesar's daughter Julia, but when she died in 54 BCE, so did their alliance. 

By 52 BCE, Julius Caesar had conquered all of Gaul and invaded Britain. He came back as a conquering hero, with 13 loyal legions (at least 65,000 troops) totally loyal to him and him alone. The Senate was terrified, and made Pompey sole consul of Rome, with absolute power. Pompey "asked" Caesar to come back as a private citizen, leaving his legions behind, a polite way of telling Caesar that he was going to be outlawed, killed, and his property confiscated. Well, nuts to that, and in 49 BCE he "crossed the Rubicon" with his troops into Rome and launched a four year civil war. Pompey eventually fled to Egypt, where Cleopatra beheaded him as a favor to Caesar. In 47 BCE, Caesar was absolute ruler of Rome.

His assassination three years later was supposed to bring back the Republic - that's what Brutus and Cassius said they wanted. Instead, it brought all-out war, in which it was every general and Senator for himself. The winner was Octavian, Caesar's adopted son and heir, whom few would have bet on to win: young, inexperienced in battle, relatively unknown. But Octavian hired the best generals, plus he had patience, a genius for administration, and always spoke out firmly on behalf of conservative values. It also didn't hurt that, as Caesar's heir, he was fabulously wealthy. Octavian, at 32, became master of the Roman world, and was transformed into 

AUGUSTUS CAESAR (b. 63 BCE, r. 31 BCE-14 CE)

And he had a long life and a long reign: 45 years as absolute ruler of Rome, even though he began by proclaiming that the Republic was restored. Throughout his reign, he always maintained a pretense of maintaining the Republic. He publicly declined the dictatorship, was never called emperor, and while he held every office of power and the title of Augustus (or revered one), he made sure that everyone knew that his favorite title was princeps: "first among equals" or "chief citizen."

He maintained the facade of the Republic: elections were held, the assemblies met, the Senate passed laws. But before anything passed, Augustus sponsored it and approved it. He had absolute power, and everyone knew it: you just didn't say it bluntly. At least, not at first. Later, no one worried about it. 

By the time he died in 14 CE, almost everyone who could have remembered the Republic was dead. The only thing Roman citizens knew was imperial power, and, frankly, they liked it. They were addicted to it:  the power, the wealth, the constant flood of goods and services, the mastery.  Freedom seemed to be a small price to pay.



"There is a story, often told, that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: "A republic, if you can keep it." The brevity of that response should not cause us to under-value its essential meaning: democratic republics are not merely founded upon the consent of the people, they are also absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people for their continued good health."  (Link)

Transforming the United States military (on any level) into hired mercenaries, at the beck and call of any billionaire and their political cause, is no way to keep it.



PS - From the "How Low Can They Go?" files from South Dakota:  State AG Jason Ravnsborg, who struck and killed Joe Boever on a remote highway on Sept. 12, 2020, and was only charged three “Class 2” misdemeanors for it, is up for trial at the end of August, and plans to defend himself by claiming that his victim was suicidal and threw himself into Ravnsborg's windshield.  (HERE)  Because God forbid that Ravnsborg should take any responsibility and pay a maximum total of $1,500.  I'm still working on getting the stench out of my nose from this one.

01 July 2021

A Short Evocation of a Lesser Common Narcissist


(Based on true events, but the names and cities have been changed to protect… you know how it goes.)

Many years ago, a guy named Kirk came to visit us for New Year's in Laskin, SD, bringing with him an Internet friend, Rona. The last time we'd seen Kirk was over ten years before, when we still lived on the East Coast. Since then he and his wife, Anna, had split up. According to Kirk, she went crazy, and I mean literally crazy. This may be true - Anna always seemed a little strange to me - but I can also assure you that living with Kirk didn't help. Kirk was profoundly convinced of his ability to do anything, superbly, without practice or study. And shared his expertise with everyone. The latest iteration was computer: 

"You remember how I used to be into hacking? Made me the expert on security issues. I get messages from people and companies all around the world wanting me to fix their stuff. Make it impervious to scammers. Set up firewalls no hacker can breach. I could make a mint, but I'm picky about who I work for. But they all know what I can do. They all want me." 

