Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts

24 October 2021

The Digital Detective, Wall Street part 4


When corporations upgrade large computer systems, they typically run the old and the new in parallel a few weeks or months until the bugs are shaken out. Occasionally events take a turn as discussed last week.

Mutual Admiration Society

Back in New York, our mutual funds firm (not so fondly referred to as MuFu) faced a different problem. They had completely rewritten the primary application, changing over from Cobol to C, and it hadn’t gone well. Four months after parallel commenced, they were experiencing glitches and crashes.

The sizeOf problem I’d caught wasn’t a contributing cause. An unidentified problem was triggering errors, an oversight so simple it would boggle the mind.

Robert, their very defensive senior C expert, hadn’t told me about a front-end program written by yet another programmer. I had to figure that out for myself. The bug wasn’t in the program they’d assigned me; it was introduced by what came before.

Front end and Back end Processing
Front end and Back end Processing

As previously mentioned, Cobol reads like English and C… well, C is sometimes great and often horrible. C had become the most recent fad and application programmers were feeling the bite of its double edge sword.

The staff was comprised of university C students and the last Cobol member on her way out. Machine language (and assembler) weren’t in their purview and when they dismissed John, ‘the old guy’, they'd rid themselves of their only person who could poke around in memory (RAM) to determine what went wrong.

And memory was a problem. The program used customer numbers to index into a table and reference records in storage… in theory. In practice, I soon learned the customer was occasionally wrong, wildly wrong, trying to access a memory location off in the wilds of Kansas.

Cobol could detect out-of-bounds matrix subscripts; C could not. Thus it took me a little while to figure out the bogus account code was coming from a front end program. That preprocessor queued submitted entries, performed minor verification with a check digit, converted the input to binary, and passed the record on to the back-end program I first investigated.

In short, sometimes the data entry folks included dashes in the account number (e.g, 7654321-1) and sometimes they didn't. The Cobol app extracted only the digits; the C program didn’t. Both programs tentatively vouched for the account number (7654321) using the check digit (1), indicating it resided in the realm of possible valid numbers. Unfortunately, the newly written C routine included the hyphen when attempting to convert the number to binary. Both versions then ‘piped’ (passed along) the massaged data to the back-end program where hell and fury would erupt when a bad number with the mashed-up hyphen was passed along.

For all the grief it caused, correcting the C front end was trivial. Worryingly, the front-end program, instead of creating the transaction serial number, left that task for the back-end program. Bad, bad, error-prone design. And, as I would discover, prone to manipulation.

I returned the program to service and turned my attention back to the mysterious ‘sizeOf’ conundrum.

Faith, Hope, and Charity

Many organizations buy into mutual funds for long term storage of their money. City, county, and state governments store tax revenues, fines and fees there. Churches and charities divide money between money market and mutual funds.

In the mutual funds program, a template field labeled IRS501C was data-typed binary in the old Cobol Record data division and as boolean in the matching C Struct.

When I returned to the section with the anomalous ‘sizeOf’ routine, I could see this field being referenced, but I didn’t know why. A library search for original source code for sizeOf and the parent routines turned up nothing.

Growing more suspicious, I asked operations to dig through their archives and find the code. “Don't hold your breath,” they said.

Next day, the IT director gave me the conference room to spread out my work. I mapped binary instruction after instruction, recreating an assembler code version of the program. C could fool the eye, but machine code, even in the absence of context, revealed details of what was going on– if I could figure it out.

I constructed charts of data structures, trying to figure out what was taking place. At last when I spotted buried instructions trimming fractions of a cent from daily interests earned, I knew I’d stumbled upon skulduggery.

Figuring out the sleight-of-hand was mind-bending, but I got a break. Like so many magic tricks, the chicanery was breathtakingly simple. Only the surface artifice was complex.

I had accumulated a suite of experimental data to test extremes of the system. It contained only a dozen records but I noticed the audit log reported thirteen. What? A record with a proper transaction serial number had materialized like a magic trick.

As mentioned previously, the front-end processor should have been creating the transaction serial number, not the back end, but apparently no one here knew better. That oversight facilitated the deception, allowing crooked code to create records undetected.

Computer hours were reduced that day. Being the first of the quarter, month-end and quarter-end reports took priority. Idling, I suddenly wondered if month-end had anything to do with the mysterious symptoms I was witnessing. Once again I nagged operations about searching archives for source code.

An hour later found me wrestling with that data cleverly hidden beyond the end-of-data marker. An impatient operator slapped a cartridge on my work table. "Try this," he said.

Former employee John had made a rare oversight. He’d deleted the source files, but… Each evening, operations backed up everything, and that included John’s source code. It filled in gaps.

No comments, of course, but lo, I beheld the twisted mind of a criminal genius. The routines were rife with indirection and misdirection. The ‘sizeOf’ trick merely hinted at the scam iceberg. While the obfuscated C code suggested one thing, the meticulous machine instructions I’d decoded step by step helped me understand what was really happening.

The scheme launched from a database record under MuFu’s own name and address, 100 Maiden Lane. The registered agent was listed as K. King, address 103rd floor, 350 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, New York 10118. Midtown… I looked it up… Empire State Building. The street address was legitimate, but 103rd floor?

interest truncation example

Greed Kills

The charlatan routine skimmed thousandths of a cent or so following rounding errors– interest and binary-to-decimal trailing digits after rounding high. On average, the algorithm could have siphoned a quarter of a cent per transaction without setting off alarms, but our sneaky programmer apparently wanted to stay well below nets cast by auditors. Those fractions of a penny accumulated in the bogus MuFu self-owned bucket until the end of the month. Dollars– thousands of them– and been created out of thin air.

I fully expected John’s wife or a friend had opened another account to receive the transfers, but as I traced the code, it invoked a random number generator to index into an entry in the hidden part of the file, just one binary field,  which turned out to be an account number. At month end, the subversive routine transferred out between $1200 to $5000 a month from the bogus MuFu in-house account to the account selected by the random number generator. But why only certain accounts? What was special about them? How was John profiting?

As always, I sat outside on the ferry shielded by a bulkhead. As I started at the lights of Brooklyn, the answer hit me, knocking sleep out of the equation. I rode the ferry back.

With suppressed excitement, I extracted the account numbers and checked the first indicated record. Bingo. And the next one. And the next. And then the 20th and the 100th. Bingo, bingo. Every case showed the IRS501C non-profit tag.

Damnation. I’d unmasked a freaking Robin Hood. John– or should one say Little John– was stochastically selecting non-profit accounts to donate to. That generated the thirteenth record.

Fascinatingly, the audit trail reinforced the fraud’s legitimacy rather than exposed it. Only a paper trail might suggest a missing document, but who was going to dig through reams of flattened dead trees?

If United Way or Scouting USA or Bethune Cookman read their statements at the end of the month, they might have scratched their heads but concluded they surely made a deposit and misplaced their record of it.

I made copious notes and documented everything. When presented to the firm’s CIO, she looked disbelieving, then doubtful, and finally bewildered.

“I know your reputation,” Loretta said, “but this can’t be possible. Besides, IT claims John had aged beyond usefulness. He couldn’t keep up. He barely finished this, his last project, before we let him go.”

“If so, he put effort into making a final masterpiece.”

“Leigh, darling, can you fix it?”

Call me darling and I can fix anything. I yanked the too-clever code out by its roots and their senior programmer, Robert, fixed the hole and, upon my recommendation, moved the transaction serializer to the front-end.

“What will you do about the spurious deposits?” I asked.

“They go back months. We wouldn’t look good demanding hospitals and heart foundations return money deliberately deposited into their accounts. John gave away money we couldn’t detect was missing. We’ll leave it that way.”

