Goodreads Profile

All my book reviews and profile can be found here.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Gallows Lane Review

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Gallows Lane:

Inspector Devlin gets strict instructions from his boss, DCI Costello, to send Jamie Kerr back across the border. He doesn't and what follows is one busted investigation after another. Devlin makes a lot of mistakes, chases rabbits down the wrong warren hole, and generally misses the boat (overdid the metaphors, I think, but you get the picture. Nevertheless, he's a very sympathetic character.

The plot revolves around several seemingly unconnected events: the brutal unrequited rape of several girls, a bank robbery that happened years before, and an old IRA weapons cache that was discovered on some ground

The answer to the puzzle lies in knowing what "moobs" are and what causes them. At least partly.

'via Blog this'

Friday, December 28, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Terror Town

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Terror Town:

Another excellent Kaminsky novel, this one from the Abe Lieberman series. There are multiple plots, one involving a pseudo-crazy born-again who has created a nifty extortion racket, another featuring Abe's partner, Bill Hanrahan, which has a neat twist at the end, and the third, also with twist I certainly didn't see coming, involving detective Alan DuPree (who is also featured in a Lou Fonesca novel I'm reading.) In that case a prominent African-American is linked to the killing of one of his employees.  Nifty resolution to that one.

Abe is the perpetual Monk-like character:  five-seven, weighed a possible 140 on a good day,  he wore a nearly perpetual look of resignation on his spaniel face." His wife worries constantly about his cholesterol and so everything he likes to eat is forbidden.  He partners with an Irishman, Bill Hanrahan with whom he has a loyal and humorous relationship.  Abe is the rabbi; Hanrahan the priest, as they refer to each other.  Both are raising second families and Abe's daughter Lisa has a prickly relationship with her dad.

A constant, so far at least, is the strong family life of each of the characters, refreshing to say the least.

'via Blog this'

Monday, December 24, 2012

Romney Didn't Want To Run, Son Says : The Two-Way : NPR

Romney Didn't Want To Run, Son Says : The Two-Way : NPR:

Now they tell us.

'via Blog this'

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of House Blood

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of House Blood:

I am part of a medical study through Harvard medical School intended to evaluate the efficacy of vitamin D in combination with Fish Oil.  As a double blind study I might or might not be taking either of the drugs or a placebo.  I have no way of knowing. That's as it should be.  But I'm also at the mercy of those running the trial.  I take on faith the purpose is what they say (and we know that in psychological studies they often prevaricate about the purpose of the study), and I assume those designing and running this incredibly expensive study are operating in an ethical and legal manner.

Now what if the backers of the study had something very different in mind and were using Harvard for  their own purposes? What if they were acting perfectly within the law but were in blurry territory from an ethical standpoint?  What if the result of this unethical behavior might result in a drug to cure a devastating illness?  Does it matter if some people are sacrificed along the way?

That's the premise behind this excellent novel. I listened to this and don't know whether it's the book or the reader or a combination that totally captivated me. I have enjoyed other DeMarco stories, but this one blew away the others.  It has humor, mystery, social commentary; very enjoyable.

DeMarco hates cutting the lawn, his idea of camping is a Hilton with slow room service, and the idea of wearing hiking books might give him hives. "What could be more perfect, New York v Boston –he hates those fucking Yankees– a steak, a baked potato slathered in butter and sour cream"  -- yum.  He's a kind-of Congressional fixer who has an office in the basement of Congress and he runs errands and investigations for Congressman Mahoney.

Mahoney asks him to look into the conviction of a friend of his wife's husband who had been convicted of killing his business party. We know right up front who the bag guys are, so the fun is in DeMarco's investigation.  He can't seem to find any reason why the conviction shouldn't stand, but just a couple little things niggle the back of his mind.  And the investigation, with the help of Emma, leads down a road he had no idea existed.

As far as I can tell the author hates lawyers, Congress, and big-Pharma.

'via Blog this'

Friday, December 21, 2012

HP-Autonomy: A Red-Ink Bath for Everyone - Re:Balance -- Jim Peterson

HP-Autonomy: A Red-Ink Bath for Everyone - Re:Balance -- Jim Peterson:

"Sorry, Meg. Not for a generation has an effective due diligence team done any more with a standard audit report than throw it onto the compost heap at the back of the document repository."