Why, then, after Kirk and Anna split up, he went to Arizona, looking for the six figure dot-com job,  I have no idea.  Apparently no one had ever told him about Silicon Valley. He didn't find the job or any other, except some side gigs. I'm not sure he actually looked. After all, his repute was such that sooner or later the perfect job would find him, right? 

Meanwhile, he couch-surfed from friend to friend, apartment to apartment.  And he searched for love on the internet, and found Rona, from Serbia, and headed off to see her in Texas. 

Rona was getting her doctorate in plant cellular microbiology at Southern Methodist University. How she got from Serbia to Dallas is a whole 'nother story, but let's just say Dallas was major culture shock. She ended up retreating into her studio apartment and spent most of her time outside of classes and labs on-line. She told me that meeting people via the Internet was safe in Europe. "You meet normal people." Then came Kirk. Who sounded like every other lad looking for love on-line.

She was lonely and he was lonely, and she invited him to come to Dallas and visit for a few days. Along the way he called us and invited himself and Rona to visit for New Year's. He implied that he had met Rona in Dallas and something about Christmas with her family in Fargo.  We had no idea he had (1) never been to Dallas before, (2) never physically met her at all, and (3) that she had no family in the Americas. 

So we said sure, come on up, and he said, "Well, we should be there in an hour."  

And they were.  


I liked Rona at once. Physically, she looked tired and worn out, not just from the trip, but from her whole life. She grew up and lived in Belgrade throughout the whole breakup and the Kosovo bombings and the subsequent craziness of rebuilding. And now she was in a strange country, and even though American TV is universal, living here is different than watching it on TV. She chain smoked (but then so did we back then), and had a terrible cough.  She was also very intelligent and had goals and the drive to fulfill them.  The plan was to get her doctorate and become a scientist and make a good living. 

Meanwhile, I had forgotten how exhausting Kirk was. He paced and postured and never, ever, ever shut up. Mostly about himself.  Mostly his amazing track record with jobs, knowledge, and women, all of whom always developed a major crush on him.  

But not Rona.  Definitely not.  In fact, she was completely weirded out by him, and wanted to get away from him ASAP.  Per Rona's desperate request to me (almost as soon as she hit the front door), they had separate sleeping arrangements the entire visit.  Kirk was offended, because - as he repeatedly said - they were just friends and that’s all that he had in mind.  He'd never even thought about her "that way".  By the second night of the visit he was obsessed with it.  I know, because he talked to me for 3 hours straight:

"I don't know what I did.  Why is she so upset?  What is her problem?  You know, she's really very domineering and aggressive.  I don't like that in a woman.  Maybe I should have just gone for a one-night stand, maybe that's what she really wants.  I'm not that kind of guy, you know that, everyone knows that, but sometimes you've got to do what they want, whether they know it or not, you know?"

Repeated, over and over and over again on a bitterly escalating loop that was disturbing, and made me afraid for Rona after they left our place.  

But Rona had survived worse things than Kirk.  They left Monday morning, and a couple of hours later Rona walked out on him at a coffee shop in Sioux Falls.  (I had asked her to call me to let me know if she was okay: she did and she was.) She got a taxi to the airport, where she planned to stay until she got a flight. Any flight. She could do that because she had credit cards.  

Kirk did not.  All he had was the rental car. So he called us and said he was broke and that he needed some money, and could we come down to Sioux Falls and give him some? And if not, how about if he turned around and came back and spent some more time with us? Granted, it was a very small-time extortion, but it was neatly done.   

Of course we drove down and gave him $75, and said, "Well, it's been great, but we've got to get back to work, and so do you, and have safe journeys, traveling mercies, and, uh, next time maybe give us a heads up before you come to town."  

Kirk took the money, but his feelings were clearly hurt.  

"Well," he said, right before he drove off, "as I remember it, you invited me."






BSP

Read "The Sweet Life" in the July/August Issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Also, my story "Collateral Damage" is in Murderous Ink Press' Crimeucopia: We're All Animals Under the Skin. Available at Amazon.