“What about John?”

Loretta sighed. “Same reasoning. Arresting him will bring nothing but bad publicity. Can you imagine the Times or the Journal with headlines about a Wall Street Robin Hood? That’s bad enough, but a sympathetic soul would raise issues about ageism. No, we can’t win there. Thank God we discovered it.”

“Can you get me John’s contact info?”

“What? No, maybe, yes, why not. I’ll discreetly ask HR for it.”

Robbin’ Robin

I phoned ‘John’ and invited him to lunch.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “Who is this again?”

“Leigh Lundin.”

“Oh shit, you? What do you want?”

“Just a chat. Really.”

“You’re working for MuFu?”

“Yes, today I am; tomorrow, no. I’m wrapping up.”

“So you know…?”

“Lunch,” I said. “Let’s not do this on the phone.”

“Fraunces Tavern?”

“Whew! If you pay.”

He laughed. “Okay. If you accept that, you aren’t out to nail me.”

“I’m not. John, can you afford it?”

“I landed on my feet. Arthur Lipper knows me and his son hired me.”

I respected Lipper Inc. He chose well.

The Wolf Pup of Wall Street

We met in the pub where George Washington bade farewell to his troops. John looked like a mad Santa with puppy dog eyes and an Albert Einstein hairdo. I’d bet a dozen grandkids employed him as a stage for hundreds of adventures.

He said, “You’re not recording this?”

“No.” I kept my smile easy and relaxed my body language.

“I’m not admitting anything including this statement.”

“Hmm. Let’s talk hypothetically, this entire conversation, okay?”

“Sounds fair. What have you figured out?”

“Most of it, I imagine. Cancer research received a couple of grand on the first before I could stop it. That will be the last payment.”

“Good,” he said. “I mean, embezzling’s awful.”

I snorted. “SizeOf.”

He laughed. “I thought that was clever hiding in plain sight, but apparently not clever enough.”

“I overlooked it at first. John, what was going on? Why did our suppositional programmer take such a risk?”

He dropped the hypotheticals.

“They dismissed anyone approaching retirement, figuring to save paying pensions, I suppose. You heard about Walston?”

“I was there, John.”

“The MuFu bastards had a definite preference for young faces. I knew for months they were going to fire me, I could smell it in the air.”

“I know that feeling, John.”

“The staff treated me like crap, acting like I was in my dotage. They figured my brain had rotted along with Cobol, but they needed me to effect the conversion. I learned C until I knew it better than they did and then studied it more. Their superstars couldn’t read a dump or comprehend machine instructions during debugging. I turned the joke on their little experts.”

“Sheesh. I’m sorry you went through that, John.”

He shrugged. “What will happen to me now?”

“Far as I know, nothing. I think they’re too embarrassed. One or two, the CIO and the VP maybe, have shown a touch of grudging respect. They’re coming to grips with the senile grey-beard who fooled them.”

“Good, because I’m a coward. I’m not looking for fame and misfortune.”

“Don’t worry, John. Everyone but the sheriff loves a Robin Hood.”

Final Thoughts

And that is my favorite Wall Street crime case. I’m called when matters go mysteriously wrong, so Miss Marple-like, I occasionally stumble upon another puzzle and test of wits.

In this case, charities profited and the bad guy turned out a good guy. Some may object that a criminal avoided prosecution, but personally, I couldn’t imagine a better outcome.


Following are a few more tech notes.

17 October 2021

The Digital Detective, Wall Street part 3


I’m still astounded Fortune 500 companies and government facilities not merely allowed, but invited me, a 19-to-20-something freelance me to play with their very expensive computers. I mean work, not play, yeah, work is definitely the word. Reputation is everything. And okay, I have authority issues. So I’m told.

Striking off on my own meant no security blanket, no 401K, no pension, no profit-sharing. It meant scary months when I wondered if the phone would ring with a client and months when I wondered if the previous client was going to pay or not. That’s a concern– some companies withheld payment until they once again needed help. Sometimes managers wouldn’t like what I reported. My type of work– designing systems software– was specialized, so occasionally famine struck.

During one drought, camels were toppling over, birds fell from the sky, and my bank account appeared a distant mirage. Finally a call came in before the telephone company could cut me off. It was Wall Street again, a mutual funds house we’ll call MuFu. Loretta was their CIO, Chief Information Officer.

100 Maiden Lane, NYC © Emporis
100 Maiden Lane
NYC © Emporis

“Darling, are you available?”

“Personal or pleasure?”

“Are you saying personal isn’t pleasure?”

“You’re married.”

“Was, Darling, was.”

“Loretta, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, I’m not.”

She lied. I could almost hear the sounds of tears leaking from her eyes. She was a nice lady who’d come up through the ranks.

“Loretta, what’s happening?”

“If you’re available, I need help.”

“Please don’t let it be application programming.” Even if it was, I desperately needed the work.

“Well… Did you hear we’re undergoing a conversion from Cobol to C?”

“You and every other firm with fresh university graduates.”

My professors, Paul Abrahams and Malcolm Harrison, were language experts. Abrahams was chairman of ACM’s SIGPlan and would eventually be elected president of the US’s professional organization, the Association for Computing Machinery. They received early releases of Unix and with it the C language. For my part, C was co-respondent in a love-hate relationship. It constituted a step up from assembler language, but I wanted more.

She said, “I know you’ll be simply shocked, but we’re experiencing crashes. We can’t cut over until we nail the problem. Nobody around here can read machine code. I know it’s not your thing, but nobody knows Cobol either.”

In the following, I’ve tried to trim back technical detail to make it more accessible and I apologize where I failed to restrain it. The gist should suffice.


Next day I took the Staten Island Ferry to lower Manhattan, where I strolled up Pearl Street and turned onto Maiden Lane. The mutual funds house took up a few floors of an older building, although the interior was done in chrome movie set futurism.

The glass room remained there running their big iron computer. Off to one side was a new server chamber covered in curved, blue plexiglass. Very spaceshipish.

Loretta blended 10% boss and 90% Cub Scout Den Mother, which made her a popular manager among the guys. She called in her lead analyst and chief programmer, Richard and Robert. The latter radiated lethal hostility.

“Leigh’s here to shoot that bug that’s killing us.”

“We don’t need help,” Robert said. “He’ll just waste our time.”

Loretta said evenly, “You’ve had months and it’s still not identified. Please give Leigh all the help he needs. He’ll likely work after hours to have the computer to himself.”

After Loretta departed, Robert said, “I know who you are. You used to be hot shit.”

“I’ve never heard it put so charmingly. Listen, I’m not here to take your job. I’m not here to threaten you. I’d like to get the job done and move on. Show me what’s going on.”

As predicted, the program started and died with an out-of-address exception– the program was trying to access memory that wasn’t there.

I asked for listings and a ‘dump’, formerly called a core dump, a snapshot of memory when the system died. The address of the failing instruction allowed me to identify the location of the link map, an org chart of routines that made up the program. Sure enough, the instruction was trying to reference a location out of bounds of its memory.

I took the program source listing home with me and spent a couple of days studying it. It was ghastly, a compilation of everything wrong with bad programming and especially in C. It contained few meaningful variable names and relied on tricks found in the back of magazines. Once in a while I’d see variables like Principle or Interest, but for the most part, the program was labeled with terse IDs such as LB, X1 and X2. This was going to take a while.

The company had no documentation other than a few layouts from the analyst. When I called in to ask a question, Robert stiff-armed me. I arranged my first slot for Friday evening with time over the weekend.

