Showing posts sorted by relevance for query gone south. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query gone south. Sort by date Show all posts

18 February 2014

Gone South: Doing Something About February



by Dale C. Andrews
 Shakey crashed through the door of the bar looking like the last day of February
                                                     Herschel Cozine
                                                     Shakey's Debt
February, when the days of winter seem endless and no amount of wistful recollecting can bring back any air of summer.
                                                     Shirley Jackson
                                                     Raising Demons
February is merely as long as is needed to pass the time until March.
                                                     Dr. J. R. Stockton


Frazz, February 1, 2014, ©2011 2011 Jef Mallett/Distr. By Universal Uclic


     When my wife and I each retired in 2009 we had a shared goal. We wanted to never again endure the month of February in Washington, D.C. So far we have made good on that quest, and this year, as in previous Februaries, we are holding forth in a rental condo in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

       Mao Tse Tung was an advocate for the battle tactic of planned retreats, and in no year has a planned retreat from the frozen north made more sense than this one. When you look at those weather maps that have been so common this month, with that bulge of blue swallowing up the Midwest and the entire East Coast, we are right down there at the bottom -- where, in the course of a few scant miles, the color of the weather map on most days shifts from blue, to green, and then finally to yellow, where we are. It doesn't always work -- this year in our first few days here we did find ourselves in the path of that ice storm that hit the south, and that left us apartment bound for a day, but by and large we enjoy 60s when our home in D.C. has to tolerate 20s.  And this week it is all sunshine and mid-70s.

The only time this year that February
caught up with us at Gulf Shores
       So we run away before the cold. And in doing so we escape the dreary and dreaded month of February, at least as it is experienced up north. Paradoxically, while only 28 or 29 days, February nonetheless plays out as the longest month of the year. It is cold, the days are short, and it invites the onset of cabin fever. When you are held captive by the deranged beast that is February -- that is, when pressures of life conspire to hold you in place, precluding that planned retreat -- the result challenges even the stalwart optimist in each of us.  It can tempt us, in fact, to retreat from rational thinking in our quest for an escape.

A cargo cult's "runway"
       When I was a sociology major back in college I remember studying the cargo cults of the South Pacific -- island tribes that, watching the cargo-rich U.S. air fleets in World War II fly overhead, were inspired to build mock runways on their islands in hope that the planes would land there as well. We smile and shake our heads at the naive innocence of all of this, pinning hopes on magic.  But every year on February second, no doubt in trepidation of what lies ahead, we trot out analogous witchery. We gather in ritualistic regalia, we sometimes require that only German is to be spoken, and we scrutinize awakening groundhogs in an attempt to discern whether they will see their shadows.  All in the hope that ritual can somehow foreshorten our misery.

       This year, as reported in the Washington Post, Phil the groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania saw his shadow, which, per legend, meant six more weeks of winter.   The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has dismissed statistically any soothsaying abilities of Phil and his cohorts, and on bright and warm days we smile and shake our heads at the whole cargo cult ritual of this annual event. The planes do not arrive for the cargo cults, and spring does not arrive for us.  But that does not stop us from showing up each year to watch the groundhog. And this is not limited to that town in Pennsylvania. The Washington Post reports that other groundhogs, also sought out each year in a quest to short-hop the miseries of February, include:


       And in Washington, D.C., we add Potomac Phil to the list. The Washington would-be prognosticator is actually a stuffed Groundhog, but it nevertheless somehow manages to impart a prediction annually at a gathering at Dupont Circle.

       It is not just those of us in the United States who behave this way. In Serbia, for example, on February 15 during the feast of celebration of Sretenje or The Meeting of the Lord. celebrants watch a bear that is awakened from winter sleep. According to legend there if the bear sees its shadow it goes back to sleep for another 40 days, and winter continues. European folklore generally also looks to badgers or bears, usually on February 1, in hope of a signal that winter will end early. But, again according to NOAA, approximately 75 percent of the time there is no early spring, and our hopes are in vain. Regardless of the vagaries of animals’ shadows we, like those South Sea islanders tempting the planes to land, get nothing.

       In fact we do worse -- we get February.

       All of these February rituals simply evidence our desperation. Those who face February without the possibility of retreat can be rendered senseless and desperate in their endurance. A resort to witchcraft is but a small step where nothing rational works.

       So. Where did this affront that is February come from in the first place? As one might suspect, the dratted month owns a checkered past. No such month existed in the early Roman calendar, a ten month affair that simply left the period that is now January and February a nameless blot of bleak days. In effect the early Roman calendar at the end of December said That's it.  See you in March.  When February (along with January) eventually was added to the Roman calendar, around 700 B.C., it was a period of varying lengths -- 23 to 27 days -- and a thirteenth month, Intercalaris, was inserted between it and March as a device to re-align the calendar with the seasons each year, a necessary tool since the year, but for Intercalaris, was calculated out at 355 days.

       Under the reforms instituted with the Julian calendar, Intercalaris was abolished, the year was set at 365 days, and February was likely assigned 29 days. I say “likely” because there is some argument as to how February became a 28 day month (except in leap years). According to popular history this reduction occurred as a result of rivalry between Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus. Julius Caesar had already requisitioned and re-named the seventh month of the year “July,” in honor of, well, himself. Then, so the story goes, when Augustus Caesar ascended to power he decided he needed his own month as well, and we were given a re-named eighth month -- “August.” Up until that time all months (except for February) were either 30 days or 31 days, alternating on an every-other month basis. But Augustus wanted his month to be as long as Julius Caesar’s, so he robbed a day from February and placed that day in August, making it 31 days as well.

