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

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!

20 June 2021

Wicked Plots


Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot book cover

I’ve been reading Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot, recommended by my friend/editor/teacher Sharon. The title, of course, is a double entendre as is its book-withn-a-book, Crib.

One of the characters confides she’s the type who, five minutes into a movie, figures out the plot. Mind racing ahead, I often do the same. Unlike her character, I generally keep it to myself until the show is over.

The same technique may work on The Plot. The author plays fair sprinkling numerous clues. By the halfway point, I grew certain where the story was headed, and every passing page convinces me I’m on the right track. We shall see.

Jacob Finch Bonner

Korelitz raises issues about plagiarism and ‘stealing’ stories. Her protagonist agonizes the unique plot of his bestseller was glommed from someone who managed to get himself killed, although characters and setting and words are all the author’s. The plot, however, is so unusual, it defies categorization within the seven basic plot lines we constantly hear about. Hence the accusation of stealing from a dead man who, it turns out, acquired the plot elsewhere. In today’s tender sensitivities atmosphere, the protagonist committed the ultimate appropriation sin.

Frey, Glass, and Mortenson

Korelitz’s beset author isn’t in the same league as a half dozen infamous authors she mentions who either plagiarized or falsified narratives. Some such as James Frey and Greg Mortenson bounced back, barely affected, and to a lesser degree, Stephen Glass at least arrested his descent into infamy.

Kosiński and Rosenblat

Jerzy Kosiński (The Painted Bird) is a different matter for me. Like Herman Rosenblat (Angel at the Fence), he was a Polish WW-II survivor. Also like Rosenblat, he combined fiction with reality, sometimes difficult to tell which was which. It would be fairer to describe their books as embellished memoirs or fictionalized biographies.

Jerzy Kosiński

Zbigniew Brzezinski, among others, believes the taint of scandal brought about Kosiński’s death. His suicide note read, “I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual.”

Demidenko and Hegemann

Occasionally writers who falsify (e.g, Helen Darville a.k.a Helen Demidenko) or plagiarize (e.g, Helene Hegemann) are rewarded for their deceit. How they win prizes after their false narratives are exposed and Laura Ingalls Wilder falls victim to #CancelCulture escapes me.

Konrad Kujau

The Hitler Diaries took hubris, but Konrad Kujau was pretty certain Adolf wasn’t likely to pop up in Buenos Aires, Brasília, or São Paulo and say, “Hallo? Entschuldigung…”

Clifford Irving

For sheer audacity, it’s hard to beat Clifford Irving, because Howard Hughes, as far as anyone knew, was very much alive. And he did indeed pop up in Acapulco or Houston or somewhere and say, “Hello? Excuse me,” not that anyone believed him at first. And then… And then after he wrote a 1981 explication called The Hoax, Irving sued the movie company because the resulting film was too, well, hoaxy. Damn, that took nerve.

Charrière Castaneda

Please excuse me. I must return to writing my fictionalized memoir. Kindly ignore any perceived exaggerations, embellishments, or inconsistencies you may notice about my life amongst the Goajira and Yaqui…

06 June 2021

Bootstraps


Why do we ‘boot’ computers?

At the risk of breaking toes, we’ve all wanted to boot a computer into the next county, but where did this start-up term ‘boot’ originate?

Boot is half of a compound word ‘bootstrap’, and that in turn derives from a children’s joke at least two centuries old.

2½ Centuries Ago

“Consider the lowly boot,” as the walrus might say, along with ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings. (Yes, it’s going to be that kind of article.)

bootjack

Well-fitted boots can be devilishly difficult to pull on and pull off, the latter sometimes a two-person job, as attested by many a cartoon of the era. In the Americas, cabins and houses in frontier times kept a ‘bootjack’ by the door, an angled board with a V-notch where one could wedge in the heel and lever off the boot off the foot, which raises the question of why boot and foot don’t rhyme. (I said it’s going to be that kind of article!)

bootstraps

Riding boots, both Eastern and Western, feature tabs on either side for grasping and tugging them on. Work boots often sport a single strap at the back where one can hook a finger, although on many boots, the strip has shrunk to little more than a decorative spot to show off the shoemaker’s logo.

2 Centuries Ago

Therein lies the joke when a character in children’s stories needs to climb without a ladder or cross the sea without wetting the feet: said character might pull himself up by his bootstraps. This impossibility represents a perfect example of a figure of speech called an adynaton. (Yikes! Wandering off into that kind of article again.)

Steele's Popular Physics
1834, The Workingman's Advocate:
“It is conjectured that Mr. Murphee will now be enabled to hand himself over the Cumberland river or a barn yard fence by the straps of his boots.”
1860, an unsourced comment on philosophy of mind:
“The attempt of the mind to analyze itself [is] an effort analogous to one who would lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
1888, Popular Physics; Steele, Joel Dorman (1836-1886):
“Why can not a man lift himself by pulling up on his boot-straps?”

1 Century Ago

By the early 1900s, the word acquired a Horatio Alger meaning. It referred to improving one’s station in life by their own initiative, that is, starting with nothing to build their fortune in America.

1918-1920, Ulysses, part XIV; Joyce, James (1882-1941):
“Ladies who like distinctive underclothing should, and every well-tailored man must, trying to make the gap wider between them by innuendo and give more of a genuine filip to acts of impropriety between the two, she unbuttoned his and then he untied her, mind the pin, whereas savages in the cannibal islands, say, at ninety degrees in the shade not caring a continental. However, reverting to the original, there were on the other hand others who had forced their way to the top from the lowest rung by the aid of their bootstraps. Sheer force of natural genius, that. With brains, sir.”
(Granted, I could have omitted the first two-thirds, but why miss the good parts for which the American publishers were imprisoned?)