See also:

 Isn't the major problem here the whole concept of "good will" which just begs for financial manipulation and cheating? Wouldn't we be better served by not having such a concept? If a company wants to pay more than a company is worth (assuming worth is only cash and other measurable assets) that's their problem, but it should not be countenanced by accountants.
'via Blog this'

Friday, December 14, 2012

GRUMPY ENOUGH TO RETIRE » Grumpy Old Accountants

GRUMPY ENOUGH TO RETIRE » Grumpy Old Accountants:

 " It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that managers have incentives to lie in financial statements.  Over 75 years ago (yes, even back then), Congress and the SEC thought it valuable enough to require that independent accountants audit manager financial statement assertions to make sure that they are telling the truth.  Otherwise, potential investors might decide to protect themselves by simply not participating in Wall Street at all, thus depriving corporate America of the funds needed to meet capital requirements. Just to be clear, auditors are not required to and do not assess the worthiness of investing in the firm.  Instead, they assure the investing community that evidence exists to back up the claims made by management in the financial statements.  In other words, the Certified Public Accountant verifies that management is telling the truth in the financial reports. "

It is within this context that we have often decried the movement seemingly away from the auditor as professional skeptic to the complicit accomplice.  Auditors are responsible for the flotsam and jetsam produced by the banking fiasco as seen in the reports by Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, and others.  And audit quality seems to be in a continued decline as evidenced by Michael Rapoport’s recent article citing the PCAOB’s discovery of insufficient audit work by major accounting firms. Without good audits by truly independent and competent persons, investors will protect themselves by the only two choices they have: either they will leave the market altogether, or they will raise the cost of capital by what one might term the “accounting risk” component.

'via Blog this'

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Mister Roberts

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Mister Roberts:

Probably all of us have seen the classic Mister Roberts play or movie. The book is better. It captures the mind-numbing tedium much better, and the humor is scorched with irony and paradoxical pain. The hero, Mr. Roberts, spends his time on board trying to leave the safety of his cargo transport's milk-runs, filing one transfer request after another, seeking the action of a war-ship.

The author, Thomas Heggens, was discovered drowned in his bathroom in 1949, an apparent suicide, despite, or perhaps because of, the huge financial success of the book and play.

The Reluctant was a cargo ship engaged to carry trucks and toothpaste on a regular run "from Tedium to Apathy and back; about five days each way. It makes an occasional trip to Monotony, and once it made a run all the way to Ennui, a distance of about two thousand miles from Tedium." It's staffed with wonderful characters. Ensign Keith, the Boston bluenose, believes the Navy commandments he learned in boot camp about officers being gentlemen, and he sing1ehandedly tries to remake the crew into something resembling a regulation Navy vessel- until the famous jungle juice incident. Lieutenant Roberts is a born leader, able to move easily among the enlisted men as well as the officers; competent, he wants nothing more than to get out of this phantom Navy and into the real war. He is hated by the captain for his ability. He is the instigator of many of the famous practical jokes played on the captain. The doctor is simultaneously a great medico and a loony quack, which would depend on the quantity of grain alcohol he had imbibed the night before. He might or might not prescribe aspirin for athlete's foot.

The book has several humorous moments: the discovery by one of the visiting nurses that she and her colleagues have been surreptitiously spied on by men on the Reluctant using the powerful range finder telescopes; the accidental firing of a live shell that nearly took the mast off a friendly ship after a party that somehow got a little out of hand; and the question whether throwing the captain's palm tree s over the side would result in their replacements being squared or doubled (figure that one out).

But war is overwhelmingly tragic and Roberts gets his wish. He is transferred to a destroyer. His former shipmates learn of his death during a Kamikaze attack just before the announcement of the end of the war. It wipes the smile right off your face.

'via Blog this'

Friday, December 07, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of A Cold Red Sunrise

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of A Cold Red Sunrise:

The old saying "red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning," apparently has some scientific validity. It even appears in the Bible (Matthew XVI:2-3) Something to do with the refraction of sunlight through dust particles at night meaning a high pressure and fair weather is on the horizon whereas in the morning, deep red means it's shining through a lot of water content in the clouds. Or something like that.

Whether Kaminsky had anything like that in mind with this title I have no idea, but it certainly reflects the trouble Inspector Rostnikov is headed for when he's sent to look into the murder of another inspector in outermost Siberia who was killed while investigating the killing of a dissident's child.

Kaminsky writes with great authority of Russia: its culture and history. While some readers may find the little historical snippets of Siberia distracting, I did not. I love that kind of background and setting. Kaminsky does it well: informative without being intrusive. The insertion of numerous Russian words I'll have to take on faith as being correct since I know no Russian at all.

