Thursday, July 21, 2011

[FIND] Vice - Ratchet up Your Adrenaline with Sam Capra

Latest offering from Jeff Abbott
Sam Capra, the unassuming hero of Adrenaline, looks like Joe-anybody, doesn't stand out in a crowd. He's a wiry character, standing six feet tall, with dirty blond hair and blue eyes. And he runs Parkour for fun and fitness, vaulting himself over and up walls with grace and ease. He also, within one week of being introduced, propelled himself onto several best seller lists, 23 in the New York Times, 20 in Publishers Weekly, two of the standards in the industry.

We caught up with internationally acclaimed author Jeff Abbott (Capra's creator) between book signings and interviews on Friday afternoon last week. Abbott says of Capra, "Sometimes, because he's sort of trim and not a big bulky guy, the bad guys underestimate him.

"[Sam] can't handle everything that he gets into, that would be pretty boring," says Abbott. But he can hold his own.

Abbott has crafted in Capra a new kind of hero. He's good looking, but he doesn't know it. He's young for the genre, only 25 years old. But in spite of his youth, he's quick of wit, fleet of feet, and, thanks to world-traveling aid-worker parents and extensive CIA training, he's - well - extremely capable.

In one scene from Adrenaline, Abbott's 12th book, our hero Sam Capra faces a crew of roughnecks in a bar fight. "His first thought is you actually take the biggest guy down first," Abbott says, "That will affect the emotions of the others. This may not be true, but he's - that's how he's thinking -  strategically." That's about what one would expect from a recently defrocked CIA operative: efficient, thoughtful,  strategic - extremely capable.

Mr. Capra, in the course of this first-in-a-series novel, comes into ownership of a number of bars around the globe. While he's not prone to vice, Capra (like so many spies and PIs) savors a fine cocktail. Upon entering one of his newly acquired watering holes for the first time, Abbott says. "[Sam's] happy to see that they are mixing the cocktails with care."

So I think it's safe to say that were Capra to own a bar in Nashville, it would likely be The Patterson House, where they, as Abbot would say, "know what they are doing." For the [FIND] Vice cocktail pairing—this month with our newly introduced action hero, Sam Capra—James Hensley has lent us one of his favorite, hand-crafted summer drinks.

The Montgomery Fizz
2          oz        Tanqueray
1/8       oz        La Muse Vert Absinthe
3/4       oz        Fresh lime juice
3/4       oz        Ginger syrup
                     sprigs of mint
1                      Splash of tonic water and club soda
Bruise the mint in the bottom of a mixing tin and then add the other ingredients. Shake briefly and strain into a collins glass filled with ice. Top with a splash of tonic water and club soda. Garnish with a mint sprig and a piece of ginger candy.

*Two things you need to do right now: Pick up a copy of Adrenaline, by Jeff Abbott and drop by The Patterson House for a Montgomery Fizz. You'll be glad on both counts.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Tiny Fraud that Costs Billions

Today WBUR's Here and Now interviewed Rachel Shteir, author of a new book exploring shoplifting from historical, psychological, and philosophical points of view. To listen to the interview and read an excerpt of the book, click here.

Every year, shoplifting costs retailers billions, says Rachel Shteir, author of The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting. Here are a few more facts she compiled, in her comprehensive exploration of this widespread but ill-understood crime:
  • In 2009, a survey estimated shoplifting losses at $11.69 billion annually. (source: University of Forida National Retail Security Survey)
  • Shoplifting increases the price we pay for goods every year by about $400.
  • In 2008, an estimated 1,000,000 shoplifting offenses were committed. (source: Dept. of Justice survey, "Uniform Crime Reports")
  • In 2008, shoplifting stats spiked in some cities, climbing 18.7% in Long Beach, CA and 40.6% in L.A. (source: UCR)
  • Store security catches an estimated 1 in 48 incidences of shoplifting. (source: National Association for Shoplifting Prevention)
Retailers and private security companies are reluctant to talk about this epidemic, as we learned when our own Thomas Humphreys, PI reported on shoplifting for Marketplace two years ago. (Gumshoe Finds Who's Got Sticky Fingers, Marketplace, Oct. 2009) We also learned that even though many retailers may feel that an economic downturn fuels people's "need" to steal, the facts are more difficult to pin down.
Our law enforcement sources insist that shoplifters aren't usually stealing out of need, and Shteir agrees. She says their motives are far more complicated, and differ widely. Some steal out of a sense of perceived grievance: I deserve this thing. Others are looking for a dose of excitement or danger: Think Winona Ryder. And many simply want a luxury item they can't afford. After speaking with dozens of admitted shoplifters, Shteir concludes that there are no easy answers, and offers this insight:

"Many shoplifters see themselves as escape artists, stealing out of inscrutable cravings and unexamined desires. Having lost their old solaces, people shoplift as an anodyne against grief or to avenge themselves against uncontrollable forces or as an act of social aggression, to hurl themselves away from their identities as almost-have-nots. Whatever form shoplifting takes, it is as dif´Čücult to stamp out as oil spills or alcoholism." - excerpted from The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting, by Rachel Shteir

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Sartorial Sleuth: Dressing for the Southern Summer Swelter

Linen and seersucker in NOLA
It's July in Tennessee. It is hot, painfully hot. A sticky, drippy, thick morass of hot. I have friends who refuse to wear shorts, except in the pursuit of some athletic feat. I have friends who refuse, simply refuse, to be seen in public without at least a sport coat (odd jacket). There are, however, times when it's just not practical to dress to the nines, at least in our line of work. July in the South is one of those times.

We, of the [FIND] team slogged our way south to New Orleans a couple of weeks ago. It was hot, painfully hot...we scorched our way south along 65 and 59, through Birmingham, Hattiesburg, and Picayune, chasing puddles that disappeared as we drew closer to New Orleans in the peak of mid-afternoon swelter. 

Two things I always carry when traveling around the South. A good quality straw hat, and a guayabera shirt. The former is a personal style choice that, I would suggest, deserves some serious consideration. The latter, well, the guayabera is difficult.

The Hat - Lately, young hipsters across the nation wear hats again, cool hats, slick hats, hats with brims so narrow, they look almost comical. Very few of them actually pull the look off. Most, in fact, look like either a caricature of some 1950's dandy or a hayseed rube about to open a closet that will empty onto their heads in fine slapstick fashion. There are some, however, who nail it. 

My bartender gets it. Patrick rarely penetrates the out-of-doors without a top on. He wears a vintage variation on the Stetson carry hat, in black, dark grey, and a beautiful taupe. The brims on Patrick's hats  rarely exceed two inches but are never less than one-and-a-half. He wears them straight up, not cocked to the side or tipped precariously on the back of his crown. If you want to see a perfect example of a man who understands men's hat style and how to do it, just swing by Rumours Wine Bar on 12th South in Nashville. Ask for Patrick, or just look for the dapper young man in the cool hat.

I have a huge head and broad shoulders. I've searched for years for the perfect hat. I have a Borsellino that fits, is exquisitely crafted, and somehow still doesn't quite work. I have owned a number of stingy-brimmed-hipster-hats over the years, but they just look silly. I found, three years ago, at Meyer the Hatter in NOLA, the perfect hat for me. The Biltmore Milan, center crease (since re-blocked), is my hat. It fits. It looks classic. It looks nice, without looking too spiffy. I wear this hat almost all summer long. Casual or dressy, it just works - for me.

Humpreys sports a Biltmore Milan at the Cafe du Monde
The Shirt - In the last Sartorial Sleuth entry, we discussed the finer points of seersucker as a weapon to defeat the heat. Sometimes, though, especially in our business, a suit or even an odd jacket is just too much. So, the question stands: how do you look like a man of style and wear a short sleeved shirt?

T-shirts: no. Especially the ironic kind. Seriously, we're grown ups. (exceptions include: beach, boats, canoes, and most sporting endeavors)

Short sleeved dress shirts: Dilbert. I cannot stress this enough: there is no way to look like a stylish, even non-idiotic, person in a short-sleeved-bepocketed-button-down-oxford-cloth-shirt, not possible at all.