½ Century Ago

What does any of this have to do with computers? The answer, grasshopper, is why your computer takes so long to start up.

When they’re turned on, must computers have less intelligence than planaria. Their sole mission at that point is to gobble up a piece of a program that gobbles up larger segment and perhaps yet another larger gulp until it begins to look and act like the computer we expect.

For many, many decades, most computers have worked pretty much this way:

  1. The computer blindly looks for a strip of code at a specific place in a solid-state drive, a hard disc drive, or at one time a magnetic tape, punched cards, or even paper tape. Earlier in the 1950s, this data was entered by hand.
  2. Those few bytes load a larger chunk of program code, one that knows where the operating system is located, and how to load it.
  3. Finally, the operating system loads, coughs when it’s spanked to life, and becomes the computer you love… or hate.

At one time, IBM called this ‘IPL’ for initial program load. Other terms have co-existed, but ‘bootstrap’ became the term of choice, eventually shortened to simply ‘boot’, where it’s origins have been forgotten.

I can’t explain why at one time you had to click the Start button on a Windows machine to stop it, but now you know why you ‘boot’ it.

Outside the Compound

More than anything else, English betrays Germanic roots with its use of compound words. Ever wonder where hopscotch, cobweb, kidnap, scapegoat, doughnut, wedlock, honeymoon, hodgepodge, earmark, eggplant, hogwash, or piecemeal derived? Bah, humbug, you did wonder! Mental Floss Magazine editor Lucas Reilly can entertainingly tell you all about them.


1 Unexpected Footnote

In researching sources for the article, I came upon an unexpected recent reference from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I won’t address the divided politics, but she tweeted, “It’s a physical impossibility to lift yourself up by a bootstrap,” and followed up with remarks during a House committee meeting, “This metaphor of a bootstrap started as a joke because it is a physical impossibility.”

2 Acknowledgements

Thanks to Sharon for the Compound Words and AOC additions to the article.

23 May 2021

Asian Aversion


Crime writers Eve Fisher and Mary Fernando have written about bigotry and touched upon prejudice against Asians. A farmer in rural Minnesota demonstrated one way to mitigate the problem.

I lived in a state forest near Big Lake, Minnesota, one of many villages near the upper Mississippi River, all grown up now into a city. Not many eateries fed travellers along Hiway 10, and it didn’t help the main diner closed and was sold to an Asian family.

Lake in Big Lake, Minnesota
Big Lake, Minnesota © Wikipedia

In town one day, my neighbor Bud announced several of us must go to lunch at the newly reopened diner. One bigmouth said he wasn’t gonna et no Viet Congo victuals.

Bud said, “They’re Korean and it’s damn good food.”

“Don’t care. Who knows what they put in it?”

At that point I suggested, “Garlic, ginger, onion…”

Bigmouth sneered.

Neighbor Bud wasn’t a fragile flower. He said, “Way I figure it, you got a choice between stupid and hungry, or well-fed and wise. Whizzit gonna be?”

Bigmouth grudgingly came along with a group of us, grumbling the whole way.

“Order steaks,” Bud suggested.

Bigmouth stared at everything suspiciously, mumbling under his breath. When the steaks arrived, he sniffed it. He poked at it with his fork in case it wasn’t dead. To be sure, he stabbed it with a knife.

Then he took a bite. He chewed. And another bite. He stopped grumbling. He ate everything, everything on his plate.

Leaning back, he patted his stomach and said, “God-blessed-durn, that was the best steak I ever et. I wonder what they put in it?”

Bud said, “Garlic, ginger…”

Bigmouth not only became a fan of the diner, he became friends with the family.

Every town needs a Bud. And a great Oriental restaurant.


As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Big Lake is all grown up into a city, one I wouldn’t recognize nor find my way around. But a local web site demonstrates a decided hostility I can’t account for.

Searching for a picture of the town, I came across BigLake.com where, at the bottom of the home page, I found one of the weirdest legal statements ever, complete with a fat, yellow acknowledgement button:

Due to GDPR, residents of the EU are STRICTLY FORBIDDEN from using this site.
18 USC § 1030 (a)(2)(C)

Why should a burg in Minnesota care, let alone disapprove, that Europe values the privacy of its citizens? Clearly the programming muggle has no understanding of Europe’s data protection regulations or United States Criminal Code or United States Uniform Commercial Code regarding fraud. How very, very peculiar.

But if that Asian restaurant is still around, try the Steak Korean.

16 May 2021

Certifiable – Arizona Elections Connections


hacker in winter ninja gear
Florida Cyber Ninja™
comes with winter gloves,
woollies, and balaclava toque

In an OAN exclusive, this is Blanca Mujer reporting from the Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, where faces are lit with ultraviolet wonder. We’re proud to witness elation and, dare I say, vindication sweep among the ballot tabulators recounting the recount of the recount of the recount of the audited, ultra-secure 2020 election. The arena hasn’t seen this much excitement since the 1973 upset of the never-to-be-forgotten Scottsdale Hamsters over the Pima Prickly Pears.

Kept from the public, Arizona election officials had secretly watermarked official ballots discernible through UV-light. Florida’s determinedly inexperienced Cyber Nunchucks has discovered not one of Maricopa County’s ballots thus far examined carries the distinctive watermark. Random samples pulled from the remaining 2.1-million ballots have also proved counterfeit.

Florida’s Cypher Numnuts is rushing to analyze ballot DNA, certain to be loaded with rice paper and bamboo fibres. Some 40 000 Chinese manufactured counterfeit ballots are known to have been airlifted into remote southwest Arizona, even as Chinese submarines smuggled ashore hundreds of thousands of premarked ballots on America’s Eastern Seaboard to co-opt elections in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Georgia.

Detecting the lack of official watermarks makes this historic day one of… Just a minute, my producer is signalling me… (taps earphone) OAN interrupts this broadcast with a message from My Pillow. This has been Blanca Mujer, OAN News.