My favorite character, I think is Emil Karpo who totally buffaloes the KGB masters with his totally PC responses to their queries and they have no idea if he's making fun of them or not. The scene where his supervisor accuses him of visiting a prostitute is classic. "That I meet this woman is true. That our meeting is intimate is also true. That it represents a weakness I also confirm. I find that I am not completely able to deny my animalism and that I can function, do the work of the state to which I have been assigned, with greater efficiency if I allow myself this indulgence rather than fight against it."

Both he and Rostnikov have been demoted and transferred to the traffic division, but the KGB knows Rostnikov to be a talented detective, but one who bears a lot of watching. In some respects, Rostnikov reminded me a little of Leon's Brunetti, a thoroughly honest cop surrounded by corruption and idiotic bureaucracy run by the clueless. There's a side plot involving another Rostnikov mentor, but I'll not reveal the plot.

Note: I remain a little puzzled why this book was distributed as an ARC, which is how I got it, since it's been available for several years. (Publishers Weekly reviewed it in 1988.) The same was true of another book, Crashed by Hallinan. There would seem to be plenty of reviews out there, so I'm not sure why more would be needed.

Then again, never look a gift horse in the mouth and I was pleased to read this and am happy to provide a review. I certainly enjoyed the book and will read more in the Rostnikov series. It has also encouraged me to purchase several other Rostnikov titles for my Kindle.

Writer Beware ® Blogs!: The Albee Agency: Book Publicity Faked

Writer Beware ® Blogs!: The Albee Agency: Book Publicity Faked:

'via Blog this'

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Verizon patent would monitor you as you watch TV so it can customize ads.

Verizon patent would monitor you as you watch TV so it can customize ads.:

Not in my house.

'via Blog this'

The Deer Paradox - Tim Heffernan - The Atlantic

The Deer Paradox - Tim Heffernan - The Atlantic:

This is an interesting story by Tim Heffernan. Apparently white-tailed deer are thriving to the point where some communities wish there were more hunters.  The business of hunting is booming even as there are many fewer hunters now than ever before.  Even as it becomes easier to find and shoot a deer, hunters spend more money on fancy equipment, to the tune of $2500 including special sprays to disguise the human scent.  (Maybe hunters just stink more and thus have more to cover up.)  Car bumpers are killing about 1.5 million deer per year, a staggering number that may soon outpace those killed by more traditional methods which don't tenderize as well as a 2,000 lb. vehicle.

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Archie Meets Nero Wolfe: A Prequel to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Mysteries

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Archie Meets Nero Wolfe: A Prequel to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Mysteries:

I love Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe stories.  It must be difficult to recreate an author's style if not content, so it was with great trepidation that I began this galley written by Robert Goldsborough. It's supposed to be a sort of prequel, explaining how Archie came to be in the employee of Wolfe and in this tale of Wolfe involvement in a kidnapping we meet all the regulars including Orrie, Fred, Saul and a couple of others Goldsborough needed to make the story work.  He notes in a note where all the characters originally appeared, and, the kidnapping itself was referenced in one of Wolfe's early books.

There were a couple of oddities.  For example, Wolfe gives each his telephone number and Archie dutifully writes it down right after Goldsborough has made a point of how Archie has such an eiditic aural memory. So why would he have to pull out the note later when he had to call Wolfe?  The exchanges between Wolfe and Cramer are spot on; the repostes with Archie less so.

Nevertheless, it's a fun read, very enjoyable that fits coherently with the rest of the stories.

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care:

"On September 11, 2001, some three thousand  Americans were killed by terrorists; our country has spent hundreds of  billions of dollars to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But that same  year, and every year since then, some twenty thousand Americans died  because they couldn’t get health care. That doesn’t happen in any other  developed country. Hundreds of thousands of Americans go bankrupt every  year because of medical bills. That doesn’t happen in any other  developed country either."

This is probably a book everyone should read. It's a dispassionate look at health care systems throughout the world as Reid travels from one country to another to see how his shoulder would be treated and under what circumstances.  To start a couple of basic facts: "most rich countries have  better national health statistics—longer life expectancy, lower infant  mortality, better recovery rates from major diseases—than the United  States does.Yet all the other rich countries spend far less on health  care than the United States does. . . .Among the world’s developed nations, the United  States stands at or near the bottom in most important rankings of access  to and quality of medical care.  The Japanese go to the doctor more often than anyone else, yet their system costs only $3,400 per person;  in the United States the cost is $7,400 per person annually.  In Canada, the nation has decided that to be the most fair, people should have to wait equally.  In Britain, the priority is that all health care should be free to everyone.

