Wednesday, May 12, 2021

A plague of bandits

 Stanley – Thursday


All of us associated with the Murder is Everywhere blog are intrigued by mysteries. We devour books, movies, and TV series, pitting our wits against those of the protagonist. We always hope to see past the red herrings, devious plot twists, and misdirections to reveal the baddie before the protagonist does.


Despite years of practice, there is a mystery that I have never solved, actually two related mysteries.


We are all familiar with the term one-armed bandit, which is a name given to those infernal machines in casinos that take your money and tempt you with spinning wheels that almost land up in the correct sequence, but rarely do.


Since I’ve spent most of the past fifteen years or so in a perpetual summer, I had forgotten about another one-armed bandit. 

I spent most of the northern 2020/2021 winter in – ugh – the northern winter, either in Denmark or Minneapolis, which brought the memories flooding back. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been walking along when I’ve stumbled on a solitary glove.

Lonely glove


Never two gloves! 


I mean when I’ve lost gloves, I’ve lost both. Not just one. So obviously the solitary glove must be the discard from a stolen pair.


It seems such a waste, if I were a one-armed bandit, let’s say with a right arm, I would never throw away the left glove. I would give it to a friend with no right arm. It is obviously the correct and environmentally friendly thing to do: I get my glove, my friend gets his, and only one person has their gloves stolen.

More puzzling is the case of the one-legged bandit. It is relatively easy to steal a glove without the owner knowing, and it’s easy for the victim to go home without the embarrassment of others knowing of the crime  – but stealing a shoe? That takes a great deal of skill, especially if it’s a lace-up. I’ve pondered the technique a lot, but am still mystified. I would have to be completely immersed in writing a tense scene or eating some fine sushi not to notice someone stealing one or both of my shoes. And generally it would be both shoes, because how often have you seen someone walking along with only one?


How do the bandits do it?


And again, I’m disappointed that the perpetrator doesn’t exhibit some decency by donating the other shoe to a friend in need.


Most puzzling, though, are the skills of the one-legged bandits who steal socks. They accomplish this through the agency of an inanimate third party. I can’t believe there’s a reader of this blog, or of any other blog, who hasn’t lost a sock in the wash.


When I was young, and clothes were washed by hand, I never lost a sock. Never. It’s only when I started using washers and dryers – the bandits’ suspected accomplices – that socks started to disappear. Never both. Always only one. It doesn’t make sense.


Recently I was delayed in returning to Denmark from Minneapolis by a month, so I had to pay close attention to my clothing, particularly my hiking socks as I only had two pairs, and I was walking a lot. I was particularly careful to check that the correct number of socks was transferred from my washing basket to the washing machine, and then from the washing machine to the dryer. So I came to believe that the washing machine wasn’t an accomplice.


However on two occasions, one of my hiking socks failed to appear after being dried, even though I spun the drum through 720° and stuck my hand into every nook and cranny of the dryer. And these socks were not teeny-weeny, hard-to-see socks. They were big and heavy. 

Fortunately, I don’t really care about how I look when I walk in Minneapolis, so walking with one heavy brown sock and one heavy blue sock didn’t bother me.

Fashionable hiking

What does bother me is how those darned one-legged bandits pulled off the heist.


I consulted Michael about the situation, only to find that there was a South African chapter of one-legged bandits. He, too, was losing socks, one at a time. Michael’s hypothesis was that the bandits didn’t sneak in and open the dryer door while the socks were tumbling, but rather they collaborated with some unknown part of the dryer that ingests socks, one at a time. Then, when he’d finished the dry cycle and had left despondent because of a lost sock, the bandits would sneak in and retrieve the one they’d stolen.


At first, I didn’t like Michael’s hypothesis, because there was no evidence of the bandits coming just after the dry-cycle ended. However, when he pointed out that if the bandits didn’t come frequently, the ingestor could reach capacity and would then explode when the next sock appeared, I began to change my mind because I’d never seen an exploded dryer.