Arizona-world election connections

The above scenario is not as outrageous as you might imagine. All of the above-mentioned are among lesser conspiracy theories pursued by stolen-election proponents of Arizona’s challenge to democracy.

The Chinese-British-Venezuelan Connection

Popular theory contends Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez discovered Chairman Mao Zedong had set in motion a blueprint to take over the United States government without firing a shot. Chávez realized the plan could only succeed by seizing control of a Spanish election specialist company, Scytl. In a multi-prong plan, Chávez and the Chinese government sabotaged the US elections with a combination of rigged voting machines and counterfeit ballots.

faux watermark
genuine Federal Election watermark

As Venezuela infected, infested, and injected Smartmatic election machines with a voting virus, China launched a submarine to land prefilled ballots along the Eastern Seaboard. Simultaneously, a low-flying Chinese stealth cargo jet hooked around Cabo San Lucas, flew up the Sea of Cortez and airdropped 40 000 ersatz ballots into Yuma or Pima counties. The Chinese operatives didn’t realize the administration was way ahead of the wily Asians and had imbued official balloting paper with watermarks detectable under ultraviolet lamps.

The amateurish and error-ridden web site of Cyber Ninjas led some (including me) to underestimate the genius of stolen election proponents. The only reason I could think of to explain UV lights shipped into the Coliseum was to seek chemical alterations. Instead, the clever Ninjas first used UV to look for those exclusive but elusive watermarks.

Not finding them implied every single ballot was fraudulent.

The Chinese Disruption

Knowing opponents tended to be obsessed with facts caused the Cyber Ninjas to dig ever deeper. They deployed indirect lighting to examine the infilled ovals on the theory vigorous voters would dent the paper under Nº 2 pencils contrasted with mass ‘xeroxed’ (presumably photocopied) ballots shipped into the state. Unfortunately, the preferred Sharpie pens left little or no dent.

Not trusting microscopic analysis, Cyber Ninjas used indirect UV and DNA testing to detect rice paper and bamboo fibres, an absolute indication of Chinese rather than Russian interference.

Another obstacle arose. China depends upon its numerous pulp mills to manufacture paper. Conversely, the USA also makes rice paper and grows bamboo right there in Arizona. Tucson’s Bamboo Ranch operates seventy-five bamboo groves.

The Russian-Canadian Connection

That resurrected an earlier theory regarding the Keystone Pipeline that ran from Communist Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, suspiciously not delivering oil to the states over which it ran. The pipeline was actually a giant pneumatic tube devised to distribute paper ballots from the great forests of our northern neighbour to Putin Russian-Ukrainian allies in the States. Remember these tubes… we’ll return to them momentarily.

To solve this international mystery, we turn to Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert, supported by Arizona dentist Paul Gosar, DDS, and famed attorney, Sydney Powell, esq. Bear with me, as reported by NewsMax, OANN, and InfoWars, this is convoluted.

putative election map
Gohmert/Gosar/Powell Army Intel map

The Spanish-German Connection

Shortly after the election, feelers put out by a dejected, desperate, but determined Sydney Powell returned intel of electronic voting irregularities involving British Smartmatic SGO machines in Venezuela, but also Scytl SA devices built in Barcelona, Spain. Scytl computers in Frankfurt were pre-programmed to manipulate election results while hiding the true election map at the direction of US Army Intelligence, the NSA, and particularly the CIA.

It’s unclear if Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney notified Powell or if Sydney Powell contacted him, but she organized an assault team to confiscate Scytl computers. She brought in disgraced former Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who’d confessed working for Russia and Turkey, and lied to Vice President Pence and the FBI. Powell called upon Flynn to redeem himself by hand-picking USEUCOM US Army loyalists from the 305th Military Intelligence Battalion (the Kraken) for an assault in Frankfurt to seize the servers. When Secretary of Defence Mark Esper balked at the operation, Flynn and Powell ordered him fired and replaced by Christopher Miller.

According to on-the-ground German tweets, the raid was a partial success, although one woman and five or six (the record is unclear) Army Special Forces men lost their lives in the attempt. How Cyber Ninjas became involved is also unclear.

not a genuine ballot
possibly not a genuine Arizona ballot

The Straight Poop

The Arizona investigation has triggered a disastrous side result. The unexpected ballot examination ordered by the Arizona Senate has aroused panic amongst Deep State forces in Georgia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They couldn’t call back a Chinese submarine to retrieve the bogus ballots, so instead, they flushed them down the Colonial Pipeline.

Unlike the Keystone Pipeline, this one actually carried petroleum. Similar to your home’s sewage lines, those millions of dumped ballots hopelessly constipated the Colonial’s series of tubes. A naïve press blamed the clog upon innocent Russian hackers.

To Provoke and Serve

While naysayers mock the partisan efforts as theatre and compare the recount to the Crazy Times Carnival and Clown Show taking place next door to the counting house, Arizona treats each conspiracy contention seriously. Cyber Ninjas reportedly hired a local private militia called the Arizona Rangers to provide security. Although these fake ‘rangers’ have neither police nor security training, they reportedly look and act like aggressive cops chasing away nosy reporters. They manifest more interest in deterring scrutiny than protecting the voting equipment chain of evidence.

Meanwhile, Cyber Ninjas has demanded the Maricopa Sheriff’s office turn over county routers to them. The sheriff has refused, raising the threat of a subpoena from the Arizona Legislature. To date, web sites aligned with Q-Anon appear relatively silent whether the Arizona Rangers militia or the National Guard should seize the routers.

Thinking they must mean servers (which Cyber Ninjas claim have been tampered with), not routers, I discussed this with my friend and colleague Thrush, a founder of MagicNet and one of the top network experts in the Southeast. Between the two of us, a networking guru and a fraud forensics specialist, we cannot conceive of any useful information that could be gleaned from a router. We’re convinced Cyber Ninjas don’t know what the hell they’re doing.