He begins by identifying the four basic types of mechanisms to pay for health care in the industrialized world. (He discounts the third world since those are all basically pay-as-you-go and available only to the rich.)  Conventional wisdom tells us that these other countries depend on "socialized" medicine, yet that is incorrect.  Ironically the only pure socialized medical systems exists in Cuba and the United States' VA system which is totally government funded, doctors are paid and employed by the government and veterans pay nothing for its services.   Other countries are all a mix of private and public.   How they are structured is related to the countries moral fabric.

The four systems are the Bismarck (a mix of public and private as in Japan, Germany, and Switzerland); in the Beveridge model there are no medical bills; rather, medical  treatment is a public service, like the fire department or the public  library, hospitals and  clinics are often  owned by the government; some doctors are government  employees, but there are also private doctors who collect their fees  from the government. These systems tend to have low costs per capita,  because the government, as the sole payer, controls what doctors can do  and what they can charge.  The British system is based on the Beveridge model.  Canada's system is the third type, a national insurance plan which has elements of both Bismarck and Beveridge. The providers of health care  are private, but the payer is a government-run insurance program that every citizen pays into.  The last system is the pay-as-you-go in which there is no insurance and people pay for service out of their own pockets.

The United States has a mix of all. For those under sixty-five is a modified Bismarckian system for those lucky enough to be employed and have an employer-based system.  Those over sixty-five have Medicare more similar to the Canadian system, and for many there is only the pay-as-you-go although most municipalities will not refuse treatment for emergencies which simply means the cost is allocated elsewhere, i.e. everyone else.  One of the features of the so-called ObamaCare was to eliminate free-loading and have everyone, or most everyone pay for some form of health insurance.   For Native Americans, military personnel, and veterans, we’re Britain, or Cuba. "And yet we’re like no other country, because the  United States maintains so many separate systems for separate classes  of people, and because it relies so heavily on for-profit private  insurance plans to pay the bills. All the other countries have settled  on one model for everybody, on the theory that this is simpler, cheaper,  and fairer. With its fragmented array of providers and payers and  overlapping systems, the U.S. health care system doesn’t fit into any of  the recognized models."

A common complaint leveled against government health care programs is they ration, yet all systems ration.  In this country it's done by insurance companies, in others it's done by ethical committees. Here, the decisions are applied inequality and depend on one's plan (and the quality of one's lawyer.) "made, often in secret, by scores of different  insurance companies. One person may get coverage for a potentially  life-saving operation, while the next person doesn’t. This may be a boon  to the person with the more generous insurance policy, but it’s not  particularly fair."  Some form of rationing *must* be done in order to reduce costs. "Should the system spend its money to  keep a ninety-five-year-old Alzheimer’s patient alive until he’s  ninety-six? Should an ailing eighty-four-year-old get the same intensive  treatment for breast cancer that is provided to an otherwise healthy  forty-four-year-old? Should the health system, or the insurance plan,  pay for Viagra? For Botox? In a health care system that offers universal  coverage, these decisions tend to be made uniformly for everybody."

The U.S. spends the most on administrative costs and a system that organized everyone into one plan would clearly cut costs. Ironically, the charge that one system would reduce choice is not true.  Other countries, in fact, offer patients more choice. Insurance plans in this country have discourage choice by building preferred networks.  In most other countries patients can go wherever they want and see whomever they want since the structure for payment is the same throughout the country.

All countries are faced with rising health care costs and all face complaints about their systems.  The grass is always greener....  The one constant is complaining. "The American economist Tsung-Mei Cheng has  formulated, with tongue only partly in cheek, the Universal Laws of  Health Care Systems: 1. “No matter how good the health care in a  particular country, people will complain about it.” 2. “No matter how much money is spent on health  care, the doctors and hospitals will argue that it is not enough.” 3.  “The last reform always failed.”3 Everywhere I went on my global quest, I  found that Cheng’s Universal Laws held true. But for all their  problems, the other industrialized countries tend to do better than the  United States on basic measures of health system performance:  coverage, quality, cost control, choice. This was the most surprising  and infuriating discovery of my global quest—that the United States of  America performs so poorly in this fundamental area of human life. In  industry, finance, music, science, arts, academics, athletics,Americans  can match or surpass any other country. Why can’t we do that when it  comes to health care?"