The whole episode got me thinking about water going down drains in the northern and southern hemispheres – you know, the counter-clockwise vs clockwise theory due to the Coriolis effect.


I started wondering whether there was any difference in the frequency with which left-foot socks disappeared in the northern hemisphere vs the southern. There must be at least a Master’s thesis in there somewhere.


Anyway, now I'm in design-conscious Denmark, I'm definitely more self-conscious about hiking with mismatched socks. So, if any of you has a heavy, brown hiking sock (left) or a heavy, blue hiking sock (also left) that you're willing to part with, please let me know. 

Lonely BS (right) seeks BS (left)


(I borrowed this from my website blog on Mother's Day. Let's make this Mother's Week.) 

Mother's Day is a celebration of our mothers, motherhood, and the maternal bonds that form us from conception really. We have Anna Maria Jarvis to thank for this particular occasion. Jarvis founded the day in remembrance of her mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis. The senior Jarvis had been an activist of sorts who organized Mothers' Day work clubs to improve sanitation and fight against high infant mortality.

Black and white image of Anna Jarvis, founder of Mothers' Day
Anna Maria Jarvis (Image Wikipedia/Olairian)

Later on in her life, Anna Jarvis came to regret the commercialization of Mothers' Day. Indeed, in pre-Covid times at least, Mothers' Day is the busiest time for restaurants, not to mention flowers, cards, and chocolates, of which Jarvis took a very dim view.

Myself, when my late mother was alive, I tried to come up with a Mother's Day gift that was different from the customary fare. Since Mom had a green thumb (she could make a pebble sprout leaves), I sometimes got her an interesting plant like a rare cactus, or a unique Bonsai Tree. Another idea was to come up with a gadget she did not have, which was tough, because she was a master of gadgets. She didn't just find them in the craziest of stores or catalogs, she made some of them herself.

As detailed in  another blog, while my three brothers and I spent our summer vacations in the US, we grew up in Ghana on the University of Ghana (UG) campus, where my mother and father were lecturers in Sociology/Social Work and African Studies/Journalism respectively. My father was ultra busy juggling multiple work-related projects, while my mother balanced work and home life much more effectively. I'm sure that's often the case in many households. As kids, we took Mom's efficiency for granted. As adults, we look back in admiration at her deft time management. My mother brought up four boys while working full time as a lecturer, and did it all with grace and equanimity. I could be misremembering slightly, but somehow she always showed up on time to pick us up from school or sports (Dad was a different matter altogether.)

Mom was an amateur Thespian and a superb cook and baker--anything from okro (okra) stew to chicken paprika to the only carrot cake I ever eat. She held large dinner parties and somehow made it look all so easy. The art of entertaining is to appear unflustered while chaos reigns in the kitchen. 

The collapse of political and economic systems in Ghana as well as my father's death from pancreatic cancer are the major factors that brought my mother back to the US along with her four boys at different points. As I was getting admitted to Howard University College of Medicine, my mother was making her own transition to working as a social worker with the City of New York. Always adaptable and very smart.
In both my reading and writing life as a little boy, I always had Mom's support. She encouraged me to enter writing contests. She often brought home suggested reading from the library or a bookstore: "I saw this and thought you might like it," was the affirming message.

Mom had a great and full life, which came to a peaceful end on June 15, 2020. Covid-19 never got to her, by the way. Her female immune system probably indignantly kicked out the virus, who, I can assure you, is male.

Kwei Quartey and his mother at a park
Mom & Me, June 2019, Maryland

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

 Maybe it's due to the pandemic that I've been paying more attention to the newsfeeds about discovered treasure. And 'Nazi Gold'. Is it me or do these words, which pack a punch alone, do even more together? In Paris treasures are discovered in walls, under floorboards, old cafes and cellars.