Washington, D.C. earlier this month
       Fear not. There is a demented rhyme to the madness of today’s discussion. Our dread of February, as evidenced, among other things, by that groundhog fetish, coupled with our willingness, evidenced by the Romans, to first invent, and then re-invent the length of February, provide something of a spring board for creative thinking. Even when we are not free to run south in front of the dreaded second month of the year, might there still be some other alternatives that we could pursue?  Something that does not exactly solve the problem of February but still offers more than a mere placebo? We cannot end winter sooner, but is there some lesser measure that, while realistically ineffective at combating winter, could nonetheless help to avenge the wrongs done to the tortured and shivering masses better than that resort to groundhogs, bears and badgers?

       I have a modest suggestion.

       We all accept that February already differs from other months in the number of its allotted days. And the Romans have already fiddled with that number, as discussed above, before agreeing on our present 28 day (and 29 day leap year) approach. Since the month is already demonstrably too long at 28 (or 29) days, my proposal is simply this: Chop another week off of it. Make it 21 days -- a three week sprint from January to March. And then take that extra week, the one we just chopped, and plop it down smack dab in the middle of June -- a month that often seems too short.

Gulf Shores Alabama -- View from our condo
February 17, 2014.  72 degrees.
       What about leap year? you ask. Simple, again. Leap year day should be designated a national holiday. The holiday would float, and would be used, as needed, as an extra day adjacent to July 4, thereby ensuring that Independence Day would always at the least be a two-day holiday. I know, I know -- I see all of you math majors waving your hands, eager to point out that the extra day would be needed whenever Independence Day falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and that these alignments occur more than once every four years. The solution remains simple -- just take those extra days, as needed, out of February.  If the second month of the year ends up less than 21 days, I mean, who is going to complain?

       I could go on. But I am off to the beach.

17 September 2013

SleuthSayers' Second Anniversary! Part 2


Happy Second Anniversary to all SleuthSayers contributors, past and present!  And to regular readers who have stuck with the blog throughout its run, thank you! 

This week, I'm continuing the "Best of SleuthSayers" list that Dale Andrews began last week.  As Dale said, this list is very subjective and constrained by space limitations.  I wasn't able to hold to our original conception of five articles a month, but I usually limited myself to eight. I think the list reflects both a breadth of subject matter and the depth of the SleuthSayers bench.  I hope Dale's list and mine will encourage readers new to the blog to browse our "back issues."

If I jumbled anyone's title or misspelled a name, I apologize.  Those of you who use a middle initial may find that it comes and goes (as they seem to do on the blog).   I'd also like to thank Dale for his leadership on this project.  He's a good man to follow on a desperate enterprise.  He doesn't daunt easily.


SleuthSayers -- The Second Year


September 2012 - Part Two

Notes from the Penitentiary – September 2012 -- Eve Fisher's offbeat and insightful notes.

Five Red Herrings III -- Robert Lopresti on truth stranger than fiction.

A Bouchercon Mystery -- Dale C. Andrews draws us in.
 

Adventures in South Africa -- Leigh Lundin reports from South Africa.

Playing Detective -- Deborah Elliott-Upton offers a paean to hardboiled men and women.


 October

A Non-iconic Writer -- Louis Willis remembers Shell Scott and Richard S. Prather fondly.

The Gifted Child -- John M. Floyd writes a great fan letter.

Things That Go Bump in the Night -- Dale Andrews stories for ghost story season. 

The Shrink is in . . . Cyberspace -- Elizabeth Zelvin's fascinating day job.

The Dadaist Enigma of Claire DeWitt -- Dixon Hill offers a unique take on an author's "mistakes." 

Mariel -- David Dean introduces one fascinating muse.

Developing the Series -- R.T. Lawton's great advice on keeping your friends close and your editors closer.

You Say Sensation, I Say Mystery -- Eve Fisher discusses the prehistory of the genre.  

Great Sentences -- Jan Grape's good writing on good writing.
                                             

 November

Ghost and the Machine -- Dixon Hill contrasts ghost stories and mysteries.

"The Unicorn in the Garden," or God Bless You, Mr. Thurber -- Eve Fisher remembers two comic geniuses:  Thurber and Benchley.

Sometimes It's Magic -- Robert Lopresti reveals the true thing that keeps a writer going.

Distractions -- Deborah Elliott-Upton battles our common enemy.

Alan Furst:  The World at Night -- David Edgerley Gates makes the case for Alan Furst.

The Great and Billowing Sea -- David Dean on great sea stories and a jaw bone.

Known Only to God -- Fran Rizer offers thoughts on Veterans Day for every day.

Not Being Preachy -- Elizabeth Zelvin on characters who carry the burden of an author's themes.


 December

Literary Mystery -- Leigh Lundin examines a Hemmingway mystery.

We're No Angles -- Eve Fisher on a minor Christmas classic.

Maze of Bones -- Dixon Hill spreads contagious enthusiasm about a series for young readers.

I Never Saw a Strange Red Cow -- Robert Lopresti's fascinating fragments of lost stories.

Cold War Berlin:  A Whiter Shade of Pale -- David Edgerley Gates evokes lost times and places.

The Dark Valley of Unpublished Stories -- David Dean describes a trip to a place where all writers have strayed.