17 June 2021

All's Well That Ends in a Story


Since everything that happens could be turned into a crime, every crime can be used again, and everyone is a potential character, or at least part of a character.  And every story has another way it can be told.  (You should hear some of the ones I've been told at the pen.  Or at the laundromat.)

Ripped from the internet:


Well, there's a game that's hard to resist:

Gone With the Wind: Spoiled rich girl pines for married KKK guy.  Marries another guy for spite and 2 others for money.  She keeps the plantation.  (Historical Romance.  Warning:  Contains material that some might find offensive.)
The Fountainhead:  Spoiled rich girl pines for lusty architect, but marries 2 men for their power in order to keep him unsuccessful, because if she can't have what she wants, she'll destroy it.  (Warning:  Contains material so inane that some people have mistaken it for a political manifesto.)  

NOTE:  I'm beginning to see a pattern here...  

SECOND NOTE:  Speaking of political manifestos: 

The Communist Manifesto:  Classic apocalyptic thriller of good vs. evil, in which the proletariat rises up against the evil capitalists in a violent apocalyptic revolution. The resulting dictatorship of the proletariat causes the state, family and religion to wither away and die, and everyone lives freely in an endless paradise on earth.  (Claims scientific basis, but really based on German philosophy.)

NOTES:  Very poor experiential track record. Much easier to read than Das Kapital. Also suffers from what is now the libertarian mindset in that it assumes two "facts" that have never been in evidence when it comes to human beings: (1) that we always act rationally and (2) that we always care about their neighbors. 

Emile, or On Education:  Influential treatise on the education of young children, whose author put each one of his five children into an orphanage. 

1984:  The World State keeps everyone in line in a totalitarian oppression based on constant fear and propaganda.  

Brave New World:  The World State keeps everyone in line through unlimited sex, drugs, and entertainment.  

NOTE:  What is it with these patterns?

And back we go to spoiled rich girls:

The Razor's Edge:  Spoiled rich girl falls for dreamy new age guy, but marries for money.  Later kills his fiancee; is surprised when he doesn't appreciate it. He gets enlightened; she doesn't.

To be fair, there are also a whole list of novels / books / stories / plays / movies about spoiled rich guys:

Eugene OneginAnna Karenina, etc., there's a shoal of Russian characters, all interchangeable.
Adam BedeTess of the d'UrbervillesEast Lynne, and every other Victorian seducer.  
But let's let Tregorin in The Seagull sum it all up for all of them: 

The plot for the short story: a young girl... happy and free, like a gull. But a man arrives by chance, and when he sees her, he destroys her, out of sheer boredom.

The Southern version is different:  from Quentin Compson in The Sound and the Fury to Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof:  A post Civil War Southern gentleman, neurotic, introspective, supposedly intelligent, spends his time whining and drinking, but almost never screwing.  (Which is why his sister / fiancee / childhood sweetheart ends up in bed with the roughest trade she can find.)

On to other things:

Finnegan's Wake:  An Irish wake (in case you don't know, endless drinking & talking) and a resurrection (or maybe not).
NOTE:  It helps if you read it aloud, while drinking Irish whiskey, with an Irish accent and a high pitched voice (like Joyce's, below).  Or you could read Philip Jose Farmer's Riders of the Purple Wage, and discover the joys of jacking in as well.  (Look it up.)  


Finnegan's Wake is best known for its polyglot language that includes English, Latin, Gaelic, and some words that he made up himself.  The opening line:  "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs" - can give you the impression that you understand it.  How about this?

"Wold Forrester Farley who, in deesperation of deispiration at the diasporation of his diesparation, was found of the round of the sound of the lound of the Lukkedoerendunandurraskewdylooshoofermoyportertooryzooysphalnabortansporthaokansakroidverjkapakkapuk."  

Speaking of interesting words, perhaps invented, the other day a friend of mine mispronounced "speculum" as "spacula".  I replied that a spacula was the offspring of Dracula and a kitchen utensil, which is exactly what a speculum often feels like.  

Ah, vampires:

The Twilight Series:  A handsome vampire likes to play with his food.