I began with small cleanup and immediately hit snags. I’d noticed a widely separated pair of instructions that read something like:

hash_cnt = sizeOf(Clientable);
      :
cust_cnt = abs(hash_cnt);

Wait. What was the point of the absolute value? C’s sizeof() returned the number of items in an array. It should never be negative. You could have five apples on a shelf or none, but you couldn’t have minus five.

As part of the cleanup, I commented out (disabled) the superfluous absolute value function. Robert dropped down as I compiled and prepared to test. I typed RUN and the program blew up. What the hell? Robert appeared to sneer, looking all too pleased.

He said, “That section was written by that old guy, John. We fired him because didn’t know crap, so no surprise it’s hosed up.”

I knew who he was talking about, a short, pudgy bear in his late 40s with Einstein hair. I’d never been introduced, but I’d heard him on a conference pane. John was no dummy, no matter what Robert said.

Robert smugly departed. I stepped through the instructions, one by one, studying the gestalt, the large and small. My head-smack arrived on Sunday. Curious why sizeof() would return a negative value, I traced how hash_cnt was used. As I stepped through the instructions, I saw it descend into a function called MFburnish().

I couldn’t find source code for MFburnish(). No one could. Without source, it would be very difficult to determine what happened inside it.

I went back to the variable Clientable passed to sizeof(). The array was loaded from a file, Clientable. Both consisted of binary customer numbers. I spotted something odd.

C is peculiar in that it uses null (binary zero) to mark the end of arrays and ordinary file streams. This file had two nulls, one about the seven-eights mark and another at the absolute end.

At first, I thought the file had shrunk and the marker moved down while remaining in the same space. But when I looked at the file, it had the same defect… or feature.

As some point, I looked at the link map to check upon another routine and for the first time noticed what I should have spotted earlier. There amid C Library functions of isalpha(), isdigit(), islower(), isupper(); was sizeOf().

Double head-smack. First, C’s authors claim sizeof() is a unary operator like +n and -n. To me, sizeof() looks and acts like a function and nothing like a unary operator. But by their definition, it shouldn’t show up in a link map with real functions. On closer inspection, the program read not sizeof() but sizeOf(). Another annoyance of C is that it’s case sensitive, meaning sizeof and sizeOf and SizeOf and even SIZEOF are not the same thing. This kind of nonsense wouldn’t have been possible with their old Cobol system.

The deception seemed awfully abstruse, even by C standards.

interest truncation example

The Clientable contained account numbers of a sizeable fraction of clients. Why some customers and not others would take me a while to discover. Unlike sizeof(), the ginned-up sizeOf() showed the actual record position within the full file expressed as a negative number, hence the abs() function.

Someone had written deliberately misleading code. But why?

Money, of course. Moving backwards, I began to look at the code with a different eye. And there it was… not merely the expected interest calculation, but the conversion from binary to decimal, another Cobol to C difference. I suspected one of the company’s programmers had pulled off the oldest thefts in computerdom– siphoning off money by shaving points when rounding numbers.

This wasn't the problem Loretta had asked me to solve. Robert had directed me to the wrong program, which turned out to be a stroke of luck. Loretta had invited me to track down a program bug, but I suspected I had unearthed traces of virtual villainy.

Next week: The Confrontation

Following are Cobol versus C notes for the technical minded. Feel free to skip to next week.

03 October 2021

Certifiable – Arizona Elections Corrections 301


Previous   PREV Arizona ‘fraudit’ Conspiracy Theories         

For perhaps the final time, this is OAN’s Blanca Mujer reporting from Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.

We arrive at this much anticipated juncture wrapped in unfathomable disappointment. We’d hoped to prove massive fraud took place on election day, but instead, to paraphrase Oath-keeper Senator Wendy Rogers, the Deep State has so cleverly hidden their huge deception, it’s become impossible to find. Thus Wendy Rogers and others urge the election be decertified and rerun until they get the results they want.

I apologize for the background noise. What you hear is a great gnashing of teeth on the floor of the Arizona legislature. Senate President Fann is acting all innocent and Karen like she never heard of this and opposed it all along. My, my, my.

How were we to know she’d hired the one election truther who, uh, believed in truth. Cyber Ninja didn’t get the difference between determination and predetermination. Listen, buddy, when we shell out $6-million, we’re not paying to get the same answer as the previous three recounts-slash-audits paid for by Arizona taxpayers.

At least we got free colorful T-shirts.

This has been Blanca Mujer… and seriously, why does everyone in Arizona call me ‘Moo-hair’? Speak English, for heaven’s sake, my name rhymes with huger. This is Blanca Mujer getting the hell out of town, OAN Pseudo-News, Phoenix.

Validation, Verification, Verdict

No one, liberal or conservative, left, right, or center, expected the answer that arrived last week, a finding of no fraud and a judgment that votes tallied, slightly widening the win-lose gap.

During the interminable wait for results, one clue surfaced, almost immediately dismissed, considering the pressure of power and money. That hint: An acquaintance of Doug Logan claimed anyone who knew him would say he’s an honest man.

And so he was… so he is. Doug Logan and apparently his friend Ben Cotton may have fringe notions, but amid death threats, they put the gritty in integrity.

Meanwhile in Idaho, My Pillow’s Mike Lindell instigated an audit by claiming between 4.2 and 30 percent of votes in every county were shifted by computer from one party to the other. Some of Idaho’s precincts are so small, they couldn’t justify electronic tabulators, so votes were counted by hand. Idaho’s partial recount showed the numbers matched almost exactly except for a nine-ballot overcount for Mr Trump.

Loose Ends

The thrust of this series has focused on the numerous election fraud conspiracies. Before abandoning this topic to the trashcan of hysterical, histrionics history, a few more crazy notions cropped up in recent weeks. Two of the wilder ones are worth mentioning.

4.2%

4.2%

Let’s introduce a pretty smart guy named Shiva Ayyadurai. For some reason, petulantly claiming he invented email in 1979 at the age of 14 has become increasingly important to him. Generation X doesn’t believe anything was invented before their own births, so he can’t believe he didn’t invent anything other than the name… maybe. As someone who was using email years earlier and invented encrypted email in the mid-1980s, I take his claim with a huge block of salt.

But he makes other fringe claims such as vitamins offset COVID and election fraud. He’s appeared on fraud felon Steve Bannon’s show to expound upon conspiracy theories. What sets Dr Ayyadurai apart from run-of-the-mill election truthers is a claim that would make Scientologists cringe.

According to Ayyadurai, every voting machine in every state in the US is designed to shift 4.2% of votes from the (R) column to the (D). 4.2%, every machine, every state.

If you’re thinking 4.2% comes from rigorous quantitative regression analysis of election-engineered differential equations… you’d be wrong.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (published the same year Ayyadurai ‘invented’ email), Douglas Adams’ humorous quasi-sci-fi novel, tells us the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42. And therefore, according to Dr Ayyadurai, precisely .042 of votes were tampered with. Seriously.

𝄞♪♫ And 42’s exactly two dozen and the reverse of 24 and we call it a day and the age of Howard Hill, which rhymes with Bill married to Hillary which rhymes with biliary that takes a lot of damn gall and starts with B, the actress of Maude with rhymes with fraud, and there you have it, proof of election tampering. ♬♩𝄇
— apologies to The Music Man
hypodermic with Russian salad dressing

Salad Days

Help yourself to a palate cleanser and strap yourself in for a fresh election conspiracy from none other than admitted felon and foreign agent for Turkey, Ukraine, and other non-American venues, Michael Flynn.

According to Flynn, former Security Advisor, God help us, pro-vaxers are slipping coronavirus vaccines into salad dressing and plan to genetically alter lettuce to contain mRNA inoculation material.

Honest. I hope it’s iceberg lettuce. It might add flavor.