In my book, Murder on the Quai, the underlying plotline dealt with WW2 gold bars the Germans sent to Portugal for needed Tungsten. True fact. But I fictionalized what could and might have happened as the gold train hurtled through France during a storm.  I though I'd got all that treasure hunting out of my system.  Yet, treasure pops up all the time. In my news feed anyway. In France 24 an article reported:

 An owner, a woman in her 50s, inherited an upscale apartment from her mother this year in Paris. She approached a real estate agent for a valuation of the property. When the agent arrived to inspect the cellar, they found it locked. After failing to track down the person who had taken over the cellar, the flat owner called out a locksmith, opened it and found the cash laden suitcase. 

Just last month it was reported in the Jura region near the Swiss Alps of a 2020 discovery. Gold coins and bars. Here's the story taken from the Guardian with a happy ending: These gold bars and golden coins were the second discovery made at the house by the Mairie of Morez. The property had previously belonged to a line of rich merchants whose last two descendants had no children. The person who then inherited the unoccupied property sold it to the mairie for €130,000, as it was said to be "full of junk" and they preferred not to deal with it. The mairie was clearing out the house as part of an urban renewal campaign when it made the golden discoveries. Gold was discovered last year, with five gold bars and more than 1,000 20 franc coins estimated to be worth €500,000, found in jam jars. The mairie is now likely to use this unexpected money to reinvest back into the town’s development.

The Nazi gold train or Wałbrzych gold train is an urban legend about a train laden with gold and treasure that was hidden by the Nazis in southwest Poland during the last days of World War II. Supposedly rumored to be sunk or hauled into tunnels under this castle. 

To me, the smartest treasury discovery was in Charade, the amazing classic film. There's so many reasons to watch: Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy, Cary Grant being Cary Grant, set in Paris, a shoot out in the Palais Royal, and Nazi treasure. What's not to like? 
Well, the bonus is the plot's ingenious - fictional -and it's based on Peter Stone's novel. Don't read anymore if you haven't seen the film yet or want to re-watch. The treasure was in front of us the whole time. That's totally ingenious.

SPOILER ALERT Basically the CIA knows that in 1944, five members of the Office of Strategic Services were ordered to go behind German lines and deliver $250,000 in gold to the French Résistance. Instead of delivering the gold, they buried it, intending to report that the Germans had captured it. But on their way back to base, a German war patrol ambushed them. Now after the war they're back to find it. 

Happy Treasure hunting Tuesday,


Monday, May 10, 2021

Egrets, I Have a Few

 Annamaria on Monday

Birds are Everywhere. too.  Pretty much.

This past Saturday was International Migratory Bird Day.  Since NYC is on the flyway of many species, the day was marked big time by birdwatching clubs in our parks and on our waterfronts.

Now, I am declaring today International Migratory Birdlovers Day on MIE. in this case, it's the watchers not the birds that ordinarily travel vast distances.  

South America

I had always noticed and enjoyed birds.  My father took us kids, when we were little, to see the snow geese when they were stopping by on their way to Canada.  But then a week in Galapagos in 1991 honed my interest to keen.

I loved watching the boobies fish.  They flew circled over the
water in a tight squadrons of forty or fifty.  Then,
 suddenly, one would peel off and dive.  Then three
 or four.  Then wham!  They were all hitting the water.  

Since then, I have enjoyed photographing birds on four other continents.




This was the BEST!  But then again, several of these photos were taken on game drives with the Lords of the Wings--Michael and Stan.

New York

Even here at home, from my bedroom window, I have seen red-tail hawks circling above--gorgeous to behold but impossible to photograph. 

Here's a mourning dove, whose call is often my wakeup call.

And I caught these two good old typical New Yorkers falling in love.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

What the World Thinks of US



With all the world embattled in pandemic crises, and so much of the United States population lost to Alice in Wonderland tea party thinking, I thought I might be interesting to write about how the world now perceives US to be.

So, I began reading through foreign news articles, hoping to pick up on the pulse of foreign attitudes, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but an opinion piece published a week ago in, Greece’s newspaper of record, Kathimerini.  It succinctly set out the writer’s opinion on the state of the US today.

The article is titled, “A paradigm shift in the making,” and its author, George Pagoulatos, is a professor of European Politics and Economy at the Athens University of Economics and Business, and a visiting professor at the College of Europe in Bruges. He is also the Director General of the Athens-based Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, and sits on the Governing Board of the Brussels-based European Policy Centre. 