Old Dogs and New Tricks -- John M. Floyd on old pros changing things up.

Tradecraft:  Surveillance 101 -- R.T. Lawton provides information every crime writer should know.


January 2013

The Art of Detection -- Dale C. Andrews' review of a new book on Ellery Queen sparks thoughts on a writer's immortality.

Chekhov Wrote Crime Stories? -- Louis Willis offers a new way of looking at a master of the short story.  

Rosemary &Thyme -- David Edgerley Gates celebrates a guilty pleasure.

Location, Location, Location -- David Dean's thoughts on location and the trap of writing from experience.

Doubt -- Janice Law explores the value of doubt in the mystery.

The Last Five Minutes -- Eve Fisher's last words on last words.

Professional Tips - John Lutz -- Leigh Lundin meets a favorite writer and discusses his writing tips.

The Silence of the Animals -- Dixon Hill tells a great story.

A New Project for the New Year -- Fran Rizer announces a very early Christmas present.


February

Bruce Lockhart:  Memoirs of British Agent -- David Edgerley Gates delivers another great history lecture.

Ripped from the Headlines -- Jan Grape shares more stranger-than-fiction truth.

I Was Just Wondering -- Louis A. Willis on the toughest job a "fictioneer" faces.

An Anniversary -- Elizabeth Zelvin provides great pictures, word pictures and real ones, on her parents' wedding anniversary.

I Owe It All to Rilke -- Brian Thornton devotes his SleuthSayers debut to the networking challenge.

Readers Choice -- David Dean places his literary future in the hands of his readers.

And the Beat Goes On -- John M. Floyd on Robert B. Parker's second coming.

Gone South (with Travis McGee) -- Dale C. Andrews on John D. MacDonald's return to print.

And Where is THAT? -- Fran Rizer discusses some fabulous real estate.


March

Stalker -- Dale C. Andrews on extreme fandom.

SleuthSayers, SleuthSayers -- Robert Lopresti shows off his poetry chops.

Setting as Character -- Brian Thornton discusses the importance of setting in the mystery.

Doyle When He Nodded -- Terence Faherty's debut explores Sir Arthur's fascinating lapses.

Framed -- John M. Floyd on a favorite story structure.

The IDES Are Coming -- R.T. Lawton lets the ides have it.

The Dean of SleuthSayers -- Leigh Lundin on David Dean and his new book.

No Goodbyes -- David Dean's last regularly scheduled post, for now.


April

I Found My Thrill -- Fran Rizer explores the thriller.

Creating Deception -- John Floyd gives tips on building a solid short story collection.

The After Story -- R.T. Lawton on continuing a story beyond the climax.

Gratuitous Violence -- Dale C. Andrews thoughts on violence that interrupts the story.

Reading to Learn -- Jan Grape shares writing lessons she learned by reading.

A True Story of Crooks and Spies -- Dixon Hill reviews a true tale of wartime intrigue.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Want Something -- Robert Lopresti reveals the secret to creating great characters.

The Current Crop of Clich├ęs -- Elizabeth Zelvin considers the continuing devolution of the language.


May

Memorial Day 2013 -- Jan Grape on Memorial Days present and past.

He Wasn’t The Best But He Was Good Enough -- Louis A. Willis on an almost-master, Carroll John Daly.

The Bank Robbery  -- R.T. Lawton describes a bank robbery that never was.

Random Observations -- Eve Fisher's thoughts on travelling away from oneself.

The Double Dippers -- Terence Faherty revels in big screen minutiae.

Losing the Edge -- John M. Floyd examines the burnout phenomenon.

The Beachcomber -- David Edgerley Gates recreates a memorable interview.

Some Thoughts on "Cosplay" Fiction -- Brian Thornton coins a term for anachronistic characters in historical fiction.


June

Dumbing Down: Self-fulfilling Prophecies about the Loss of Culture -- Elizabeth Zelvin's title describes it and her essay nails it.

Some Thoughts on the Importance of Plot, Character and Conflict in Fiction -- Brian Thornton minces no words in his discussion of the interaction of plot and character.

Stay Creative  - Jan Grape passes on some good advice from Holiday Inn.

Adolescent Sexist Swill? --  Fran Rizer pulls a Tom Sawyer on her friends with the help of Richard S. Prather.

Jesse James and Meramec Caverns: Another Route 66 Story -- Dale C. Andrews considers the line between history and legend.

The Haunted Wood -- David Edgerley Gates sets another record straight.

The Death of Laura Foster -- John Edward Fletcher tracks a North Carolina legend.

Beginners -- Janice Law on the art of learning a craft.


July

Show Don't Tell -- Dale Andrews on the difference between paper and flesh and blood.

Voice? -- Fran Rizer talks about good writing's most elusive quality:  voice. 


The Detroit PI -- Louis Willis on Loren Estleman's Amos Walker.

Who's on First -- Terence Faherty addresses the challenges of the PI point of view:  first person.

Hiaasen on the Cake -- John Floyd's tribute to Carl Hiaasen.

Two Writers, One Set-up -- Robert Lopresti on Jack Ritchie and the starting gun.

The Crazy Crawl -- Dixon Hill on yet another technological innovation that makes life less intelligible.

Pam, Prism, and Poindexter -- Leigh Lundin hits a nerve with the subject of domestic spying.


August

Marketing 101 -- John M. Floyd reveals his marketing secrets in this very popular post.