We also discussed wifi routers discovered on the ballot counting floor by alarmed observers. Cyber Ninjas claimed the routers were turned off, never mind their very presence and the blinky-blinky bits. I suspect they had shut off the SSID display and not the wifi radios, meaning they were very much active but invisible to the outside world.

As We Speak

This has been a particularly difficult article due to the fluid nature of the madcap Arizona recount. Conspiracy theories rapidly rise and fall and rise again with renewed life, without regard to the writer trying to capture competing hypotheses.

Haboob (an Arizona desert girl, hence her name) remarked the presumption of conspiracies cause believers to create realities around them. I might add to that never-ending conspiracies. I can hardly believe the election occurred half a year ago.

Right now, the voting equipment and pallets of ballots have moved into non-air-conditioned storage in a fairgrounds building too hot to work in. Experts and the US Department of Justice complain that in addition to breaks in the chain of custody and UV damage, the intense Arizona heat (well in excess of 50ºC, 122ºF) causes ballot paper to break down. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann told them to mind their own business, which of course they were.

A dismayed viewer can’t help but wonder if the heat also causes brain damage.

02 May 2021

Certifiable — Florida-Arizona News


Popcorn time. I’ve been following the ersatz election audit in Phoenix. Viewing it from a computer wizardry background, I bring to the table a few observations and opinions.

not a genuine ballot
possibly not a genuine Arizona ballot

Recounting the Recounted Recount

After recounts and audits, people ask why yet another? The political goal isn’t to overturn the election, but to cast doubt upon it in a tantrum by politicians who didn’t get their own way.

Thus it has come to pass, a minuscule Florida computer assistance company has carved an outsized rôle for itself in a vain (either meaning of the adjective) attempt to smear the Arizona election. Cyber Ninjas, which sounds disturbingly like a Saturday morning cartoon show, claims to have between “2 and 10” employees. I’d hazard if it employed anywhere near six or eight, or even four or five, it would say so.

Nothing is wrong with small computer consulting companies. I headed one. Our client base comprised Fortune 500 firms, governments, and large foreign concerns. Previous to May’s events, Cyber Ninjas largely seems to advise customers to take backups, install anti-virus software, and don’t click on random download buttons, a ‘Geek Squad’ without Best Buy.

Who?

Douglas Jay Logan, the owner of Cyber Ninjas (I’m learning that’s a damn awkward company name to type), involves himself in Q•Anon-inspired politics, even devising a ‘Stop the Steal’ white paper of discredited talking points.

He’s probably a nice guy, indeed, he supports charitable ministries in Haiti. We share that much in common, helping Haitians.

But I don’t know Doug Logan. No one I’ve asked professionally seems to know his company, not Florida election people, not security experts, and certainly not within my sphere, computer forensics and fraud. It simply means he’s not a household name outside of vocal conspiracy theorists. Until now.

What?

The pubic face of a company is its opening web page. It shapes the impression it wants the public to have. Sometimes it reveals more than it intends. They make a big deal about web security and design. And they do it confusedly… their ‘about’ page is their home page.

I can say with certainty computer experts Cyber Ninjas aren’t very computer experty. Set aside the peculiar stock photos and peer at paragraphs 1 and 3 of their home page. Notice those odd characters? “we’ve” and “Ninjaâ„¢”?

Paragraph 1 with errors

Although their page HTML has been improved since I first viewed it, they still haven’t sorted out UniCode encoding. Best guess for the first error– they meant “we’ve”. I have no clue what they meant for the second unless it was “Ninja©” or “Ninja™”. Simple, junior-level errors like that don’t give me warm, secure feelings. But, let’s move on.

Paragraph 3 with errors

Man versus Machine

To be clear, I too have criticized voting machines, but with diametrically opposed conclusions. Logan’s approach is all about secrecy and sorcery. He’s refused in court to reveal his ‘trade secrets’, which computer people likely agree means he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

When it comes to the public, transparency counts. I advocate voting machines should employ ‘open source’ programming. Open Source means it’s open to anyone to be viewed and studied. Nothing in it is proprietary or secret. That’s the only way citizens can feel assured their votes are fairly counted.

hacker in winter ninja gear
genuine Cyber Ninja™
complete with winter gloves,
woollies, and balaclava toque

Mr. Logan… not so concerned. He wants a closed shop, closed source, and, if he had his way, a closed audit. As it is, he and his backers have fought to keep the recount out of the public eye. That’s understandable if, as many surmise, he doesn’t know how to run a recount. He apparently hadn’t read the Elections Procedures Manual.

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts decrees, “Sentence first, verdict afterwards.” Most would have deemed it wise not to advertise the results of the recount before you’re hired. Sure, it helped win the no-bid contract, but it doesn’t make fair-minded people feel secure.

Capitol Stormer? Daily Stormer? No Problem

This attitude trickled down amongst the tabulators, which include Q•Anon conspiracists, Oath Keepers, and Anthony Kern, the latter who participated in the January 6 Washington DC insurrection. When a reporter noticed Kern’s presence, the reporter– not the Washington rioter– was ejected.

That has been a big theme of the recount– ban journalists. The initial reporter allowed in– because she registered as an observer and not a journalist– was banned for noticing workers on the floor were using black and blue pens, a huge verboten no-no around ballots.

Inspection at 365 nanometres

Another questionable bit of gear has been ultra-violet lamps. I speculated they might attempt to prove ballots were chemically altered, but mystified election experts point out UV light damages ballots. Others speculate the alternative light might be used to dazzle the public with ☆woo-woo☆ science.