As John Franklin once lectured in Laskin, SD, in a hopefully soon to be finished story by yours truly


"Continental European vampires are predators, pure and simple. But the fictional vampires of England and America are like cats:  they play with their food. And only Americans would come up with vampires that not only play with their food, not only fall in love with it, but want to have sex with it.  That and American Pie makes one suspicious of American kitchens."

BLATANT SELF PROMOTION:

My story "Collateral Damage" is in Murderous Ink Press' Crimeucopia: We're All Animals Under the Skin.  Available at Amazon.

And my story "The Sweet Life" will be in the July/August Issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  That's my 30th story in AHMM!  Thank you to the late, great Cathleen Jordan and the current editor, Linda Landrigan!  


03 June 2021

What to Do With the Body


One of the major tactical problems with murder is what to do with the body. Any idiot can kill someone (or so it seems), but successfully corpse disposal is rare. Very few murderers have incinerators on hand, or woodchippers (not to mention the stomach for it), or work for a funeral home, meat packing plant, or meat pie production line. Sweeney Todd is famous because he was rare – and even he got caught. (See? Now you can sleep better at night.)

Of course, the main thing that has almost always been done is to dump it. Whether in deep water, with weights (BTW swimming pools are a poor choice: stick with oceans), or in a remote wooded location, or in a ditch, or sometimes at someone else's door, dumping the body followed by running like hell is a time-honored tradition. This is why people keep stumbling over bodies when they go hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing, or walking down dark alleys. And then the police show up, and sometimes the FBI, and, very often, they can track the murderer down.

Burial is also popular. However, a word of advice: don't do it on your own property. And when the police show up asking to search the place, don't tell them "Sure, search away. Just not over there." (Yes, that happened, I believe in the Daybell case.) Another word of advice: dig deep. And then deeper. And then deeper still. And, after filling the grave, plant something quick and spreading. Agatha Christie (in Nemesis) used Polygonum Baldshuanicum, a/k/a MileAMinute. Kudzu would be perfect.

Another very common method of disposal is putting the corpse in the freezer. There was the woman in Japan who kept her mother's body in a freezer for 10 years, because that way she got to stay in the apartment on her mother's senior citizen rent. A man died, and as people were disposing of his estate, they opened his freezer, and found his mother's body in it. Back in April, 2021, a freezer filled with human body parts was found dumped and half-buried in the Alaska woods (interesting combination). (The article goes on to list a number of freezer disposal incidents HERE) And if you google "corpse in freezer", you get an endless list of hits.

My Note: The problem, of course, with the corpse in the freezer is then, what do you do with the freezer? As that google search will tell you, this has stymied a lot of people.

Now you may be asking, what has gotten Eve so interested in body disposal? No, I have not, nor am I planning to kill anybody. No, no, I do but jest, poison in jest; no offence i' the world.

But what sparked my interest was a highly unusual place for a body: Inside a papier-mâché dinosaur statue. Specifically, a stegosaurus, although I'd have been just as intrigued if it had been any kind of dinosaur sculpture.

stegosaurus, Barcelona

It happened in Barcelona, Spain. Apparently a father and son, walking by the sculpture, noticed the smell (this is almost always a give-away). Now, here's the tricky bit:

While police have not confirmed how he got inside, local media reports that the man dropped his phone inside the statue and was trying to retrieve it, BBC News reports. He fell inside, hanging upside down, and was able to call for help. However, police have not confirmed how the man got inside the dinosaur. Police are awaiting the results of the autopsy to find out the cause of death. (CBS News)

Here are the obvious questions:
  • How did he drop the phone?
  • How addicted was this man to his phone?
  • Why did he go diving in after it?
  • How do you fall head down into a dinosaur leg?
  • Okay, if he called for help, who heard him?
  • Or did he fall head down into the dinosaur leg, and then called for help, and then dropped his phone?
  • And whoever he called - in person or by phone - why didn't they save him?
  • Or at least call the police?
Inquiring minds want to know.

Meanwhile, please, don't try any of this at home.

20 May 2021

A Broad At Home and Abroad


Medical tests for Allan this week, so time is limited.  But I was looking through my old travel notes, reminiscing and thinking, and thought I'd share some.  Enjoy!