You Can't Make It Up -- Eve Fisher opens her file of newspaper clippings.

The Hardy Boys Mystery -- Dale C. Andrews rediscovers a lost first love.

Going to Great (or Short) Lengths -- Janice Law on the lengths to which authors will go.

Lessons Learned -- Jan Grape discusses putting your writing on automatic pilot.

Fatherlands -- David Edgerley Gates on alternate histories.

Wherefore Art -- Toe Hallock on the fascination of words.

Some General Thoughts on Character -- Brian Thornton tracks down an elusive (definition of) character.

Anybody Down Range? -- R.T. Lawton helps mystery writers handle firearms.


September

Regrets, I've Had a Few.... -- Brian Thornton on the secret character ingredient:  regret.

Suddenly, I Got a Buzz --
Robert Lopresti on words that need watching.

 Criminal Book Covers --
Leigh Lundin on book covers that should be covered.

28 January 2018

Who'd a Thought?


SOUTH DAKOTA - East River

It was Super Bowl Sunday 1980, when the bartender paged me to the phone. My boss was calling to let me know that a four-engine aircraft had come down in a wheat-stubble field just west of the Missouri River during the late afternoon. He then made a strong suggestion that I go to the scene.

SOUTH DAKOTA - West River

Just as the sun was peering over the horizon, I drove up out of a shallow ravine and there in the wheat-stubble field sat a four-engine aircraft with oil slicks from each engine dripping off the aft edge of both wings. The plane's fuselage was loaded with bales of marijuana, 26,000 pounds of the stuff.

As we later pieced it together, it seems that a group of entrepreneurs had purchased a couple of four-engine aircraft in Spain and had at least one of them flown to Panama where it was worked on. According to regulations, whenever a plane departed the airport in Panama, it was supposed to file a flight plan as to its destination, however there is an exception to that rule if the flight crew was merely going to take off, fly around to check out the maintenance work and then immediately land. So, that's what the aircrew told the tower they were going to do. They took off like they'd said, but then kept on going south, all the way to a clandestine airstrip in Colombia, an airstrip guarded by Colombian Army soldiers. Corruption at its finest.

The plane got loaded with pot bales and the aircrew was going through a pre-flight check list, when a jeep load of soldiers drove up and told the pilot to take off NOW. The pilot politely explained that it was too early to leave, that he had a certain two-hour window in which he was to take off in order to arrive at his destination at the correct time. At that point the conversation deteriorated.  The Colombian soldiers pointed their automatic weapons at the pilot and insisted it was time for him to depart their clandestine airstrip. Not having any weapons of his own, the pilot quickly cranked his engines and took off. The tenseness of this experience rattled the aircrew's nerves enough that shortly after wheels up on the landing gear, they commenced the consumption of rum.

Somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, the plane lost oil pressure. This necessitated the crew chief hooking up a 55-gallon barrel of oil and hand-pumping oil to each of the four engines. They entered U.S. airspace at the Texas border and allegedly flew north over Omaha, Nebraska, over SAC Headquarters without our Air Force scrambling fighter jets to intercept them. So much for our national border security in 1980.

Meanwhile, the ground crew, out of Minneapolis, was busy that late afternoon, laying out a landing strip in the wheat-stubble field with lights hooked up to car batteries, when they suddenly heard the approach of a large aircraft. They immediately got on their radio and told the airplane they had arrived too early and therefore were supposed to fly into North Dakota and return after dark before landing. However, the pilot having been threatened with automatic weapons, having consumed a quantity of rum for his nerves, and tired from having flown a leaky aircraft for several hours in air space he wasn't cleared to be in, made a heated reply, something to the extent of they were landing now, so get the hell out of the way. And, they did.

Airplane Number
South Dakota people are friendly folk and have a tendency to help people in distress, thus the ice fishermen on the Missouri River (America's true first line of national border defense) saw the airplane come down in the field, and in their concern for their fellow man, they immediately put down their fishing poles and drove over to assist these unfortunate souls downed in the middle of nowhere. Turned out, the aircrew members were not grateful for this offered assistance. The fishermen became suspicious and one brave guardian of America's borders let the air out of the plane's front tire, and state radio then got a call.

Now, the pilot, having been previously involved in these types of operations, had it in his contract that he would be driven to a motel to wait out the unloading process, after which he would be driven back to the wheat-stubble field and would then fly out the airplane. He never went back. Also, a fuel tanker and a flatbed semi with hay bales on the trailer were on a side road nearby to refuel the aircraft and offload the pot bales to then be concealed among the hay bales. They never got to perform their functions.

That's me in brown coveralls
and black wool watch cap
Back at the wheat-stubble field, seeing that all was not going according to plan, the ground crew scattered into the hills. Being city boys, they were not suitably prepared to spend the night in the great outdoors. By morning, most of them stumbled out as best they could to country roads. Cold, shivering, some with hay sticking out of their hair and clothes from burrowing into hay stacks to keep from freezing, these future felons begged to get arrested just to get warm again. For them, their grand pot plane adventure was over. Their court adventure was about to begin.