Besides pens and far spectrum lamps, recounters are given something else– discretion. They are authorized to gauge intent, to interpret ambiguity, and personally judge whether or not ballots are illegal. Those, says the Secretary of State, would be discarded.

According to election officials, this should never be allowed. Ballots should be held to standards and not guessed at. Divination is not an option.

And yet…

Have you been following the recount? What is your opinion?

18 April 2021

Florida News: Dirty Tricks


Further to the Matt Gaetz investigation…

Florida's gerrymandered 5th Congressional District
The ultra-thin district (at one time three discontiguous plots) stretches more than 200 miles (>320km).

Florida remains the seat of breathtaking corruption. I don’t even have room to discuss Florida’s legislature passing a bill requiring students to assess professors’ political beliefs and providing for teachers to be secretly recorded at any time. We’re uncertain of persistent rumors Tallahassee will be renaming our state capital the Kremlin.

We at SleuthSayers work to avoid politics, but when it’s unavoidable, we strive to be fair. Registered as an independent, I aspire to equal opportunity offensiveness, but I’m afraid America may lose a grand, old party, which even the opposition doesn’t wish to happen. To mitigate controversy, I’ll be referring to political parties as the Eloi and Morlock, and you can decide which is which.

Thanks to a halt in ballot counting of the infamous hanging chads, Florida never learned whether Bush or Gore won the 2000 election. Two years later, Sarasota County reportedly failed to record 20 000 votes. The county Supervisor of Elections explained it this way: Twenty-thousand people came in to vote, but chose not to.

On that foundation, let’s visit 2010’s gubernatorial election.

Fool You Once

Four main candidates emerged in 2010. The Eloi backed a woman, Alex Sink. The Morlocks had three. The Morlock Party was irritated at Charlie Crist (who was sidelined and forced to run as an independent Morlock) and officially backed Bill McCollum. One other candidate inserted himself into the Morlock primary, Rick Scott, who’d engineered the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in history, triggering a fine of $1.7-billion. That’s $1 700 000 000 for the fine alone. That should have ended his candidacy.

Naturally, Florida elected the fraudster. Millions of ill-gotten gains won the election.

That’s sealed history. What isn’t as well known is what happened to Alex Sink and her beautifully designed web site, SinkForCongress2014.com, which included a subdomain begging for donations, contribute.SinkForCongress2014.com. It had a problem. It wasn’t her web site, it belonged to the other party. Donations to her were diverted to the Morlock Party and used to fund Alex Sink’s defeat.

Turns out this isn’t illegal.

Fool You Twice

So what skullduggery might top that bit of cleverness? Fake candidates. No, I’m not talking fake voters or fake ballots, but sham candidates.

You can think of them as ghosts in the political machine. Morlock Party operatives ran sham Eloi candidates in an effort to split votes between the faux candidate and the real one. It worked in at least three elections. In one district, the true Eloi candidate would have won by 6000 votes but lost by 32, thanks to a fake candidate, Jestine Iannotti. She abruptly moved to Sweden where she can’t be extradited.

Again, these dirty tricks aren’t illegal, but dirty money is. Political manipulators have gone to great lengths to hide money, much which remains unaccounted for. When the false candidate stunt was pulled in 2012, donations were traced to lobbyists, consultants, attorneys, fake donors and secret donors.

Fool

A fourth Florida attempt ended in failure for Matt Gaetz. An extremely shady former legislator and lobbyist Chris Dorworth has separated from his Orlando firm, Ballard Partners, after his involvement was revealed.

Meanwhile, Gaetz seems to have left his girlfriend at home with her crayons and coloring book, and hopped a ganja flight to the Bahamas, courtesy of Orlando marijuana majordomo and hand surgeon Jason Pirozzolo. There they enjoyed presumably grown-up prostitutes.

Gaetz attempted to get his generous friend Pirozzolo nominated for Florida Surgeon General. When that fell through, Governor Ron DeSantis appointed Pirozzolo to another lucrative position on the board of the Greater Orlando Airport Authority.

Investigations continue. Please remember, all parties are considered innocent until the rotten miscreants are proven guilty.

Thanks to Darlene, Sharon, Cate, Eve, and Thrush for contributions to this series.)

04 April 2021

Florida News: Taxing Questions


Joel Greenberg
Joel Greenberg,
Tax Collector
© The Independent

You might be forgiven thinking Joel Greenberg a low-rent Jeffrey Epstein, possible purveyor of goods and services to the likes of his friend, Congressman Matt Gaetz. Greenberg was supposed to go on trial a couple of weeks ago, now rescheduled in two months (June). Long before he was arrested for numerous crimes, red flags arose.

Development of a Police State

More than county tax departments, Florida’s various Code Enforcement agencies may be the most despised bureaucracies in the Sunshine State. These are the people who fine homeowners $200 a day upon spotting a hole in a porch screen or charge $500 a day for painting one's house the wrong shade. These fines are as typical as they are capricious. Notice these penalties run ‘per day’. Code Enforcement has also charged citizens for hosting religious gatherings in their homes and flying American flags, both successfully challenged in the courts.

These ‘per day’ fines can easily exceed most criminal penalties, even mount beyond the value of the properties they target. One local man has racked up $1.9-million. But at least Code Enforcement can’t send violators to prison.

Whoops, wait. Yes, they can by criminalizing civil violations and misdemeanors. Seminole County resident Alan Davis believes Code Enforcement violates personal liberties, and he’s dedicated the better part of three decades hammering home his point… or hammering points into his home.

He’s mocked Code Enforcement, at one time planting a toilet in his yard and another time creating a giant buttocks sculpture. God love him. When ordered to remove junky items from his yard, he obliged and moved them to his roof.

Davis initially spent a year in Florida state prison where he became surprisingly popular. After serving that first term, he’s been back more than once, including a three year stretch for ‘felony littering’– on his own property.