2018

In Amsterdam, a blonde woman, chubby, wearing a flesh-colored dress, very short, very low-cut and too tight, so that at first glance she looked naked. It was a cool day, so she also looked very chilly. 

Canadian lady told us a story about a man on another cruise, very rich, know-it-all, full of himself, who would order a platter of asparagus and extra entrees and then want everyone to share, even though everyone had ordered their own. It was like he hadn't grasped that no one was paying extra for any of it, as if it weren't free and he was spending his own money on them. I said that if he really had money, the least he could have done is bought everyone a round of drinks.  Everyone agreed.  Loudly.  And the first of many rounds of drinks was bought.  

Common phrases on a cruise: 

"The food was better last year."

"I've never told anyone this before...."

On a tour bus, to us, "Oh, was this your seat?" while staring at our water and coats that they just moved out of their way as if they'd never seen them before. 

In Giverney and at Cap de la Hague, the scents, the quiet, the bird songs, the gardens, the wildflowers. Allan and I talked later and realized that it made us realize how sterilized rural South Dakota is: the Monsanto chemicals have killed all the wildflowers. 

Later, sitting listening to Bach while the drunks from the Ocean Bar keep knocking down the sign:  "Quiet, please: Performance in Progress".

Woman whose collagen was sloping out of her lips; rich husband, white hair, largely ignoring her except to pay for her wine. 2 Cor. 6:12 "You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections."  Isn't that the truth. 

2013 

A woman on the ship from Long Island, always complaining, especially about food.  She said she didn't eat beef, chicken, fish, or anything with a face.  Our guide finally got exasperated and said, "then what do you eat?"  She shrugged.  "I guess I can try the chicken."  This couple has done over 560 cruises, married 57 years, obviously have lots of money, but say with pride that they NEVER tip. No wonder they're always complaining about the lousy service. You get what you pay for...

Santorini is a volcanic shell, a dark half-moon, with walls like a worn castle; rippling soft tan, white/red/black lava that STOPPED and hangs, waiting to resurrect and sweep down to the sea again. And above, white houses (at night, a spangle of light against black velvet), hanging on the edge like angels' nests, with every one ready to take flight. 

The interior is like Crete, i.e., a dry Ireland, the Bloody Foreland area, white houses, donkeys, ditches, only dry, with figs and vines and olive trees instead of green velvet grass. Everything looking, sweeping out to the sea with the never-stopping wind. The wind and the land and the lava, all heading out, over, away, and if you could see the wind, you would see the explosion of Thera, the ash and dust rising and going out, re-enacted forever. Blue church domes, glossy with fresh paint. Dust clouds. Plastic covers snapping in the wind. Bougainvillea everywhere (it's a tough plant). Eucalyptus trees, trunks painted white - even without paint, eucalyptus has the color and feel of young firm limbs. All dryads must be eucalyptus, willow, or sycamore.  

Coming back on the ship, we were in the middle of a group of Japanese tourists.  What made me look twice was that one woman was holding a toy monkey, the size of a toddler, dressed as a toddler, in a baby carrier.  (I looked at it more than twice to make sure that it was a (1) a doll and (2) a monkey.)  That was disturbing enough, but she was holding it and talking to it as a toddler, as was the Japanese man who was apparently with her.  Allan wondered if maybe she'd lost a child. I'm wondering if maybe she never had one, and this is her surrogate, a babybot if you will. Very, very strange. 

2006 

At Bryce Canyon, time standing still, geologically speaking from a human vantage point. Forty plus years since I've been here, and it looks the same to me: vast, beautiful, etc. At least now I understand more of my love for Custer in SD - very similar in sweep; there are rock formations, just not so techni-colored; and the altitude, God knows, is more bearable. 

Kodachrome State Park (wonder who got paid to give it THAT name): 

1. A tall lingam, 40 feet tall, so sheerly phallic that my reactions were, in order, 

"if this was in India, they'd put flowers on it"

"if this was in India, they'd pour milk over it every day"

"if this was in India, there'd be a temple next to it, and worshippers would come out every day."