Read the book for part of the answer.  Fascinating, yet ultimately quite depressing. 

'via Blog this'

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Four Novellas of Fear: Eyes That Watch You, The Night I Died, You'll Never See Me Again, Murder Always Gathers Momentum

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Four Novellas of Fear: Eyes That Watch You, The Night I Died, You'll Never See Me Again, Murder Always Gathers Momentum:

Aside from the fine writing and sense of noir in these four stories, it's always fun to get lost in a sense of time as well as place. Tires that get patched and blow out constantly, no cell phones, cars with no windscreens, screeching speeds over forty and coal furnaces. (I actually remember living in a house that had a coal furnace.) Geesh.

My favorite, I think was "You'll Never See Me Again," where a couple of newlyweds get into a squabble after six months of marriage, she walks out and disappears. The fact that he's an architect and tires were patched results in a satisfactory ending. (And that's not a spoiler.)

Read these four. Time and place may have changed but not human motivations.

'via Blog this'

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Voyage of the Rose City: An Adventure at Sea

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Voyage of the Rose City: An Adventure at Sea:

Written by the son of Senator Patrick Moynihan, this book was submitted as an assignment to Paul Horgan’s writing class, promptly forgotten, and then resurrected by his mother after his untimely death at forty-four from a reaction to Tylenol. John had signed on an as ordinary-seaman on a tanker for a voyage that became much longer than he had anticipated. His father, who had served in the Navy, thought it was a bad idea; his mother thought the contrary, having a more naive and more glamorous view of the sea - perhaps much as I do. (Whenever I took those blasted career tests, they always came out librarian or ship captain. Then again they were pathetically easy to manipulate. I guess the reality was I wanted to sit around and give orders while reading.)

John worked on a supertanker. The bow was a quarter-mile from the stern and to walk from one end to the other took about 5 minutes at a brisk pace. They never walked briskly since the five minutes were like an additional break. “And always carry something like a wrench to make it more like work,” he was advised. Obtaining the job through connections his father had with the Seafarers Union, he was not popular with the crew who saw him as taking up a job someone else needed. That most of them spent their time trying not to work was beside the point. As an ordinary seaman, he had to be taught everything until he can make a contribution. His description of his first turn at the wheel is lyrical: The first sensation was the immediate contact with the shudders and tremors of the ship. Between the grinding vibrations of the all-powerful engine room and the pounding of the sea at her unyielding steel sides, the ship was an animate mover. She pushed her way through the ocean, raising her bow with every swell and hurtling back down with a deafening crescendo. I could feel the movement, the huge screw in the back working to propel her forward. The horizon became less of a definition between sea and sky than a tangible object that could be sought, reached, left behind.

The union, the officers, the company are all to be derided. Contrary to Coast Guard rules, they have to repair a crack in the superstructure by welding and John is the only one (in his ignorance) willing to stand in the empty tanks with a fire extinguisher in case sparks start a fire. I hadn’t realized it, but when a tanker is light, the danger of igniting volatile fumes is at its greatest. Our captain, it suddenly occurred to me, was not only violating Coast Guard law by welding on deck, he was sending us down into vapor-filled tanks with an open flame. It also came out that the radar on the bridge had gone out the first full day at sea, and instead of stopping off in South Africa to have it repaired we were going to wait until we got to Japan. It didn’t matter that we’d be going through the Straits of Malacca in typhoon season: Business is business, and the insurance will pay off anything that might go wrong. . . I did take out my silent revenge on Texaco and the Seven Sisters by pissing in the tank, hoping that somewhere, six months later, some stockholder’s Cadillac wouldn’t start as a result. The tanks had been washed out first, a task that must be done between each loading. Again, on the high seas, the rules were routinely ignored. It is not difficult to tell whether a tanker is cleaning its tanks. Having washed, buffeted, and generally rinsed out the tanks, we could see the dirty water discharged from the side of the ship through the manifold. For hundreds of miles we left an oily slick on the surface of the ocean without thinking twice about it. Anywhere in the Atlantic, Indian, or Pacific Oceans the residue of tankers can be seen. At one point we followed the course of another tanker that had left a trail of pollution across several latitudes.