A few months later, DCI Agent Tommy Del Grosso and I flew down to Tampa, rented a car and drove over to a county jail where the pilot had taken up temporary residence. He agreed to talk to us if we'd take him out for a real meal. Guess he didn't care much for jail cuisine. Tommy and I signed him out in leg irons and took him to a local restaurant. When his meal came, I watched him pick up the salt shaker and pour it all over his salad. Having not seen this act before, I inquired as to what he was doing. His explanation was that it was terribly hot in that Florida jail, no air-conditioning for the summer heat, therefore the inmates sweated a lot and the jailers did not provide any salt or salt tablets, so he was taking this opportunity to load up. We got a lot of details from him on the smuggling operation, so he was worth the price of a meal and an empty salt shaker.

In the end, we had an airplane from Spain, flown out of Panama by an aircrew from Florida and loaded with marijuana from Colombia. The ground crew, fuel tanker and flatbed semi came from Minnesota, The wheat-stubble field was scouted out by a local boy from West River. A group of Eskimos from Alaska helped fund this pot plane endeavor, and if all had gone well, then three more smuggling flights were planned.

It was several years later, when I learned from another source that one of the higher up pot plane conspirators, that we didn't know about at the time, who was from the Dutch Antilles, took a long walk off one of the upper floors of a high rise in Singapore. The rumor in the drug world at the time was that someone in upper management wanted to ensure that his own name never got mentioned for some of their clandestine marijuana deals.

In retrospect, will we ever win this war on drugs? Probably not, but then most of us working agents figured the best we could do on the streets was to try to keep the lid on the garbage can.

                                                                           #

On September 30, 2017, my old boss and I took a road trip to Pierre, South Dakota, to attend the first and only Pot Plane Reunion. I got to meet and shake hands with the now 98 year old rancher/ice fisherman who let the air out of the plane's front tire. Also listened to the defense attorney who represented the pilot from Florida all those years ago. Unfortunately, too many law enforcement and others who had participated in the case had already passed on and there was one more of us who probably wouldn't make it to January in order to have the reunion on the actual anniversary date.

South Dakota. Super Bowl Sunday. A wheat-stubble field. Who'd a thought?

24 September 2020

A Little Touch of Manslaughter


As you may or may not have heard, South Dakota has hit the national news a lot lately. 

  • Governor Kristi Noem has been talking regularly on Fox News, promoting South Dakota's freedoms, and is currently traveling around the upper Midwest to campaign for Trump.  (Fox News)
  • She has also been spending CARES money on ads around the country urging people to move to South Dakota, where "we respect your freedoms" and "We're open for business!"  (AP News)
  • We hosted the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August, where 460,000+ bikers came to a town of 7,000 and held one hell of a week-long party. The national COVID-19 repercussions are debated (Politifact) but I can tell you it's a fact that Meade County (Sturgis) went from 71 cases before Sturgis to 487 and counting (that's 1 out of every 14), and most of the other West River counties show large spikes as well.  (Pennington County - Rapid City, etc. - went from 942 cases to 2,091.)
  • We hosted the Sanford International golf tournament in Sioux Falls September 7-13th, which was the first golf tournament to allow spectators, and we can hardly WAIT until the COVID-19 figures come out from that.  (Argus Leader)  
  • As a result of all this stuff, South Dakota is in the top ten, and may still be the #1 hotspot for COVID-19 in the country for a couple of weeks now, thanks to a 10%+ positivity rate.  A popular response to Gov. Noem's "We're open for business!" ad slogan is, "And we're wide open for COVID!"  (Argus Leader) (NYTimes)
  • And, most recently, our Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg drove home from a GOP political event in Redfield, SD, and hit and killed a man walking along the shoulder of Highway 14, just west of Highmore, SD around 10:30 PM on Saturday, September 12th.  (NYTimes)


From the beginning, AG Ravnsborg has said that he thought he hit a deer.  This has been met with considerable skepticism and some derision here in the Mount Rushmore State, because everybody in SD has either missed or hit a deer at some point in their driving lives.  When we first moved up here, we asked why collision insurance was so expensive and mandatory - since we do have a low population / population density - and were told it was because of the deer.  We have a lot of deer.  


And to be purely informative, I must tell you that humans do not look like deer.  For one thing, we have fewer legs.  We also wear clothing, walk upright, and have arms that flail a lot as we soar through the air.  


Despite an on-going investigation, shrouded in secrecy for almost two weeks now, AG Ravnsborg put out a two-page statement (via his campaign office, on his official Attorney General letterhead, two days after the accident) about what happened. Since my fellow blogger Cory Heidelberger has posted, analyzed and summarized this and other aspects of the case, please check out his blog HERE. The following quotes, etc., are from Cory: 


Ravnsborg apparently views “ongoing investigation” as a conditional excuse for silence: he refuses to answer questions from the media out of “respect” for the “process” and a his desire to let investigators do their work “without any interference or appearance of impropriety on my part.” Yet he feels arguing his case in public, without cross-examination, does not interfere with the investigation at all.

Ravnsborg says he had drunk no alcohol Saturday night.

Ravnsborg fudges his story a bit, saying now that he initially thought the man he hit was “a large animal (likely a deer)”.

Note also the grammatical distancing: Ravnsborg says, “My vehicle struck something….” Making the subject of that sentence “my vehicle” instead of “I” is like saying “My firearm shot something” or “My pen wrote something.”

Ravnsborg says he stopped, called 9-1-1 immediately, and investigated the scene with Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek. He and the sheriff saw no sign of the large animal they were looking for.

Ravnsborg reports his car was too damaged to drive safely. That level of damage suggests Ravnsborg was moving at a pretty good clip coming out of Highmore.