2. A massive outcropping of red rock, shaped exactly like the top half of an ape's skull, with huge dark sockets. Dark green junipers masked the lower half of the skull, and the red rock swept out to the side into another shape that was like a little temple, mini-pillars and hoodoos that, at a distance, seemed like dancers, smeared slightly, caught in movement. (I later used this in "The Dark Side of the Moon" - AHMM, Feb. 2016 - as the hide-out of the serial killer.)

3. Out of a lump of red rock rose a 30-foot pillar of rough white stone: the sentinel. 

So what did the Anasazi think when they came here? 800+ years ago all the rocks and spires and sentinels and lingams and pillars were here, but was it as dry then as it is now? It's hard to believe that it was: dry creek beds, inches of dust-fine dirt. 

But at Escalante there was a running river, at the bottom of hundreds of feet of cliffs that were striated, bottom to top, red, black and white, and shaped into meringues, swirled, slanted, bare, or tufted with junipers, bristlecone pines, sagebrush, all of it harsh and dry and beautiful.

And then, down, down, down in the dark red heart of all that fantastically carved rock, was the tender, living green of willows and rushes and grass, the tender living green that only comes from a endless water. We walked along that river in Escalante, saw thousands of willows, thrusting up from the sandy soil like living whips. Up on the cliffs of Bryce we saw bristlecone pines that had been bent and bowed by the winds until the trunks and the branches had been twisted into gray snakes that you could almost swear were moving along each other, v-e-r-y slowly. Up there the air was cool and windy and seemingly bearable: until you looked at the trees, and thought about what it would do to you. Down by the river, the cliffs funneled the sun and heat down to a furnace by a running river forge that simmered your skin in its own grease, made your lungs gasp with the thickness of it the wet hot air, filled your nose with damp from within and without, all of it suffocating, harsh, and seemingly unbearable: until you looked at the willows, the cattails, the grass, and it was all alive.

2000 

We caught a subway from Port Authority to Grand Central Station, which is the best way to make Grand Central look really up town and classy. At Grand Central we raced to the platform to catch the R train to Astoria. Street musicians were in every conceivable cubby-hold and wide space in the path. At our final platform we were serenaded by Peruvians, playing their haunting pipe/ guitar music. 



We were also entertained a man who looked like a mechanic in a business suit, carrying a large bouquet of flowers, and who was incensed to find out that the public phone wasn't working and had eaten his money. He kicked and screamed, hit and yelled, did everything short of taking someone's briefcase and using it as a hammer to try to beat that phone into giving him his money back, but failed. The New Yorkers surrounding us showed their typical determined uninvolvement and ignored him, standing around like ill-dressed and burdened penguins, waiting for their train -- the F, the N, the R, whatever letter was their treat -- until he actually started beating the casing of the machine with the receiver. At that point everyone stepped away a few paces, in unison, as if we were the penguin Rockettes, but otherwise did not give him even a glance. 

At one point he stopped his maddened beating to yell at the Peruvians to shut up, but they ignored him, too. I admired the fact that throughout, he held the bouquet of flowers upright and safe, even as the telephone mouthpiece exploded into chunks of plastic flying around.  More penguin shuffling...  And then the subway came, and we all - including the gentleman with the flowers - got on.  

A few days later we went to St. Michael's cemetery, which belongs to the Episcopal church but is nondenominational in its burying, where I found where my uncle Jimmy, a/k/a/ Demetrios (Daddy's younger brother) was buried. He died in 1940 at the age of 21 of rheumatic fever, so I never met him. His tombstone - huge pink granite - included both names, his birth and death dates, and a picture of him, young, smiling, handsome forever.  

Then we went to the really old Greek neighborhood in Astoria and found the brownstone where Yaya and Popoo used to live. Very big brownstone, as it turns out (that must have been one hell of a favor Popoo did the Gambinos, but that's another story), and currently owned by a very nice Bangladeshi man who talked to us about how long he'd owned it, and yes, the living room was still in the same place.  And, all around and within me, the sense of time shifting and moving like water.  


PS - Allan came through his doctor's appointments with flying colors - no more crackle or fluid in his lungs; no lung cancer.  He's still on oxygen, but he's doing much better.  Huzzah!