The yearning to avoid work was understandable. The peculiarities of their contracts made it difficult for seaman to reach retirement age since they needed twenty years of duty to make their pensions: twenty years of sea time which meant actually they needed forty to forty-five years of working before qualifying.

Monyihan does have his lyrical moments. In between the monotany (it would get so bad that scrapping paint was to be looked forward to) he did learn to appreciate the sea: In the absolute still of the morning watch, in the rapt hour before the dawn when the only light was the dull glow of the electric compass and the useless pulsings of the broken radar, in the foaming seas of another hemisphere and on another side of the planet, I relished the thought that all those fuckers back there at the university were scratching one another’s eyes out with the same old bullshit. There was none of that here. None you could get away with, anyway. This was life and death with every turn of the compass. It was real. It was a strangely comforting thought. On the seventh the clouds began to gather. Monsoon season...

The book goes off the rails somewhat after the ship arrives in Japan and it becomes a quasi journal, e.g., bummed around Nara, went to a bar, looked for a place to sleep, had a beer, etc.

Note: I believe the Rose City was delivered to the Navy and became the hospital ship Comfort in 1987. Here’s a picture of her engine room. It looks like something from a space ship.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Goodreads | This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

Goodreads | This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists:

This is one of those books where the reviews were so disparate that I just had to try it for myself. I downloaded a sample, and I was hooked.  I loved this book.  It's funny, poignant, thoughtful, and uses humor in just the right way.

Judd, coming home early from work one day, to surprise Jen, his wife, on her birthday with a big cake, walks in on her screwing his boss. The his father dies, not unexpectedly, but who leaves surprise request.  He wants the family to sit shiva for him (a ceremony I was not familiar with despite having had numerous Jewish friends in high school.) The family sits on special chairs, lower to the ground, in honor of the departed, and then talks about the dead relative with each other and friends and neighbors for a period of seven days. For someone like myself who finds a simple viewing traumatic, I can't imagine.

Anyway, Judd's family is typically dysfunctional, exaggerated slightly to bring out the humor in the situations, but not so much as to create caricatures.  They love each other but really can't get along. Then there is the matter of the will which doesn't divide the business equally. And then Jen arrives during breakfast one morning, in the midst of a battle between Philip and Paul,   "Hello dear,” my mother says, suddenly composed. “What a nice surprise.”  These are the moments when you really have to wonder what reality my  mother is living in. She can go from casually watching two of her sons  pummeling each other to graciously welcoming the woman who ruined her other son’s life without missing a beat.  But Jen has an announcement.  And Phillip is engaged to be engaged to his therapist who is fifteen years older.

A sample: "I am going to be a father, just when I’ve lost my own. There are some  who would see a certain divine balance in that, one soul departing to  make room for another, but I’m not that guy. I don’t believe in God when I’m in trouble, the way so many people do. But at times like this, when  the irony seems too cruel and well crafted to be a coincidence, I can  see God in the details. Due to some mental hiccup I can’t explain, when I think of God, I picture Hugh Hefner: a thin, angular man with a  prominent chin in a maroon smoking jacket. I don’t know where that image came from or why it stuck the way it did. Maybe when I was a kid I was  thinking about God and I happened upon a picture of Hef in a magazine and some neurons fired and a permanent association was made. But when  your vision of God is America’s horniest senior citizen in his pajamas,  it’s probably fair to say that you’re not the kind of guy who sees miracles in the mundane coincidences fate lobs at your unsuspecting head like water balloons from a high terrace."

God as Hugh Hefner. I always wondered what the angels were for. That's an image I will treasure.

'via Blog this'

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Book Review: The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver | Political Books

Book Review: The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver | Political Books:

 "Silver breaks down the failures of prediction (it’s here that I want to note that Silver makes a distinction between prediction and forecast, but for purposes of this review I will use both loosely) into two spheres. First, there’s the human element which acknowledges that “your subjective perceptions of the world are approximations of the truth.” This is what makes it so damn hard to separate the signal from the noise, especially in a world where data grows almost exponentially. As Silver points out, nature’s laws don’t change, yet our ability to filter the data is hindered by our biases."