So it’s understandable that as Code Enforcement flexed its muscles, the Florida Association of Code Enforcement (FACE) began to consider themselves junior police officers. They lobbied for the right to carry guns, wear badges, and be addressed like a professional cop. They won the right to be called ‘officer’ and they now wear heavy police-looking badges on their belts or on chains around their necks. However, they couldn’t explain why they needed sidearms whilst writing up unedged lawns and chipped paint.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

As police departments succumbed to increased militarization, local bureaucracies moved to become more police-like. In an attempt to make green eyeshades look cool, Seminole County’s newly elected tax collector purchased badges and guns for his department’s ‘officers’. The public hadn’t appreciated the enormous danger handing out driver, car, cat, and fishing licences, a high-risk job almost as hazardous as recording plat books.

After arming his tax collectors, Joel Greenburg considered his new position so ★policey★, he begged a traffic cop who pulled him over for ‘professional courtesy’ and to let him, a fellow officer off the hook.

But wait, there’s more. ‘Officer’ Greenburg stopped at least one woman in traffic by flashing his shiny, new gold badge, accusing her of speeding. Nothing came of her complaint once the lady realized Greenburg wasn’t the real deal. Professional courtesy, see.

Greenburg liked playing pretend in other ways. He directed his department to pay friends who pretended to work for him. He set up pretend companies to further syphon funds from taxpayers. He submitted false claims to receive pandemic relief. He pretended to be other people by stealing taxpayer identities and manufacturing IDs to facilitate trafficking young women.

You may have heard of Bit Coin and crypto-currency. Mr. Greenburg made arrangements to profit from it by setting up his own, money-making crypto-computer within Seminole County’s Tax Department. Crypto-coin is known for gobbling huge amounts of electricity, and he didn’t want that on his personal Duke Energy bill. Unfortunately Greenburg brought 15-watts of intelligence to a 20,000-watt problem. He miswired his server farm, causing it to set the tax office on fire, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage, which of course Mr. Greenburg didn’t pay for. Professional courtesy.

Despite mishaps, Mr. Greenburg liked computers or, more to the point, he liked certain, ah, web sites. One of his favorites was Seeking Arrangement, where “wealthy men and women find the odds in their favor.” Most of us would call that prostitution, but lest we misjudge, here are their words (punctuation added), and yes, that’s a trademark symbol in the first line:

Upgrade Your Relationships™ where beautiful, successful people fuel mutually beneficial relationships. Our Mission: Seeking Arrangement delivers a new way for relationships to form and grow. Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies or Mommas both get what they want, when they want it. We provide Relationships on Your Terms. Where Sugar Babies enjoy a life of luxury by being pampered with fine dinners, exotic trips and allowances. In turn, Sugar Daddies or Mommas find beautiful members to accompany them at all times. We want relationships to be balanced. We give our members a place for this to happen. (Seeking) Arrangement is where people are direct with one another and stop wasting time. It allows people to immediately define what they need and want in a relationship. Our profiles allow members to effortlessly state their expectations. This is what we like to call Relationships on Your Terms. No Strings Attached– Redefine the expectations of a perfect relationship. Ideal Relationships– Upfront and honest arrangements with someone who will cater to your needs. Be Pampered– Indulge in shopping sprees, expensive dinners, and exotic travel vacations. Date Experienced Men– Date real gentlemen who don't play games. Find a Mentor– Established Sugar Daddies offer valuable guidance for long-term stability.

OMG, it’s so beautiful it makes me teary. Of course by ‘relationship’ they mean ƒ—… Well, you know the word. If you can’t achieve love, romance, and sex, you buy it. I can feel empathy for that, but please, don’t call it a relationship.

Joel Greenburg presently faces between fourteen counts and as many as thirty-three. Even after indictment and his release on bail, he continued committing crimes and violations.

Roger Stone, Matt Gaetz, Joel Greenburg

Congressman having Congress

About here Greenburg’s buddy Matt Gaetz enters the picture. The tax collector seems to have been one of Gaetz’s few friends, which may have gone beyond a penchant for underage girls.

Greenburg’s indictment is well-understood, but our sleazy congressman’s story is still developing. We’ll leave it and the involvement of Roger Stone for another time.

And remember, all parties are considered innocent until the rotten miscreants are proven guilty.

Thanks to Darlene, Sharon, Cate, and Eve for contributions to this article.)

21 March 2021

50+ Troublesome Words and Phrases


Leigh Lundin

My friend/editor Sharon sent me an article titled ’43 Embarrassing Grammar Mistakes Even Smart People Make’. I’ve become complacent about these lists– Velma says smug. Most of the usual suspects were there, but to my surprise, I found a couple I hadn’t given thought to.

Unthawing Foreign Relations

One was the word unthaw. I’ve heard others use it without setting off my grammar alarm. I don’t think I’ve used it, but now it’s on my radar. To unthaw literally means to freeze. Yikes!

Emigrate (which I’ve included in the list below with immigrate) requires the preposition ‘from’, although we can optionally include the destination ‘to’. Likewise, immigrate necessitates the preposition ‘to’, although we may choose to include ‘from’. For example,

  • She immigrated to Canada (from Angola).
  • She emigrated from Angola (to Canada).

Nonplussed

I’ve long been nonplussed and dismayed and, yes, gobsmacked that the Oxford English Dictionary insists that silly Americans misuse ‘nonplussed’ (surprised) to mean its opposite (unperturbed). In my unscientific polls amongst uneducated citizenry, I’ve met only one person who hit upon the wrong meaning, but admitted he didn’t actually know what the word meant. Chew on that, OED!

juvenile flounder
juvenile flounder © Wikipedia

mature flounder
mature flounder © Wikipedia

Bagging the Question

I attended a Latin school where rhetoric, logic, and debate were taught. One of the trickier concepts to master was ‘beg the question’, which assumes an assertion as fact without laying the foundation for it. I’ve notice more commentators and newscasters using ‘beg the question’ to mean ‘ask the question’, including the acme of academia, the world-renown BBC. Recalling my schoolhood efforts to pin down the original concept, I have some sympathy for those without the benefit of rhetoric, logic, and debate, but I recommend avoiding the phrase altogether. Eschew on that, Miss Arthur!