The Future, or Something Like It

Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are struggling toward full-blown recounts despite assurances from election authorities that all went smoothly and no fraud was detected. Precincts are giving pushback to the state especially against revealing voters’ personal information. As in the Arizona fraudit, a judge may have to rule whether to permit the recount.

Texas Governor Abbott snapped to attention, genuflected, and kissed the ring when the ex-president asked for a recount of four counties. The reason seems to be because they can. Strangely, the office of Supervisor of Elections is presently vacant, so no one is certain who’s calling the shots.

And finally back in Arizona, disbelieving fraudit supporters and ‘democracy skeptics’ now demand a new statewide election recount.

Democracy skeptics… They’re driving America.

19 September 2021

How to Speak American


This one’s for you, Anne!

When our Dutch colleague Anne van Doorn visited SleuthSayers, we discussed English competency in general, and American English in particular. Following is my own contribution, but I’ll mention Wikipedia contains a surprisingly good article on the topic.

Grammar

The primary thing that’s driven me mad is the concept of mass versus collective nouns and subject-verb agreement. For example:

  • US: “Tottenham FC is expected to win.”
  • UK: “Tottenham FC are expected to win.”

When I asked a British instructor to explain, all he imparted was, “You aren’t wrong.” If you figure this one out, let me know. (Wikipedia makes a decent stab of kinda, sorta explaining it.)

In parts of Britain, articles (a, an, the) seem to disappear. In Yorkshire you might hear a construct something like, “She dropped pudding on floor.” The tendency appears occasionally in phrases such as, “I took her to hospital,” where an American would say, “I took her to the hospital.”

For some reason, North Americans don’t have a similar problem with school: “I went to school today.” To be clear, that means attending classes, whereas, “I went to the school today,” more likely implies visiting the campus or schoolhouse. We might say, “I attended college,” but also confusingly say, “I attended the university.”

fanny covering (girl in shorts)
fanny
covering
fanny covering (girl in shorts)
also fanny
covering

In the US, bath is strictly a noun and bathe is the corresponding verb. In the UK, bath can be both. My ears still aren’t used to someone saying, “I’ll bath this evening,” (where it’s pronounced bawth). When I try to say it, I sound like a smartass. Er, smartarse.

Meaning

Thanks to internationalism, Americanisms have filtered into the UK and vice versa. However, a few words differ in meaning.

In North America, corn means a particular type of maize. The British use a broader sense of a cereal crop including oats, wheat, and barley.

North Americans tend to use the adjective ‘mad’ when they mean angry. The British limit the word to mean insane.

How do I put this delicately: Never, ever, pat an Englishwoman on the fanny. Bad enough in America, but just… don’t… do it. In the UK, it’s probably not what you think it is.

And…

We come to one of my least favorite (least favourite) words. Feel free to skip to the next topic. I wouldn’t go into this at all, except the English insist upon inserting some derivation of the word piss in every third paragraph– more often if they’re watching a football match in their local pub. North Americans lean toward two meanings, urinate and anger, but the British have come up with many, many more, confusing us poor Americans. These include:

Someone who’s ‘on the piss’ is engaging in a heavy drinking bout until they’re thoroughly ‘pissed’, i.e, drunk. ‘Taking a piss’ can refer to misleading someone, but ‘taking the piss out of’ someone is mocking them. A ‘piece of piss’ refers to something easy to do. A ‘pisser’ is someone or something funny. Telling someone to ‘piss off’ means leave immediately. ‘Piss about’ is to waste time and resources on something foolish. ‘Piss up’ means to ruin something, but plain ‘piss’ means something that tastes bad. Finally the English exploit the word’s versatility with ‘piss on’ implying great contempt and ‘piss in one’s pocket’ meaning virtually its opposite, to ingratiate oneself.

I’m convinced a writer could invent his or her own combination in the form of piss+preposition, and people on that side of the English Channel would intuit exactly what was meant. A wiser choice might be to avoid it altogether. Now excuse me whilst I bath.

French Influence

Despite time and distance, some French spellings and pronunciations have survived in the US. When I was a child, my mother pronounced pot-pourri the French way, ‘POH-puhREE’, but thanks to dumbing down by television and radio, the pronunciation is shifting to ‘pot-porry’. Ugh.

We still pronounce filet mignon as ‘FEElay MIN-yon’ whereas the British say fillet (‘fill-it’) steak. We retain other words the French either seldom use (derrière, double entendre) or the meaning has altered (brassiere). In some cases, North Americans have retained French spelling, such as valor versus valour.

maths symbols

baseball, soccer ball, basketball, football

tyre by the kerb, tire by the curb

Canadians still use serviette but Americans seem to be losing this elegant and useful word in favor (favour) of table napkin.

Spelling

Math in the US, maths in the UK. Sports in the US, sport in the UK. Consistent, right? And of course US soccer = UK football.

British contrast certain nouns ending in -ce with their corresponding verb forms ending in -se. For example: licence/license, practice/practise. Americans (but less so Canadians) often narrow the spelling of noun and verb to -ce endings. Outside US borders, my memory aid associates the ‘c’ ending with ‘concrete noun’.

Then we have variant spellings: kerb/curb, tyre/tire, gaol/jail. If I could get away with it, I’d use kerb and tyre, being unambiguous with their homonyms. We see a precedent in the word clew that retains its spelling for maritime use, but evolved to clue in the crime and mystery world.

A few authors have proposed we Americans adopt British spellings regarding two ‘writerly’ words. One is cosy (instead of cozy), which one SleuthSayer or another uses. The other is storey (instead of story) when referring to the floor of a building. For example, “She was reading a cosy on her second storey balcony.” Your choice.

Finally, the dot at the end of a sentence… the British refer to it as fullstop whereas Americans usually call it a period. That’s a clue to wrap up.

Good luck, Anne!

05 September 2021

7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle


7½ (7.5)

weeks ago, Rob wrote about Stuart Turton’s 2018 novel, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. He mentioned the ‘½’ had been added to the North American edition and I agree it’s an improvement on the original title. And, speaking of titles, one might notice this one could have more than one meaning.

Rob’s article prompted me to order the book. After finishing, I faced the problem of how to write about it without giving too much away. Don’t worry– Rob has done an excellent job of just that, so I refer you to his review without repeating it here.

When I think of experimental novels, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or the ‘constrained writing’ of L’Oulipo comes to mind. In a very real way, Turton’s non-linear book is as experimental as they come.

Consider the overarching premise, being careful to distinguish premise from plot. I emphasize overarching for a reason. The novel’s premise is as solid as quarried stone, precisely congruent with the property line of the set, but a larger concept remains hidden, nebulous at best.

Imagine walking outside your house in a dense fog. You can see a few feet before you and perhaps distinguish the sidewalk, but anything beyond that– if there is anything– curls away into nothingness. is like a Twilight Zone island– we sense something came before and, unless the author releases a prequel or sequel, we don’t have a clue what might come after.

The murder mystery isn’t difficult to solve. Whoops, I should specify the first homicide, because passes out of the cosy realm in the early chapters. Solving the first murder opens a Pandora’s box of murders that stack up like cordwood.

Stuart Turton must have created one hell of a Gantt chart to track the timelines. Rob said he’d give a shiny new dime for a peek at his templates.

As it turns out, Turton didn’t employ a Gantt chart at all, but said he used an Excel spreadsheet. He said fitting in a missing piece bejiggered the entire thing apart, requiring him to rebuild many parts from scratch. (Hint to writers: computerized Gantt charts can adjust to changes automatically.)

7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The inside covers display a chart in the nautical sense, a map of the estate, which I referred to many times. I’m willing to bet the author worked from a detailed floor plan of the house, but editors refused to include it. “Now Stu, nobody looks at those mappy things.”