Ravnsborg says Sheriff Volek, who lives near the accident site, loaned him his personal vehicle to go back to Pierre. Ravnsborg brought the car back in the morning with his chief of staff and spokesman, Tim Bormann, to drive him back.

Ravnsborg says he and Bormann stopped at the accident site on the way to Sheriff Volek’s house. The debris from Ravnsborg’s car was still on the road. Ravnsborg and Bormann walked the shoulder and “discovered the body of Mr. Boever in the grass just off the roadway. My chief of staff and I checked and it was apparent that Mr. Boever was deceased.”

“Just off the roadway”—that’s a key detail. The victim was not thrown far away from the road into the beanfield. The grass in the ditch was not high: Boever had hit a hay bale in that ditch with his truck earlier Saturday; a KSFY photo also shows a bale in the ditch, indicating the ditch had been recently mowed. The body does not seem to have been hidden by vegetation.

Ravnsborg drove to Sheriff Volek’s house immediately to tell him they’d found a dead man. The Sheriff came back to the site with Ravnsborg and asked him to go back to Pierre.

An investigation suddenly graduates from car-deer accident to human fatality, and the sheriff on the scene tells the suspect apparently responsible for the death to leave the county?

Interesting... Very interesting... But coming from the state that has given us two big juicy scandals (EB-5 and GearUp!), well, anything's possible.

Meanwhile, KELO-TV has a photo of the car Ravnsborg was driving (Kelo-TV). The windshield is almost gone on the passenger side.

Meanwhile, of course some people are already blaming the victim for taking a walk at night on a rural road.  (See Here)  (The writer of this is a GOP State Legislator.  Politics is EVERYWHERE.)  
My response:  Why Boever took a walk is totally irrelevant. The last I heard, this is South Dakota, in the United States of America, and each and every one of us have the right to take a walk whenever and wherever we want as long as we're not trespassing. Unlit, rural highways are a really excellent place to see the stars, for one thing. For another, he might well have wanted to get something he forgot out of his truck. And finally, his mental condition, history of alcoholism, or anything else is irrelevant. He was the victim, not the driver. It is the driver's responsibility to explain why he hit and killed a human being. QUIT BLAMING THE VICTIM. Someday it might be your cousin lying by the side of a road, dead, while someone else says, "well, what were they wearing?" 


Meanwhile, this is the victim's cousin (SD State Legislator Nick Nemec) on going to the accident scene (KELO):

At the time the brakes were applied (clearly visible due to tire skid marks) the right hand tires of the car were well onto the shoulder of the road. This stretch of US14 has wide paved shoulders with rumble strips at the white line.

I stepped off the tire skid marks and they went on for over 200 feet before there were two parallel blood skid marks on the paved shoulder. This first blood marks were about 6″ wide and 6′-8′ long.

There was then a skip for about 20 feet before a wider blood skid mark closer to the edge of the shoulder that was about 1′ wide and 20′ long. There was then another skip of about 20′ until a dried pool of blood in the grass on the edge of the road. 

The pool of blood was 2′ from the edge of the pavement (I measured with a tape measure) the grass here had been mowed late this summer and had regrown to 8″ tall (I measured it). This was the very edge of the grass and the ground was nearly level with the shoulder of the road at this point, the ditch slope had not really begun yet. Black flies were buzzing in the air just above the blood pool.

As I stood there a flatbed truck drove by carrying a red Ford Taurus with a huge hole in the passenger side of the windshield. The truck turned into the SD DOT yard near the speed limit sign and drove into the shop and the overhead door quickly closed. Highway patrolmen and other authority figures immediately surrounded my vehicle as I drove up to the building and parked. I requested permission to photograph the windshield of the vehicle and was denied...

I saw traffic cones marking stuff and new paint marks of a different color on the road. I don’t know how long the road was reduced to one lane but a friend told my brother Victor that FBI agents were seen on the scene later that afternoon.” 

I will, at this point, allow you all to consider all the clues that are given as to what happened and make your own pre-investigation report conclusions.  Personally, my view is that - with his consistent statement that he thought he hit a deer, and the body was not discovered until the next day - there is no way that AG Ravsnborg could have been looking at the road at the time of impact.  Texting?  Nodding off?  Distracted by something else?  

Updates will follow as they're released from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry and act like Goodfellas.  And sometimes we just BS all over the place.  




11 March 2021

Notes from the Culture Wars: Heartland Edition


1 - Nomadland

Of course I watched Nomadland on Hulu.  Beautiful, and yes, I've been everywhere in South Dakota that they filmed. My favorite park is the Badlands and always has been. (But, while Wall Drug has the best maple donuts in the country, it is never, ever, ever that empty of people.)

Nomadland

At the same time, I found the movie depressing, and not just because of the economic fact that there are lots of people who cannot earn enough working full time to live on, nor have enough retirement from working full time to live on. I already knew that. There are people who work full time in every major city in America who can't afford an apartment. It is a scandal, a shame, a horror, and something should damn well be done about it.

But you know, the battening of the rich upon the poor has been going on for millenia. What really bothered me was the social isolation.  Everyone wandering around on their own, meeting at the various job sites around the country, gathering at the places out in the desert, etc., where they can live off the grid, but separate mentally, separate emotionally, separate financially.  A fierce independence and determination to not be "beholden" in any way.  A toxic independence, in my book.