Prostate

À propos of nothing, my Aunt Rae noted the difference between prostitute and prostrate was the difference between a fallen lady versus one who temporarily lost her balance. And then we have the serious matter of prostate. If nothing else manages to kill a man, his prostate will!

How to Catch a Flounder (without Baited Breath)

Too often when people speak of a person or project that stumbles or sinks, they say it ‘flounders’ (a fish) instead of ‘founders’. This particular fish is unusual. When it’s young, it swims upright like most other fish. But when it matures, it sinks into the bottom, blending in with the sea floor. There it performs a slow-motion magic trick, distorting its own head and body to suit its environment. Its eyes migrate to the new upper surface and its mouth usually twists in the opposite direction. It may look like it’s about to founder, but it’s only a flounder.

50+ Often Misused Words and Non-Words

Confused Words
    Words in the left column of this first group aren’t necessarily wrong. They bear review because they’re often confused with those in the right column.
adopt (take up, take on, assume) adapt (change to meet conditions)
adverse (unfavorable) averse (opposed to)
bemused (confused) amused (entertained)
disinterested (impartial) uninterested (uncaring)
enormity (evil, wickedness) enormous (huge)
flounder (a fish) founder (break down, sink)
i.e. (id est: that is) e.g. (exempli gratia: for example)
infer (deduce) imply (intimate)
inflammable (burnable) nonflammable (not burnable)
jive (dance, talk) jibe (match)
literally (actually) figuratively (metaphorically)
nauseous (sickening) nauseated (sickened)
prostrate (prone) prostate (gland)
review (examine, reassess) revue (theatrical entertainment)
sympathy (understanding) empathy (intuiting another’s feelings)
trooper (soldier, state police) trouper (persist uncomplainingly)
under way (moving along, travelling) under weigh (lifting anchor)
Apostrophes
  • Never use apostrophes for pronouns: mine, yours, his, hers, theirs, its.
  • Omit apostrophes in collective proper nouns such as family names, as in “the Kennedys”.
  • Either use double apostrophes or omit them altogether for nouns that might be confused. “She dotted her ‘i’s and crossed her ‘t’s.” Alternatively, “The third measure of the musical score contained three Gs and an A.
  • Omit apostrophes when specifying an era such as a century or decade. “The most popular song of 1929 was Makin' Whoopee and 1930’s was ‘In the Mood’, but ‘Over the Rainbow’ topped the 1930s.”
its (possessive) it's (contraction: it is)
Smith’s (possessive) Smiths (collective noun)
VIPs (plural) ‘A’s and ‘B’s (plural)
1960’s (possessive) 1960s (era, decade)
Redundancy
    These phrases concern superfluous wording, excess verbiage that add nothing and dull their sentences. I’ve probably used “tenth-year anniversary” without realizing it.
first-year anniversary ✘ first anniversary
hot water heater ✘ water heater
red in color ✘ red
large in size ✘ large
political in nature ✘ political
Prepositional Requirements
    Discussed above, these two words require certain prepositions. Emigrate implies leaving one’s country and generally requires ‘from’, especially if ‘to’ is present. Immigrate implies entering a new residency and requires the target ‘to’, particularly if ‘from’ appears. Some uses require no prepositions at all: “He plans to emigrate.”
emigrated to ✘ emigrated from
immigrate from ✘ immigrate to
Incorrect Usage
    The following common nonsensical words and incorrect phrases include misspellings and misunderstandings. That said, many of us would like to apply “nipped in the butt” from time to time.
baited breath ✘ bated breath
boldface lie ✘ baldface lie
chalk full ✘ chock full
chock it up ✘ chalk it up
could care less ✘ couldn’t care less
dark-complected ✘ dark-complexioned
deep-seeded ✘ deep-seated
do diligence ✘ due diligence
expresso ✘ espresso
extract revenge ✘ exact revenge
free reign ✘ free rein
honed in on ✘ homed in on
irregardless ✘ regardless
jerry-rigged ✘ jury-rigged
make due ✘ make do
mute issue/point/question ✘ moot
nip in the butt ✘ nip in the bud
peak my interest ✘ pique my interest
per say ✘ per se
perview ✘ purview
piece of mind ✘ peace of mind
shoe-in ✘ shoo-in
should of, would of ✘ should have, would have
slight of hand ✘ sleight of hand
sneak peak ✘ sneak peek
through the ringer ✘ through the wringer
tie me over ✘ tide me over
tow the line ✘ toe the line
unthaw ✘ thaw
wet the appetite ✘ whet the appetite
worse comes to worse ✘ worse comes to worst

Do you find any of these troublesome?

What addition would you make?

21 February 2021

A Buffett Buffet


Why get stoned when there’s rock? Stone crabs and rock shrimp, of course, boiling in sea water seasoned with Old Bay, served outside a rusted beach shack. Delicious.

Unless you’ve been living under a conch shell, you probably heard Margaritaville has a new criminal element in town. Disreputable word-slingers have been spotted skulking amongst the happy drunks at beachside bars, gathered around a piratey privateer, Josh Pachter. This disreputable lot call themselves anthologists. Book 'em, I say, in fact, it’s already booked: The Great Filling Station Holdup.

The Great Filling Station Holdup anthology colourful cover

Let’s face it. Jimmy Buffett is a damn good lyricist. If he’d migrated from Nashville to Tin Pan Alley, he’d reside among the best of Broadway songwriters.