Hey! I do! And I appreciate the cast of characters as well. Why is it English novels still include maps and dramatis personae, while North American publishers have done away with them? Bless you, Lindsey Davis, bless you.

Besides a twisty mind, the author brings two gifts to the table. For such an intricately plotted story, he manages to make us care about characters, some nice, some not, some nasty, and several disappointing. Walk a mile in another man’s shoes is taken literally in Hardcastle.

Turton isn’t merely a good wordsmith, he’s a terrific phrasesmith, able to pop visual metaphors off the page. Yes, it slowed my reading as I savored them, appreciating the artist in him.

That made it jarring when I came across an occasional error, gremlins that apparently escaped a battalion of British editors and an American editor. Examples: nauseous⇐nauseated, there’s⇐there’re, and flounder⇐founder. Small stuff, but c’mon, editors!

My recommendation is almost as unusual as the plot. If you don’t understand all this ADD Detective nonsense, by all means do not read this book. You may think the manuscript fell scattered on the floor and a panicked copyeditor slapped the chapters back in the box out of order so it now plays like a Stravinsky symphony attacked by the Kronos Quartet.

But if you might enjoy a surreal, slightly psychedelic Edwardian journey, grab a copy. You now have two SleuthSayers recommending it.

22 August 2021

Certifiable – Arizona Elections Corrections 202


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Arizona election fraudit recount, Doug Ducey, Mark Brnovich, Karen Fann, Wendy Rogers, Kelli Ward, Katie Hobbs, Amy B. Chan, Stephen Richer, Jack Sellers, Clint Hickman, Allister Adel, Benny White, Ken Bennett, Randy Pullen, Doug Logan, Ben Cotton, Bryan Blehm, Larry Moore, Tim Halvorsen, Christina Bobb
convenient list of political players

Hello once again from Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. This is Blanca Mujer, OAN reporter. It’s exciting end times amid threats to arrest RINOs of the Maricopa Election Board as we wait breathlessly for Cyber Nunchucks to release their report that the fraud conspiracy was so huge, people couldn’t see it because of its sheer size.

Liberal Republican judges have forced the audit to reveal its secret funding. So yes, I blushingly admit your One-America Network has pumped more than $600 000 into this beautiful experiment to overturn the election. You too can continue to donate as we near $6-million given to that darling one- or two-man company, Cyber Ninjas to ensure the answer we want.

A shout-out today to my mother. Mom, you said I’d never amount to anything as a journalist, so look where I am now! OAN! Bet you’re sorry now!

This has been Blanca Mujer, OAN News.

When Dem Cotton Balls Get Rotten

In May, the so-called auditors raised a very public stink that files had been deleted (an accusation repeatedly mentioned in fund-raising rallies). This was put forth by Ben Cotton, another fraud theorist, a subcontractor with precious little election experience, when the grown-ups went out to lunch.

The County Recorder famously said about the files, “I’m looking at them now.” Maricopa election officials gently suggested they look in the folder labelled something like Election 2020, where the ‘missing’ SQL files magically appeared. The recorder may also have suggested they hire an average 13-year-old to help with their computers.

As Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella might say, “Never mind.” Stung by the Maricopa Recorder’s suggestion of ineptitude, Ben Cotton insisted he had to ‘recover’ the data, letting implications of erased files remain in the public’s mind.

But wait, there’s more. From the US Department of Justice, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela Karlan sent a letter to the Arizona Senate expressing concerns about (a) the door-to-door interrogations and voter intimidation and (b) serious breaks in the chain of custody and security of ballots, which should always remain in the control of election managers. At the time, a defiant Senate President Karen Fann told Federal Election officials to ƒ off, Arizona would do things her way.

Cabin Fervor

Ignoring local and federal concerns, subcontractor Ben Cotton disappeared out of state while ‘trucking’ election material to a ‘secret lab’ 18 hours and 1300 miles (2100km) distant from Phoenix. The involvement of a truck suggests something seriously large and heavy was removed far from the jurisdiction of auditors, the Arizona legislature, and law enforcement.

Bizarrely, outside of Salon and an Anderson Cooper 360 clip, this has received little press. No one supposedly in charge in Arizona seems certain of what, where, when, and why. Audit Director Ken Bennett and Cyber Ninja Doug Logan vaguely ‘thought’ unspecified election items were taken to a CyTech ‘secure laboratory’ in Montana. If any of this is true, it strongly suggests Arizona has lost the last remnant of control of the situation.

Being the curious sort in a criminally curious blog, I dug into the secret lab location, coming up with a cabin– a very fancy cabin to be sure– in the middle of the woods in Montana. If by chance I’m right, this is what it looks like:

Definitely legit. Notice the high tech secret lab equipment, the scientific secret laboratory ion proteolyser barbecue grills, the secret laboratory grade vertabrazier lounge recliners on the secret lab veranda, and the NASA-approved secret laboratory Adirondack chairs. Yep, looks like a hi-tech lab should look.

Minutes Instead of Months

Meanwhile, back in Pima County, a gentleman named Benny White ran for Pima County Recorder on the Republican ticket and unfortunately lost. His loss became our gain.

Curious about the statistics of his race, he accessed the public records database (like the one the ‘auditors’ claimed was deleted) for analysis. Once he had the statistics in hand, he realized he could extrapolate the larger federal election.

Clear Ballot logo

He reached out to a pair of retired federally certified election auditors, Tim Halvorsen and Larry Moore. Their federally credentialed firm, Clear Ballot, had bid to handle the Arizona re-audit. Unlike Cyber Ninja’s juvenile web site, Clear Ballot laid out their experience, summarizing with the lede, ‘Clear Ballot Completes Successful, Transparent Elections Nationwide’. Um, transparent… successful… complete… Not what Arizona was looking for.

Halvorsen and Moore said their firm could do in minutes what Cyber Ninjas and CyFIR were taking months to complete. They offered a challenge: Give them any still sealed box of ballots, and within five minutes they could tell exactly what was in it.

White, Moore, and Halvorsen determined 60,000 Republicans in Maricopa County and 15,000 in Pima County did not vote for the presidential incumbent. These are the ballots Cyber Ninjas and CyTech have desperately perused with ultraviolet lamps, alternate angle lighting, DNA analysis, ink/toner inspection, and psychic readings, hoping to prove the votes fraudulent or at least too suspicious to use.

Mr White shared Moore and Halvorsen’s conclusions with Senate audit director and liaison, former Arizona Secretary of State, Ken Bennett. Bennett confirmed the Maricopa audit results were nearly identical to Clear Ballot’s, both significantly different from Cyber Ninjas.

Sharing professional opinions enraged Ninja’s Doug Logan who called it ‘sharing data’ (albeit public data), and demanded the Senate remove Bennett. Logan later said Fann made the decision to terminate him on her own. Thus we saw Bennett fired and then unfired, quit and then unquit, and after considerable gnashing of teeth, reinstated to oversee what little can be seen.

Maricopa isolated election schema
Maricopa isolated election schema

Stripping in Public

Among the plethora of ‘R’s in the list of involved political personnel, you’ll notice a single ‘D’, Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s Secretary of State. The Arizona legislature has moved to strip her of powers and limit her access to legal advice and finances, so that the audit may speak with one voice. You know, one party, one voice, like fascist and communist countries. Those powers of the Secretary of State will be turned over to Attorney General Mark Brnovich who has lobbied hard against Hobbs and has himself been accused of improprieties.

Brnovich, who’s a few vowels shy of a pronounceable name, should have questioned the legitimacy of a secretive, partisan, opaque Roman spectacle to set aside the careful and considered approval of the Maricopa election by members of his own party who’d already held three (or four) recounts and audits, coming up with nothing but a pristine election. Instead, he became part of the legal genius successfully persuading a judge to allow the magic show to proceed.