 Here is Professor Pagoulatos’ opinion set out in haec verba. It is one I think you’ll find interesting regardless of your political bent.

Every 30 to 40 years, the pendulum that defines the balance between the state and the market will start to swing in one direction or the other, starting in the US. Under President Joe Biden, the US is currently experiencing its largest shift in recent decades toward state intervention.

The New Deal policies of the 1930s shaped much of the modern state in the US (FDIC, SEC, Social Security etc). In 1964-65, Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” led to the last major increase in social programs and funding (Medicare, Medicaid), the cost of which was added to the large budget deficits stemming from a catastrophic war in Vietnam.

In 1980, the reverse process of reducing state intervention began with Ronald Reagan’s “conservative [or neoliberal by European terminology] revolution,” which marked the start of an era of suppressed social and investment spending in the US. From 4% in 1967, taxation on corporate profits as a share of GDP has remained below the OECD average since 1980, and collapsed from 2% to 1% of GDP under Trump.

Interestingly, the biggest shift of the American pendulum toward liberal – in the American sense – policies has been led by an elderly president who has spent his long political life in the moderate center.

This also indicates the pragmatic rather than ideological nature of this shift, in response to the urgent necessities facing America; to defuse the division and polarization and bridge the huge income inequalities of the last four decades; to stimulate with investment areas that are falling into decline and poverty; to reintegrate the radicalized blacks and marginalized, low-educated whites whose social subsidence has left them susceptible to the demagoguery of Trumpism; to allow the US to regain its global leadership role in digital technology, challenged by China’s dynamic advances in artificial intelligence; to return America to a leadership role in the green transformation of the economy, responding to a long-standing demand of its allies; and, finally, to strengthen the health system and protect lower-income groups from the largest pandemic of the last 100 years.

To do all this, Biden has adopted the heaviest spending programs since the days of Lyndon Johnson, with a plan to increase the tax rate for businesses and higher-income groups, bringing them close not to the levels of the 1960s (when the top rate reached 90%), but to modern European levels. In a momentous initiative, as announced by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the US will support the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in its efforts to establish a uniform minimum corporate tax rate of 21%.

That would allow the US and European governments to raise revenue from large multinationals, such as digital technology companies, which have exploited global tax competition to the extent that some pay no taxes at all.

These are developments of momentous implications for Europe and for Greece. The US is converging toward a “European” model of public spending and progressive taxation. For Greece, in particular, whose level of public debt precludes the possibility of a radical reduction in tax rates, the Biden initiative to establish an international minimum corporate tax rate could reduce the competitive pressure from countries with very low tax rates.

The European Union’s efforts to coordinate taxation weakens the negotiating position of tax havens such as Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and countries in Eastern Europe. It also puts pressure on Europe to implement a still more generous public investment program in the wake of its major recovery package, which now pales in comparison with Biden’s 2.8 trillion USD (to which another 2.2 trillion USD for the next eight years should be added).

An exciting footnote of this historical shift is the story of a grassroots movement launched by a courageous African-American woman. When Stacey Abrams lost the gubernatorial elections in Georgia, she started a massive door-to-door campaign to mobilize thousands of black voters to register to vote. Georgia is a conservative white state with a high concentration of blacks in Atlanta.

The great mobilization of black voters allowed Georgia to replace its two Republicans with two Democratic senators in the November 2020 elections, one of them African American. Thanks to them, the Democrats leveled out the Senate (50–50), giving Vice President Kamala Harris the casting vote. Without this narrow majority, President Biden would have been unable to get anything meaningful through Congress.

Of course, it is too early for statements of account. The overall impact of Biden’s initiatives on the economy remains to be seen. But if anyone tells you citizens’ votes don’t count, tell them about Georgia.


PS.  A Big Happy Birthday to my Beautiful Granddaughter Gavi.