Now I'm not talking about the people who love travel, and are in perfect health. And perhaps that was Fran.  But most people would like to settle down and stay put, especially as they get old and creaky.  And the only way you do that is by banding together. That's how the poor have survived the predation of the rich for millenia. That's how I survived 2 years on the streets of L.A. That's how the peasants survived Calvera's constant depredations in The Magnificent Seven.  That's how [almost] everyone lived through The Grapes of Wrath, Cross Creek, and the entire Jim Crow South.

At one point in the movie a few people mentioned that they couldn't actually live on their retirement (me, too).  And the obvious answer is - live together!  Whether you want to call it a boarding house, a commune, or a house sharing, a bunch of people can rent (or even buy) a place and all have their own room, share the facilities, the rent, the chores and the expenses of life a lot easier than one lone widow /widower can do it all themselves.  Dickens is full of boarding houses.  In It's a Wonderful Life, after George has wished himself out of existence, he finds a world where his mother is running a boarding house.  I've lived in 2 communes in my day, one in L.A. and the other in Atlanta.  I still think it's a damn good way to live.  And I know I'd prefer it any day than living in Nomadland.  

2 - State of South Dakota v. AG Jason Ravnsborg

On February 23, Governor Kristi Noem released videos of Ravnsborg's two interviews with law enforcement late Tuesday. I think the highlight that sickened entire state was this:

An investigator asks Ravnsborg how he retrieved his insurance card, which was in the glovebox. Ravnsborg describes leaning in from the driver seat, trying to avoid glass in the passenger seat. He denies seeing a pair of glasses. “They’re Joe’s glasses,” an investigator says. “So that means his face came through your windshield.”  (Argus Leader)

And he repeated - again - “I never saw him.  I never saw him.”  

Anyway, the Governor and practically the entire state is calling on Ravnsborg to resign, and the SD Legislature said they'd impeach him.  But then the legislature decided to postpone any impeachment proceedings until after Ravnsborg goes to court over his 3 misdemeanor charges.  Gov. Noem - who obviously wants Ravnsborg GONE - weighed in today, saying they don't need a special session for it, and don't have to wait.  (Argus Leader)  Obviously Gov. Noem wants him gone - the only speculation is why.  What surprises me is that Ravnsborg hasn't grasped yet that if he is impeached he'll lose his law license.  We'll see what happens.  

3 - South Dakota Legislature, Where Bad Bills Never Die

Every legislature has its quirks. We have a little feature called "smoke out", which allows legislators to force committees to deliver failed bills to the chamber floor if they can secure the support of 1/3 of the chamber’s members.  And of course it's just been used for three of the damnedest bills:

HB 1212, which says, in part, “A person who unlawfully enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.” So much for innocent until proven guilty.  It's also, basically, a "stand your ground" law, because if you think they're doing something unlawful - you can shoot them and claim immunity.  NOW ON THE GOVERNOR'S DESK FOR SIGNATURE!!!

HB 1075, which says “Any federal statute, federal regulation, or executive order of the President of the United States, and any order of a federal or state court is null, void, and unenforceable in this state if the purpose or intent is to impose or enforce, against a resident of this state, an extreme risk protection order, including such an ex parte order, under which the resident, in order to reduce the risk of physical harm to himself, herself, or another, is: (1) Required to surrender any firearms or ammunition in his or her possession; or (2) Prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm or ammunition.”  Because God knows that owning a gun matters more than the health and safety of anyone around the person, even if they are so freaking dangerous the whole town avoids them and a judge has declared them a threat to themselves and others.  This one FAILED, thank God.

HB 1217 which seeks to ban transgender girls from participating in high school sports, and would require student athletes to fill out a form each year, proving biological sex from a birth certificate.  NOT ONLY PASSED BUT SIGNED BY THE GOVERNOR, SO...

4 - Speaking of the Transgender Culture Wars, Here's My Take:

As many of you know, I once worked for Medical Genetics at Emory University, where, among other tests, we did sex tests on newborns. One of my regular jobs was to sort out the chromosomes (from a photo taken on an electron microscope) to determine what the sex of a baby or child was, because the physical genitalia were anything from unclear to deformed to nonexistent. 

IMPORTANT NOTE:  One out of every thousand children is born with "indeterminate genitalia". 
The doctors, nurses, and parents literally could not tell, looking at the baby/child, what sex it was. In the past - and apparently it still happens today - they would simply assign "sex" according to their own preference - and a lot of times they were wrong:

Two examples of wrong assignment are Mokgadi Caster Semenya, a South African runner, who was assigned female at birth (b. 1991), but has either XXY or XY chromosomes, and Foekje Dillema (1926-2007), a Dutch runner, who was assigned female at birth, but after her death was determined to be a "mosaic", or a "46XX/46XY woman."  Both were raised as girls.  So which, my dear culture warriors, should everyone go by - what was/is on her birth certificate, or the genetics?  Or is it her own damn business?

SECOND IMPORTANT NOTE:  Conservatives (?) keep trying to say that sex chromosome abnormalities are very rare.  WRONG.  Actually, sex chromosome abnormalities are the most common there are because they are rarely lethal (unlike many other chromosomal abnormalities).  And the variations of genetic results can range from the normal XX or XY to XXX, XYY, XXY, as well as mosaics, and many many more. Nature is not "always right" or "always perfect".