It’s worth wondering if Brnovich, the subject of ethics complaints as recently as a year ago, seized upon the ‘fraudit’, as locals on both sides say, as a legal distraction. Instead of backing the Secretary of State, he has opposed Katie Hobbs at every turn, maneuvering for control over the election process. As one observer noted, Brnovich is giddy with the prospect of subsuming the Secretary of State’s powers and budget.

It’s BOGO– Buy one office, get a second one free. From there, it’s a small step to the governor’s seat.

The Price is Ripe

Arizona Senate President Fann and Doug Logan have fought hard against revealing how Cyber Ninjas was funded for the immensely secretive process. The Senate’s donations agreement with Cyber Ninjas calls for no limits, no restrictions, no accountability. A judge rebuked Karen Fann for attempting to evade Arizona transparency regulations, and ordered funding information to be released. Among the larger contributions were:

group founded by J Patrick Byrne   $3 250 000
group founded by foreign agent Mike Flynn   $1 000 000
group founded by OAN’s Christina Bobb   $600 000
group founded by lawyer Sydney Powell   $550 000
group founded by lawyer Matthew DePerno   $280 000
group founded by lawyer L Lin Wood   $50 000
donations by My Pillow’s Mike Lindell   unknown
Arizona taxpayers, courtesy of Legislature   $150 000
other (approximately)   $250 000

Karat and Schtick

Big money is riding on one outcome. Here is a key question: If you were paid $6-million by backers expecting one answer, how would you respond?

This spurious, secretive, and frankly bizarre recount befuddles professionals. Experts point out a true and valid recount and audit could have been conducted in hours, not months. Further, ballots should not be dismissed if they’re folded the wrong way or smudged with Cheetos dust.

Senate Presient Karen Fann deliberately dodged federally certified audit firms and backed a conspiracy theorist. No fraud hypothesis was too wild not to be taken seriously.

Sellers letter to Senate

Meanwhile, Maricopa Board of Elections supervisors have received orange jumpsuits along with messages that they, individually, and their family members will be executed. One voice indeed.

Maricopa Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers sent a sharply worded letter to the Arizona Senate telling them to get this farce done and be prepared to defend it in court.

The Six-Million Dollar Man

True investigations, whether criminal or scientific, begin with an open mind. Never should an investigation lead with an unchallenged premise fraud had occurred, but here, Cyber Ninja’s job was to prove the premise.

From the beginning, this so-called ‘fraudit’ has never been about proving if the election was in doubt, but how doubt could be cast upon it. As Katie Hobbs pointed out, real audits are conducted under three unbreakable rules. The Senate and Cyber Ninjas have broken all of them.

Maricopa Republicans deserve admiration and credit for withstanding often brutal attacks upon their hard work, integrity, and physical safety, resisting the slide toward a one-party state. It’s a pity the rest of the state can’t learn from them.

Cyber Ninjas has promised to release their report tomorrow (Monday). Considering Doug Logan revealed the results before the ‘audit’ commenced and he’s been paid $6 000 000 to take his conspiracy theories mainstream, the outcome probably won’t be surprising.

15 August 2021

Certifiable – Arizona Elections Corrections 201


Previous   PREV Arizona ‘fraudit’ Conspiracy Theories NEXT   Next

Arizona election fraudit recount, Doug Ducey, Mark Brnovich, Karen Fann, Wendy Rogers, Kelli Ward, Katie Hobbs, Amy B. Chan, Stephen Richer, Jack Sellers, Clint Hickman, Allister Adel, Benny White, Ken Bennett, Randy Pullen, Doug Logan, Ben Cotton, Bryan Blehm, Larry Moore, Tim Halvorsen, Christina Bobb
convenient list of political players

Back with you now, this is OAN’s Blanca Mujer reporting from Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. Faces are lit with ultraviolet expectations, waiting for our amazing and wonderful Cyber Nunchucks to issue their final report, without doubt declaring the election void.

Later today, we’ll interview all six Democrats in the state of Arizona to get their views. Right now, I’ll take a moment to answer viewers’ questions. Miss Sylvia Plait of Long Island, New York tweets, questioning how I pronounce my name. It’s moo-jer, Sylvia, rhymes with stooger. Why on earth would you think otherwise?

The probe continues as our Senate subpoenas the swivel chairs at the Maricopa County Elections Board’s nearly empty office, threatening arrests for refusal. Last week, Senate Leader Karen Fann asked a judge for arrest warrants when election officials balked at turning over wifi staplers.

If by chance something goes wrong as happened on January 6th, white supremacist fangirl State Senator Wendy Rogers, the Leona Helmsley of Arizona politics, has declared the election so hopelessly compromised and corrupt that the Senate must decertify the 2020 election, recall electors, and hold the election again.

To paraphrase Wendy, “Deep, deep fraud must have occurred, buried so far down, it can’t be discerned, necessitating we negate the election.”

Aren’t recounts exciting! Stay tuned. This has been Blanca Mujer on OAN…

Arizona world interference conspiracy map

Conspiracies 201

Math and logic aren’t Arizona’s strong points. But wait, you say, OAN and Fox have been rife with stories about discovering 74,243 mail-in votes more than were mailed out.

You heard that and it’s wrong. In fact, of 2,364,426 requests for mail-in ballots, 1,918,024 were returned. Turns out the inexperienced Cyber Ninjas (which perhaps should be called Cyber Ninja) confused early voting numbers with mail-in numbers. Confusion has happened a lot during this odd recount of the recount of the recount of the recount.

Despite a glaring lack of election experience, Cyber Ninjas has asked the legislature and courts to keep secret their super-secret trade secrets for detecting secret fraud. While failing to keep doors locked and preventing unauthorized people off the counting floor, Cyber Ninjas has restricted independent observers.

not a genuine ballot
messy ballot

Also, Cyber Ninjas sought to disqualify ballots that were folded, those with smudges or stains, and one with a suspicious Cheetos dust fingerprint. Arizona election professionals explained people do human things and some may be a little grubbier than others. A coffee ring or a booger on a ballot shouldn’t invalidate the entire ballot.

More than 75,000 Maricopa and Pima Republicans did not vote for Mr. Trump, and officials want to know why. The Arizona Senate debated and Cyber Ninjas demanded door-to-door ‘verifications’ of citizens voting. Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward threatened jail for ‘obstruction’, saying, “There could be arrests of people who are refusing to comply.” Perhaps fearing lawsuits, the Senate has held off, but it’s indicative of the lengths they are willing to take.

Conspiracy 202

I’d expected to update the previous article about the Arizona recount x 4, but I hadn’t anticipated the boatloads of new conspiracy theories. The updated map hints at new wrinkles.

blue thermostat
Thermostat (D)

red thermostat
Thermostat (R)

Odd Bedfellows

In addition to China, South Korea allegedly shipped freshly marked ballots directly to Arizona. Supposedly China, coordinating with Iran, targeted Maricopa and Pima Counties. South Korean ballots are particularly sought after because Seoul developed offset printing capable of filling in circles with genuine graphite, making them particularly difficult to detect except, presumably, for the absence of the secret watermark.

News of yet another European operation is attributed to disgraced Michael Flynn. Italian operatives altered Arizona tabulation in real time via satellite. Belgian Deep Fake video altered Fox News coverage, misreporting that Biden was winning.

When Maricopa officials denied voting machines were connected to the internet, conspiracy businessman J Patrick Byrne, attorney L Lin Wood, and others argued they linked wirelessly through Nest™ thermostats. Cyber Ninjas argues they can prove connectivity when Maricopa turns over their routers and remaining servers.