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Bouchercon Memoir Part One


For various reasons, like the house falling down, I am packing stuff into boxes and  shuffling the boxes around as the builders make their way from one disaster zone to another. For the last  10 years, a visit to my fridge has necessitated a  walk on a plank as the kitchen has no floor. Some vagrant who goes by the name Zoe Sharp once visited for a overnighty, expecting bed and breakfast. She got a curry for her tea at a wee curry house and no breakfast, as we have no ‘kitchen’ in the normal usage of that word.


                                                    I have no recall of writing this. Honestly.


I view this as part of my wild and crazy writer's lifestyle. ( I have a lifestyle now. Before that it was a survival plan.)

The packing up has  meant going through old notebooks. I realised I had seven notebooks on the go for current issues and have just typed out all the lists under the correct categories. The document was ten thousand words long - no wonder my head felt like it was exploding, carrying all that information/nonsense/murder plots around.   The notebooks make for scary reading. I don’t use public transport as I would be arrested if anybody looked over my shoulder and read what I was writing.

Phone dentist.

Put mathilda in a cage

Kill the blonde in the hut, The DNA of the paramedic will be smeared in her  face.

Buy beans.

Push Kerr off the Connell Bridge


                  Anatomically correct and precise forensic image of somebody being hit on the head.


I also found the notes that I made during a Bouchercon. I'm not saying which Bouchercon  and I'm not saying which MIE blogger was sitting beside me. They did comment on the blood red colour of ink in my fountain pen.  Then they moved one seat away. If they wish to make themselves known, they can. If not, they can pay me for my silence.

The panel was called, "how to reboot your career; 6 losers and a cowboy hat".

 I have no idea why I have written down what I did but here it is. Make sense of it if you can…

Re-imagine your future; Shakespeare  wrote a whole load of different things. She (name's hidden to protect the guilty) auditioned (?) for a cosy. Got the gig and that was her career. She then self published mystery and her second career took off.

Eg faith based books- how to drag your readers along  on your mystery fiction journey. Christian books – like being married to one man- there’s only one way to do it. They have 40 books, all co-authored. So to reboot yourself as a writer – there are 6 ways to kiss, 7 ways to die.

Lee Goldberg ( monk, diagnosis murder) commented that he has never written Christian fiction but  will do so by the end of the day. He advises to write what you write – follow your own fashion but keep an eye on the market. Agents will stick you in a genre and want you to stay there. Write first and then keep writing.

  The eye witness gave a description 
to the forensic artist.


If at first you do succeed, keep striving to do it better.

(for some reason, I have then scribbled 'The Goddess of Fire' )

You have to be a marketer and a performer.

The lady at the end said that she had written twenty books, had them published but  had still managed to avoid having a writing career.

If you come to a fork in the road, take it. A Stonewall Jackson joke. 



Reboot by tie in books. Writer for hire. Be wary as the work does not belong to you. Maybe sign up for four and walk away. A publisher can own books but writers gets royalties. Riding the coat tails  of a hugely successful author ( esp a dead one) can be good for  a career. He’s applying  to be the next Tom Clancy,

Reboot your name- Avery Aims ( can’t read writing too well) is a good name as first on bookshelf. The name was owned by the publisher not the author when she was writing the cheese shop mysteries.


 Obviously a triangulation of cell site  activity involving a location,  a Chelsea bun and the bloke from David Bowie's  Ashes to Ashes video.



The cook might write a cookbook but cook book readers don’t read crime. The crime fiction writers will go onto read cookbooks.

We might have more of that later!

And one writer I know went on to edit a  cookbook that reached the short list of some kind of prize- no idea what but the ‘do’ for it was in the Louvre - yes that one; the one that Tom Hanks  threw the tracker device out of the loo/louvre window to distract the baddies and move on the plot of The DaVinci Code, The Dan Browne one. Yes, there was a plot.

Anyway,  the editor didn’t go to the big function. The  book didn't win. Thank goodness. I could see us being detained and having to explain Craig Robertson's  recipe for black pudding made from human blood. Don’t ever get into a lift with that man. He's from Stirling.