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Establishment v Free Exercise - Redux
"If we just declare a bunch of non-religions religion, then we can stifle them in the same way we think we’re stifled! It’s absolutely fascinating how even dumb motherfuckers like these have gotten so good at doublespeak after being thoroughly trained by right wing media. But obviously, all this is about is trying to exert complete control over your child through censoring any information that would cause them to ask questions. They know in their hearts that their myths just aren’t competitive with science when the person looking at the question applies basic rationality, and so censorship is all they have. Same story with your employer taking away your health care options because he disagrees with them. Women have been exposed, repeatedly, to dogma about our bodies and we reject it. Thus the turn to force. But unfortunately, the constant repetition of the phrase “religious freedom” to mean “the right to restrict the freedom of conscience of those you already have power over” has, I think, confused the issue for a lot of people. Liberals need to get more aggressive at taking the phrase back to what it really means, which is freedom of individuals to decide for themselves without being coerced by schools, parents, bosses, or government."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Petraeus scandal puts four-star general lifestyle under scrutiny - The Washington Post

Petraeus scandal puts four-star general lifestyle under scrutiny - The Washington Post:

 "Then-defense secretary Robert M. Gates stopped bagging his leaves when he moved into a small Washington military enclave in 2007. His next-door neighbor was Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, who had a chef, a personal valet and — not lost on Gates — troops to tend his property.

Gates may have been the civilian leader of the world’s largest military, but his position did not come with household staff. So, he often joked, he disposed of his leaves by blowing them onto the chairman’s lawn."

If I had been Gates, I would have done a lot more than blow leaves on the general's lawn.

"The commanders who lead the nation’s military services and those who oversee troops around the world enjoy an array of perquisites befitting a billionaire, including executive jets, palatial homes, drivers, security guards and aides to carry their bags, press their uniforms and track their schedules in 10-minute increments. Their food is prepared by gourmet chefs. If they want music with their dinner parties, their staff can summon a string quartet or a choir."

This must be how General Allen found the time to send 20,000-30,000 emails to Jill Kelley. 'via Blog this'

Saturday, November 17, 2012


I see there are petitions garnering a lot of support in Texas promoting secession from the United States. Much like little children who want to take their marbles and go home when they don't get their way, calls like this surface both on the right and left. (Vermont has petitions like this occasionally, too. In fact, every state has some wacko group promoting secession.)

The fact is that signing a petition calling for secession is saying, "I don't want to be a citizen of the United States any more." I think we should honor all those requests. It's simple. Collect the names of those signing the petitions and cancel their citizenship. Have a hearing (due process is important) and if they stand by their secession desire, collect their passport and give them a green card (assuming they have a job.) Of course they would lose any Medicare or Social Security benefits they might be receiving, but that's what they want, right?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Goodreads | Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

Goodreads | Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists:

A fascinating, if often hyperbolic and disjointed, look at the Mississippi River and especially the communities surrounding it, not to mention the customs and eccentric characters that thrived on the river frontier.  It might also be called, the Book of Lists.

I was surprised by the importance of prostitution to communities in the 19th century frontier society. Their importance was so crucial as to be almost "structural."  Women were a rarity, often outnumbered by men 20-1, and it was common for some women who wanted to secure their financial future to marry several at once, visiting them on a rotational basis and being provided for. It was a system that suited all parties, apparently.  The institution was so crucial to the army, they were imported to all forts, respected and called seamstresses.  Brothels in St. Louis could be lavish places and held in high esteem by the community despite ostensible moral antagonism.

Religious camp meetings were immensely popular.  One such event pulled a gathering of 20,000 people at a time when the population of New Orleans was about half that.  The events became occasions of ecstatic behavior with "jerkings," falling", other kinds of physical religious behavior we would now label pejoratively as "holy rollers."  It also included orgies, the sexual component of ecstatic behavior being quite strong, and until the vigilantes moved in to put a lid on it, it was quite common for groups to move off into the woods to consummate their religious fervor resulting in a high birth rate about nine months after the camp meeting.

Corruption was endemic.  It was assumed and understood that everyone along the river would cheat, shorting the steamboats on piles of wood, counterfeiting (although very much frowned on it was helped by the number of different banks issuing money, species being quite rare and always in demand.) Con men thrived.

The story of Stewart's pamphlet and John Murrell was fascinating.  Stewart had written and published a pamphlet that purported to report on his infiltration into the infamous Murrell gang. Murrell  supposedly had revealed to him that Murrell was orchestrating a vast conspiracy that would result in an enormous slave rebellion on July 4th, 1835.  The names of many so-called conspirators who belonged to this "Mystic Klan" were fomenting the rebellion were included.  The ultimate purpose was so they could rob and pillage virtually the entire south.  Always fearful of slaves revolts, the end result of publicity surrounding the pamphlet was the formation of vigilante committees and extensive use of "Lynch Law."  Fear of slaves spilled over into antagonism toward river-town gamblers in Vicksburg and soon bodies were hanging from trees on virtually every road. Some people, after interrogation by the "committees," were lucky to get off with 1,000 lashes. Neighbors would inform on neighbors they didn't like and it must have been like scenes out of mob actions of the French Revolution.  (Tom Sawyer and Huck talk about looking for "Murel's treasure.")