Chickens Come Home to Roost

With millions of excess ballots floating around the country and the Colonial Pipeline clogged like a Soho apartment toilet, operatives desperately needed to dispose of genuine ballots, those imprinted with the telltale watermark. To date, not one secret watermark has appeared in the 2.1-million ballots, proving the scale of the scam.

The CIA, working against interests of the American people, flew military transports loaded with planeloads of real ballots into Abu Dhabi. There they arrested Inaugural Chair Tom Barrack as he bravely attempted to videorecord election shenanigans. From United Arab Emirates, ballots were trucked into the Saudi Arabian desert and dumped, where the evidence remains today.

For those taking notes, Riyadh openly admits disposal trucks journeyed into the Saudi wasteland, but claim they were discarding carcasses of frozen chickens possibly tainted with salmonella processed and packaged during the coronavirus outbreak. Pallets of ballots or sickened chickens? You be the judge.

But chickens weren’t yet off the meathook. On 6 March, gazillions of shredded ballots were reported in dumpsters behind the Maricopa Tabulation Center. Two hours after the ballots disappeared, a suspicious fire broke out at the state’s largest poultry farm owned by Maricopa County’s District 4 Supervisor. The origin of the mysterious fire remains unknown, but it incinerated 166,000 hens out of four million chickens. According to multiple web sites, an investigation into this ‘convenient’ fire will prove the birds were stuffed with ballots.

Disqualification

Election workers are trained to look for a voter’s intention based on America’s vision that every citizen has a constitutional right to vote and have their vote count. Arizona and Cyber Ninjas have taken the position that only the clearest, unambiguous, absolutely certain vote should be tallied. Only a fully, filled-in circle, firm enough to indent pristine paper unsullied with grubby hands should count… if it doesn’t violate their predetermined mathematical model.

Extremist web sites including ProWhiteParty, FrankSpeech, and InTheMatrixxx podcasts leaked that the powers that be propose disqualifying up to half of Maricopa’s 2.1-million ‘counterfeit’ ballots, arguing Maricopa election clerks were far too lenient accepting ‘suspicious’ and ‘spurious’ votes. Various technologies brought to bear on the challenge include alternate source UV light, quantum physics side-scanning, and Commander Jovan Hutton Pulitzer’s proprietary particle kinematic artifact detector™ (PKAD), effectively a 21st Century update of dowsing technology.

Whatever the ultimate count, proponents say suspect and counterfeit ballots should be discarded based upon ballot characteristics. Their rejection mechanism has been compared to a vending machine spitting out a worn dollar bill.

Reasons for rejection may include:

  • ballots containing bamboo fibres
  • ballots containing rice paper
  • ballots containing improper ‘feel’
  • ballots containing stains
  • ballots with improper Q-codes
  • ballots with personal identifying info
  • ballots with incorrect color luminosity
  • ballots with incorrect moisture content
  • ballots with torn or missing corners
  • ballots with ‘kinematic artifacts’
  • ballots failing UV-A/UV-B examination
  • ballots of suspect thickness
  • ballots of suspect weight
  • ballots mailed in unfolded
  • ballots folded the ‘wrong way’
  • ballots folded (non-mail-in)
  • ovals partially filled in
  • ovals filled in with toner
  • ovals without depressions or indentations
  • ovals not filled in by human hand
  • precinct-printed offset registration marks
  • inconsistency between national, local votes
faux watermark
watermark
Proponents consider this last item especially critical as it mathematically ‘proves’ fraud, according to a number of sources. The idea questions split tickets– cases where the bulk of a ballot’s votes go to one party, but the presidential vote was either for the other party or absent altogether. In other words, if down-ballot votes went Republican, then a vote for Biden must be erroneous. Exposing this fraud is a primary reason Cyber Ninjas fought to conduct door-to-door investigations.

Note that no ballots have been found bearing the secret FEC watermark.

Note this is an opinion piece and it contains i-r-o-n-y. Don’t shoot the messenger– I just report it.

01 August 2021

Sports Build Character


women's soccer

Why yes, I watch women’s soccer. No, I don’t watch men’s. Why do you ask?

I started watching women’s soccer (‘futbol’ in other parts of the world) three or four years ago. Women’s bodies in motion… What’s not to like? it’s wonderful. Except for Sweden in the Olympics opening game.

Lord Jesus

If you’ve seen international men’s soccer, you’ve met the drama queens, that star player from Italy or India or Indonesia who collapses on the field (the pitch), gasping, groaning, giving a grand performance as he prays to Saint Sebastian he may walk again. Once the referee flashes a yellow or red card, suddenly he hops to his feet, all fit and well once again. Lord Jesus, it’s a miracle.

When one of the women is knocked down, she gets up, perhaps given a hand by an opponent, and keeps  on playing. Not to say it couldn’t happen, but I’ve never yet seen a drama play.

US-UK soccer

Meanwhile on ESPN…

Yes, I know the rumors (definitely exaggerated) that the majority audience ‘plays for the other team’, but it doesn’t matter. When buying season tickets for the Orlando Magic, my friend Thrush also bought season tickets for the Orlando Miracles, the women’s counterpart of the Magic. At some WNBA games, we were about the only guys present, but no one cared. We weren’t looking for dates.

Ted Lasso
Ted Lasso

Now, Back to the Game

I have a reason for bringing up soccer. Apple TV offers an original comedy series that improbably grew out of adverts for NBC Sports.

Check out Ted Lasso. Two Americans are hired to coach a British football club, a sport they know nothing about. We’ve seen the fish-out-of-water premise before– mix-ups, screw-ups, bust-ups, dust-ups, and usually happy fix-ups. This show delivers more than you expect.

Ted Lasso is not about the sport, but about the people. It’s funny– Melodie Campbell funny– but the best aspect is the characterization. Several cast members carve out three-dimensional spaces for themselves. It keeps heart, a big heart. And characterization… Did I mention characterization?

It doesn’t matter if you’re not a soccer/football fan or don't like sports at all. Athletics doesn’t matter because the action occurs in the boss’s office, in the locker room, in the showers, in restaurants, and especially the local pub. A few moments happen in bed. The first season took ten episodes before we saw a play on the pitch (field). That was simply a build-up for an easy-to-miss key moment between egotistical player Jamie Tartt and…

You had to be there. It’s about characterization. We can learn from it.

Apple TV. Season 2 commences now.

Coaches Beard and Lasso
Coach Beard — Coach Lasso

18 July 2021

Spycraft, Old School


Zoo Station

Usually SleuthSayers learn spycraft from the invisible-ink pen of David Edgerley Gates. A month ago, Janice Law slipped past the yet-to-be-built Berlin Wall to recall David Downing. I depend heavily on my SleuthSayers colleagues for reading material, and I ordered up Zoo Station.

The tale has a much older ‘golden age’ feel of the 1960s and I had to double-check the copyright of the first in the series, 2007. The initial half of the book is slow paced but it builds tension out of proportion to pages turned. I wondered how the author accomplished that, and I’m not the only one. One critic’s comment on the back cover says, “Downing has shown that he can produce that creepy sense of paranoia along with the best of them.”

Furthermore, the book contains a feature I’ve rarely encountered outside a school textbook, a ‘Reading Group Guide’. Question 9 reads: “Given the relative lack of overt violence, how does Downing create the novel’s sense of menace?”

Yeah. How did he do that?

I have a few notions, but other readers will surely come up with better insights. Mostly I credit the immersive nature of the story where the author puts us in the scene with the perfect serving of detail.

The story’s set as the 1930s draw to a close. Perceptive people smell war on the horizon, but live in hope it doesn’t come. Kristallnacht has left its mark. Kindertransport is under way. Jews aren’t permitted to work, travel, or dine in restaurants. While the word ‘ghetto’ hasn’t yet arisen, Jewry are evermore isolated in restricted parts of cities.