The only shirt I've found that scratches my itch for comfort and style is the classic dictator's man-blouse, the guayabera. The guayabera, like a bow-tie, takes a bit of stones to execute successfully. You kinda have to just go for it. But the benefits abound.
Hit or miss? Your call.
Style: From the fat-guy-golf-friendly cubavera (which I don't suggest) to the hand-crafted-Cuban-made custom (which I do suggest), there are colors, fabrics, and variations on the cut that can suit any man. I prefer classic white linen or a cotton blend in a subdued color (earth tone or black). I own two of these shirts, one black and one white, both purchased at Meyer the Hatter in New Orleans, both perfect for a casual night on the town. 

If you're working surveillance in the Quarter, shorts and a black guayabera blend in perfectly. If you're stepping out with your lady for a glass of red wine, black guayabera and a pair of off white linen slacks looks fantastic (careful with the red wine and linen pants). Likewise, a pair of Imogene + Willie jeans paired with a white guayabera looks absolutely stylish.

I know that some of you will disagree. I know that some of you prefer to maintain a facade of sartorial snobbery that excludes the lesser forms of style. But, there are times when it's just too &^%$#@! hot to wear a suit. It's okay to look good and be comfortable at the same time. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

All Investigations Lead to...Porn?

It all started with a joke.

"All investigations seem to lead to pornography," quipped Ryan Hubbs, a senior manager for Matson, Driscoll & Damico, Forensic Accountants, chatting with a group of colleagues at an ACFE conference a few years ago.

Hubbs had spotted an odd pattern. Time after time, as he investigated claims of contractor fraud or embezzlement, he'd uncover a little something on the side, such as additional accusations of bullying or harassment or, most frequently, pornography downloaded onto an accused employee's computer.

His joke struck a nerve. "We started talking about it," he recalls, "and everybody else said, 'You know, I've had some cases where after we did the forensic analysis, we found the guy was also investigated for sexual harassment.'" That's when Hubbs started to wonder whether what he was seeing was mere coincidence, or correlation.

"The correlation is somewhere between zero and a hundred percent," Hubbs jokes, admitting that he's no social scientist. Plenty of people, he contends, have glanced at a sexy photo or two online without ever going on to commit fraud. He's reluctant to draw any absolute conclusions about correlation or causality.

But as a professional fraud examiner, he is a keen observer of human behavior. And in his fascinating lecture at the San Diego ACFE conference in June, he shared those observations and posed a question to fellow investigators: What if we could search out fraudsters by zeroing in on employees who download porn or have been reported for bullying or harassing co-workers? Is there a strong enough correlation between outright fraud and other "deviant" behaviors to use those behaviors as markers?

Hubbs defines deviant behavior as any practice that falls outside of the law, societal norms, or company policies. And although looking at girlie pictures might be considered a ubiquitous enough practice to fall within societal norms on one's own time, it's still not considered an acceptable work activity, and it carries with it certain risks to employers. "Not only do you have hostile work claims which can (lead to) lawsuits," he says. "But in doing these types of investigations over the years, I've seen some people continue to spiral down, from regular nudity to hard-core porn…and some individuals move into the child porn arena.

"Imagine if they save that onto the main server," Hubbs adds. "When the FBI comes in…they take the whole server."

Deviance is relative, Hubbs admits. "What is deviant behavior today might not be deviant behavior 20 years from now." And he says that most of us do things every day that might deviate from laws, norms, or workplace policies.

But a good investigator with strong instincts about human behavior and motivations, he asserts, might be able to sniff out financial malfeasance by focusing on patterns of behavior that reveal an employee's or contractor's…proclivities. If a person tends towards risky behaviors, like downloading thousands of pornographic images onto his work computer or texting inappropriate messages or images to co-workers, he might also take risks in other ways, like fudging expenses or rigging bids.

Hubbs's hypothesis has fellow investigators intrigued. He gets lots of questions he can't answer, because there's just not enough research out there yet to support his ideas with hard numbers. He's not offering a solution, just posing a challenge to his colleagues to observe and find out more.

"Look, I just kind of kicked this ball onto the court," he says. "You guys can take it any direction you want to go. This is an observation that I had over the years, and wanted to pose it to the rest of the populace to see if it's useful and what else can we learn from this."