While Buffett is known for lighthearted, cheerful tunes, scratch many a surface and you’ll reveal more serious strata. Take as example the lyrics of Margaritaville:

But there’s booze in the blender
And soon it will render
That frozen concoction that helps me hang on.

Wasted away again in Margaritaville,
Searching for my lost shaker of salt.
Some people claim that there's a woman to blame,
And I know it's my own damn fault.

A reviewer at AZLyrics.com opines:

The song is about a man spending an entire season at a beach resort, enjoying carefree Caribbean lifestyle with margarita cocktails. There is some lyric confusion about words ‘Wasted away’ in the chorus of the song.

Whut? Seriously? Are we listening to the same song? You can’t hear the tone of forlorn desperation? Sir, put down the rum and step away from the bar.

While many of Buffett’s songs carry a serious secondary layer, a few like ‘Southern Cross’ will break your heart, and some of his early work is downright dark and dangerous. And I like it. But, when Josh Pachter invited me to sail the Buffett brigantine, I was immensely flattered and simultaneously panicked. What the hell could I possibly come up with? Then parts fell into place.

I find it difficult to write about myself. Talk about my work, okay, fine, but talk about me, not so easy. To deflect scrutiny, I hatched the notion of writing about my SleuthSayers colleagues and their stories appearing in Josh’s latest and greatest anthology. Good excuse. And why not include Pachter’s headlining story as well? Let’s begin.

Spending Money
Beach House on the Moon
[musiclyrics]
John Floyd



John sent me his story first, so we’ll start there. Jimmy’s song, ‘Spending Money’, is a light-hearted, whistling ditty. Part of the chorus subtly hints at skullduggery,

A little spending money, money to burn.
Money that you did not necessarily earn.

John has molded his story into a morality play. Greek playwrights could recognize the plot. Russian authors might embrace such a protagonist.

In John’s story, a hint of a pending train wreck hovers in the air, a force that can’t be stopped. The main character has an issue with honesty, a shortcoming of which a rare friend, a waitress, tries to disabuse him of his wayward ways.

To tell you more would tell you too much. I’ve read many of John’s stories and haven’t encountered one like this. Enjoy it.

Tampico Trauma
Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
[musiclyrics]
Michael Bracken



I’ve read Michael Bracken over the years, but I hadn’t absorbed what a master of atmosphere he is. From the beginning, you feel like you’ve been dropped into Tamaulipas– no, not a Taco Bell menu item, the Mexican Gulf state. In Michael’s story, you can smell aromatic herbs seasoning the broth, you can hear a touristy guitar.

Buffett’s song is barely 150 words, fewer than twenty lines. In contrast, Michael has fleshed out a complete story, a simmering plot spiced by the kind and compelling Hernández hermanas. I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t borrow a refrain from another song:

First you learn the native custom,
Soon a word of Spanish or two.
You know that you cannot trust them,
Cause they know they can’t trust you.

Trust me, Bracken has smuggled a lot in a small packet.

The Great Filling Station Holdup
A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean
[musiclyrics]
Josh Pachter



Josh Pachter shuttles us through the dimensions of space, time, and sound, back to a Jimmy country song. Both artists convey an old-fashioned tone, a feeling when informal policing could accomplish more than modern day school resource officers and zero-tolerance policies.

We got fifteen dollars and a can of STP,
A big ole jar of cashew nuts and a Japanese TV.
Feelin’ we’dd pulled the biggest heist of our career.
We're wanted men– we’ll strike again!
But first let’s have a beer.

Josh delivers a surprisingly gentle story. He pays considerable attention to characterization, so by the time the story wraps, you’re glad to witness a happy ending.

And for enquiring minds who want to know, he’s a damn fine editor. He’s also donating a third of the royalties to two Buffett charities, Singing for Change Charitable Foundation and Save the Manatee Club,

Truckstop Salvation
Down to Earth
[musiclyrics]
Leigh Lundin



After Josh’s invitation, I sweated, coming up with zero ideas. As the acceptance deadline approached, I feared having to decline.

One evening, my scalpel-tongued brother Glen mentioned one of his ironic descriptors– dirty, furrin’ lovin’, commie, pinko, hippie, peace queers (considerably cleaned up for our refined audience). I tossed out, “Long-haired, greasy-looking ape,” and immediately wondered where that came from.

Googling found it in a song on Jimmy Buffett’s first album, Down to Earth. The lyrics of ‘Truckstop Salvation’ hinted at an off-camera not-so-pleasant ending.

A silly ditty floated in my brain to the tune of ‘Harper Valley PTA’ (written here in awkward pentameter):

I want to tell you about a valley in Eastern Tennessee.
Good folks and bad struggle in a place called Suwannachee.
No McDonalds, no mall, no factory, no future, no pay,
Then along comes a notice from the local valley TVA.

Those in Washington know you love your rustic neighborhood,
But Congress tells you to give it up for the greater good.
Though eminent domain puts your family in a jam,
Those vacate orders on your doors mean they don’t give a dam.

Once my brain juxtaposed my brother with his Tom Petty hair and live-by-his-own-rules attitude, a Southern gothic began to sketch itself in dark, dark tones. What if Edgar Allan Poe engaged in a forbidden romance with Bobbie Gentry? You know, Deliverance without all the fun and frolic?


Those rock shrimp and stone crabs are rolling to a boil. Beer tub in the sand, nutcrackers at the ready. Pick up the hammer and tongs, have at them.

Florida’s Broward College is sponsoring the launch party. It’s virtual. It’s Zoom. It’s free. It’s 11 March, 2021 at 07:30p. Sign up here!

And yeah, the Jimmy Buffett anthology has lots of damn good stories. Don’t be a crusty crustacean, pre-order at a discount. Do it quickly– it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.