The author has allowed history to do much of the heavy lifting. Much of life seems normal, ordinary, but it won’t remain so. We know the horrors that are coming; we want to warn the innocent, tell them to flee for their lives.

Whereas trains and train stations appear in backdrops and settings, mentions of government buildings feel eerily ominous. Downing mentions 15-foot high doors, evoking the architecture envisioned by Albert Speer.

No worthy espionage story would be complete without Soviet spies. One Russian spymaster isn’t so bad, but woe be he who crosses the path of Stalinist spymistress Irina Borskaya. She eats her young.

The novel’s protagonist, British journalist John Russell, advances through a character arc from somnambulance to getting his rear into gear, helping to get the word out while saving a life or two. His actress girlfriend suggests a hint of Cabaret, but with far more gravitas than Sally Bowles.

A minor note jarred me. Russell is virtually broke when we first meet him. He lives simply, but he drinks goldwasser. It seems a pretension more in line with 007 than our impecunious reporter. I excused the gold-flecked drink on the grounds it was a product of Gdańsk (Danzig), but the affectation seemed peculiar.

Along the line, our hero obtains a ten-year-old motorcar, a Hanomag. I thought myself reasonably familiar with cars of bygone eras, and those of the late 1920s are the peak of design– the Mercedes SSK, the Cord, the Packard, the Dusenberg, the Bugatti, and the gorgeous Auburn.

1928 Hanomag
1928 Hanomag © Bonhams Auction

I hadn’t heard of Hanomag. I had to stop to look it up. It turned out to be one of the homeliest automobiles ever made. Easiest way to tell the front from the back is to look for the single, motorcycle-style headlight, on the left in this photo. Oh well, our hero’s Hanomag ran most of the time and many folks had no cars at all.

As Janice suggests, Zoo Station reads as old style spycraft with luggage storage and postal drops, suitcases with false bottoms, and shadowy men who make others disappear. Downing’s novels aren’t nearly as gloomy as those of, say, John Le Carré.

When you’re bored with the current digital library on your Kindle or Kobo, stop in a musty used book store and pick up a dog-eared copy of Zoo Station. Go old school.

04 July 2021

Dinner and Death


Last Saturday evening, I dined in a real restaurant for the first time since the coronavirus broke upon our shores. That same evening at the same restaurant in the heart of Orlando’s International Drive tourist center, a man was murdered.

It didn’t particularly surprise anyone. Most attendees expected something of the sort because homicides occur frequently at Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show.

Squire's Inn cast
Our show, not our cast

The occasion was Haboob’s birthday party arranged by her daughter who invited me (thanks, Kathy). I’d never attended a mystery show and looked forward to it.

Murder 1

The first mystery involved parking. The car lot was full. Shops and restaurants surrounding the theatre share a garage with Icon Park, a 20-acre entertainment complex, which includes a Madame Tussaud’s and a London Eye-type ride called The Wheel, approximately 122m (~400ft) in diameter.

Here, developers confused ‘arcade’ and ‘parkade’. The garage is loaded with exit signs, none of them useful. This results in cars milling like microbes, trying to decipher a way out. One unfortunate Hyundai has been circling since 2017. Family members rope up buckets from below and tote gasoline up stairs to refuel it. My friend Geri and I could have happily murdered the garage’s architect, but mayhem was supposed to occur in a dining establishment, not a garage.

a Constable Connie
A constable Connie, not our
scare-your-pants-off Connie

Murder 2

Sleuths operates two theatres and we found ourselves led to slaughter in Theatre II, a surprisingly large hall with a shallow stage along one side. There, a couple of dozen round tables accommodated up to ten guests. Real tablecloths, cloth serviettes, and real butter provided nice touches.

Let it be said, visitors don’t come for the dining experience. Chicken and vegetarian options were available, but our entire party ordered prime rib, a $6 extra disappointment. I could offer two or three smartass comments, but the less said, the better. Our neighbors ordered lasagna and voiced no complaint. Desserts were tasty and the wine was unexpectedly drinkable.

Waitress Nicole supplied us with tea and soda, and as far as I could discern, took no notes when doling out drinks and desserts to the correct parties. While I’m in a complimenting mood, thanks to Miss DeSantis (no relation to our dreadful governor) for help, kindness, and patience making reservations.

Staging a Death

In interactive murder mysteries, guests participate in the experience. They mingle with victims and suspects, and handle and inspect clues. This was not those.

Rather we are presented with one of five abbreviated plays, a comedy where four actors play five rôles. The skit takes place in an English Inn, placing the actors at risk of murdering the mother tongue worse than I. Fortunately, the cast treats dialect with a light touch.

the real Constable Connie
Late update! @ Chris Sowers
The REAL Constable Connie
who owned the rôle

We meet the characters. Murder ensues. The law makes her entrance.

Holy Chautauqua!

The clear star of the show is Constable Connie Crabtree, whose actor also plays the crotchety murder victim. This doesn’t tell half of it and the masculine noun is not an affectation. Although the victim is male, the constable is female and… no, wait. See, the heavily made-up and considerably frightening Constable Connie is played in drag by an actor I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.

But funny, hilariously funny. Political correctness has robbed our society of so much humor, it’s refreshing to let down our guard and enjoy witty innuendo and double entendres without clubbing us with correctness. God save the Queen.

On With the Show

The play draws to a close. The cast invites the audience to help solve the mystery by formulating questions– one per table– of the characters, mostly concerning conversational threads left dangling.

The audience was paying attention; several queries were highly pertinent. Despite my great renown as a world famous SleuthSayer, my question about parentage wasn’t chosen by my table, although it turned out to be the heart of the mystery. (So there!) Constable Connie’s acidic tongue kept questions moving, especially when a couple of tables had enjoyed a bit too much of the not-too-bad wine.

mystery worksheets for notes
mystery worksheet

WhoDunWhat?

The play is not The Mousetrap. I found two chinks in the mystery itself, both unexplained gaps– or sudden leaps. Actors abruptly drop a comment that the victim fathered another character without us being previously presented with that fact. In the free-wheeling delivery of the play, was it overlooked?

Likewise, the audience had almost universally settled upon one cast member as the murderer, but the constable informed us it was quite another without linking evidence. Unless another clue had been left out, the choice of perpetrator seemed almost random. Perhaps we missed hearing a hint, but if we did, so did our half of the room.

I haven’t seen the script, but possibly a bit or two was inadvertently omitted. Still, we figured out the key to the plot and motive, and besides, the real point was the comedy. You don’t read Janet Evanovich for the plot, you read her stories for the laughter. Same with this play, Squires Inn.

Mouths of Babes

A number of young children sat near the front and loved it. Although one character in the play had paid heavily and labored for years to purchase the inn, the play’s sole woman (not counting Connie) inherited it, leaving the man with nothing. The constable asked the kids if the woman should share the inn with the man and they– almost entirely girls– shouted out a resounding No!

Oh sheesh. They’ve been listening to their mothers.

The theatre awarded birthday gifts and door prizes of a surprisingly useful magnifying glass. That was a superb touch.

At nearly 10:30 that night, I helped Geri find her car in the garage. I am not in the least kidding– cars were still queued snailing on the third level, trying to find their way out.

Verdict

From the viewpoint of a professional crime reader and writer, Squires Inn didn’t come off as a fair-play mystery with clues that pointed unambiguously to a single perpetrator. But as Hamlet said, “The play’s the thing.” It is a lot of fun and definitely worth the trip. You might not solve a mystery, you could die laughing.

Have a happy and safe 4th of July!