For example: "Klinefelter syndrome has been reported to be between 1 in 500 and 1 in 1000 male births." (That's XXY or XXXY or a mosaic.) "In severe cases, they have relatively high-pitched voices, asexual to feminine body contours as well as breast enlargement, and comparatively little facial and body hair. They are sterile or nearly so, and their testes and prostate gland are small. As a result, they produce relatively small amounts of testosterone. The feminizing effects of this hormonal imbalance can be significantly diminished if Klinefelter syndrome boys are regularly given testosterone from the age of puberty on." These are very apt to be confused as girls at birth, unless sex tested, which may or may not happen. And they may very well "feel" that they are girls.  And without a lot of testosterone, they will be girls.  (Palomar Article)

And then there's the Guevedoces, a classic study which I read for the first time back on the job at Emory, about a community in the Dominican Republic, where some males are born looking like girls, are raised as girls, and only grow penises at puberty, at which time they become male.  Yes, you read that right.

"When you are conceived you normally have a pair of X chromosomes if you are to become a girl and a set of XY chromosomes if you are destined to be male. For the first weeks of life in womb you are neither, though in both sexes nipples start to grow.
Then, around eight weeks after conception, the sex hormones kick in. If you're genetically male the Y chromosome instructs your gonads to become testicles and sends testosterone to a structure called the tubercle, where it is converted into a more potent hormone called dihydro-testosterone This in turn transforms the tubercle into a penis. If you're female and you don't make dihydro-testosterone then your tubercle becomes a clitoris.
When Imperato-McGinley investigated the Guevedoces she discovered the reason they don't have male genitalia when they are born is because they are deficient in an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase, which normally converts testosterone into dihydro-testosterone.
This deficiency seems to be a genetic condition, quite common in this part of the Dominican Republic, but vanishingly rare elsewhere. So the boys, despite having an XY chromosome, appear female when they are born. At puberty, like other boys, they get a second surge of testosterone. This time the body does respond and they sprout muscles, testes and a penis."
(BBC

BTW - it doesn't just happen in the Dominican Republic; it's also been found in Papua New Guinea and Turkey.  And probably elsewhere, just not reported.  Or believed.  



26 July 2020

With Social Media the Past is never Far Away



A few years ago, on this same blog site, I posted an article which briefly touched on losing a friend of mine by the name of Tom Whitehead. Tom and I had run together during our high school and early college years in Wichita, Kansas. After a couple of years of college, Tom joined the Army. He went to the 25th Infantry near Cu Chi several months before I went to the 1st Air Cav at Ankhe up in the Central Highlands during the Summer of '67. Before I rotated home in mid-'68, I heard from friends that Tom got caught in a mortar attack, came home as a statistic and was buried in Oklahoma. Like I said at the beginning of this paragraph, I had briefly mentioned Tom in a SleuthSayer's blog article. Shortly afterwards, I received a surprise e-mail in response to that mention.

It seems that Tom had a half-brother in Texas and this half-brother was reaching out to me to learn more about the relative he had never met and knew very little about. I gathered photos and information about Tom from friends we had in common and e-mailed these items to Tom's half-brother in Texas to help him fill in the gap he had in his family tree.

At the end, I was surprised at how easily the past could reach out through the ether and touch the present. And now, it's happened again.

A few days ago, I received an e-male from a female I did not know. Her e-mail had been directed through my author website, which told me she did not have either of my direct e-mail addresses. In her e-mail, she told me that she had been going through her father's belongings and had found my old (DEA) business card. She was hoping to learn more about her father and implied that I knew what had happened to him. From her words, I was fairly sure her dad was deceased, but not only did I not know him from his name, I also had no idea what had happened to him.

With luck and a calculated internet search, I learned her father had been a police officer in a western Nebraska town near the South Dakota border and that he had died (a one-line obit) in July 1992 at the age of 32. No other details seemed to be available about his death. I had made a fair-sized cocaine case in that border town during the late 80's/early 90's, but I did not recall meeting the man, nor giving him my business card. I subsequently provided her with the skimpy information I had and then asked a few questions in return.

In her reply e-mails, I learned that her father had gone to work as an undercover operative in central South Dakota to buy drugs on and off the Indian reservation. The day he was to come out of the cold and meet with his handlers in a specific South Dakota city, he was found dead in a small Nebraska border town. Allegedly, he had committed suicide. Also allegedly, there were inconsistencies in the reports.

Three things came to my mind. First, small Midwest towns usually don't have the best forensics and their county coroners may not have any training for their position. Situations are often taken at face value. Second, the undercover game is a tough mental and emotional stretch. Not everyone is suited to the tension of being in a deep cover situation where backup can't get to you in time if circumstances suddenly go south. Maintaining cover as a different personality can be nerve-racking when the other side has guns, but no rules to restrict them. And third, when an operation goes bad, people start distancing themselves, especially those career officials striving to climb the promotion ladder. Take your pick.

Turned out, according to the daughter, that her father was working with the FBI and a regional drug task force to buy drugs and get evidence on some corrupt officials. That was a time period when the FBI had decided they had concurrent jurisdiction on drug cases. Naturally, they did not tell us about their operations. As a matter of fact, they kept the information so tight, that even though it occurred in the eastern part of my territory and just over the river from my first line supervisor's territory, neither one of us heard even a whisper about it when the operation was ongoing, or afterwards, until the daughter e-mailed me. I still don't know how her dad got my business card.

They say the past is history. In truth, it is often seen in terms of dust and death. But, in those times when the past squeezes through the ether to peer over your shoulder and raises the short hairs on the back of your neck, that's not dust reaching out to touch you.