Lots of really good stories and cultural history. If you are looking for information about the river itself, however, you might be better served by The Big Muddy.

'via Blog this'

Barry Eisler on self-publishing and the politics of liberty | The Passive Voice

Barry Eisler on self-publishing and the politics of liberty | The Passive Voice:

"For thriller writers interested in realism, though, the familiar “Islamic Terrorist Villain” plotline has a serious shortcoming: terrorism, of whatever stripe, poses far less danger to America than does America’s own overreaction to the fear of terrorism. To put it another way, America has a significantly greater capacity for national suicide than any non-state actor has for national murder. If thrillers are built on large-scale danger, therefore, and if a thriller novelist wants to convincingly portray the largest dangers possible, the novelist has to grapple not so much with the possibility of a terror attack, as with the reality of the massive, unaccountable national security state that has metastasized in response to that possibility."

'via Blog this'

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Atheist group sues IRS for failing to enforce church electioneering ban | The Raw Story

Atheist group sues IRS for failing to enforce church electioneering ban | The Raw Story:

 "More than 1,000 pastors said they openly defied the IRS by telling their congregation to vote for a particular presidential candidate on October 7. The event, dubbed “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” was organized by the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom in an attempt to prompt legal action over the tax code."

You know, I don't mind them promoting any candidate they want.  But they should then pay their taxes like everyone else.

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of A Real Piece of Work (The Dakota Stevens Mysteries)

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of A Real Piece of Work (The Dakota Stevens Mysteries):

Charming detective story.  I was not familiar with Orcut’s writing before this one, but I will certainly look him up again.  The title is, of course, a pun as it relates to several things, most obviously the painting that Dakota Stevens, ex-cop/FBI has been hired by a strange little man who appeared in his office out of a blizzard to locate. Ostensibly very valuable, it would appear the painting is a forgery.

Dakota (not Montana) is a great character and Svetlana, who speaks seven languages and is a chess master, his sidekick, a hoot.

I enjoyed the first seven-eighths of the book but lopped off a star for the ending that became the standard Lone Ranger and Tonto (albeit with a great body) stave off swarming hoards of enemy.  It's only a wonder clouds of angels weren't singing Hallelujahs from the heavens.  Well, perhaps I exaggerate some.  Let's just say my crap-detector went into emergency overload. The plot was good involving art forgeries and stolen paintings, suitably intricate;  the characters interesting,and Orcut had a chance to resolve it in a much more interesting way. But it's his first book. I'll certainly read the next.

P.S. Librarians play a central role in unraveling the threads of the mystery.

'via Blog this'

Monday, November 12, 2012

How Race Slipped Away From Mitt Romney -

How Race Slipped Away From Mitt Romney -

The WSJ blames it all on not enough money.  Typical response but they have it all wrong. I attribute his loss to three things:

1.  Message. Romney's remarks were addressed at those people who had "already built" something.  Remember his comments mocking Obama's remarks about building a business.  Well, his message was aimed at those people and the message was: "Don't let Obama tax your business."  The problem is that group is tiny since Obama's tax strategy is to tax only those who make more than $250,000. Most small business owners don't come close to that.

2.  Just who is Mitt Romney? The "I'm to the left of Kennedy" who supported abortion and gay rights, Romney?  Or the I don't believe in abortion under any circumstances, Romney? Or the debate "I'm just a middle of the road," Romney?  Did he even know who he was? No one else did.

3.  His association with Bain Capital.  Just as he's defending Bain as a great way to make moiney and rejuvenate businesses, Bain is pulling the plug on Sensata (formerly Honeywell) in Freeport, Illinois, bringing in Chinese to be trained by current workers so they can lose their jobs this December but Bain can make more money shipping jobs overseas.

'via Blog this'

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Outside spenders' return on investment - Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group

Outside spenders' return on investment - Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group:

Why I feel vindicated in my analysis that Citizens United probably didn't make any difference.  The link above has full details.

 "Turns out some of the smart money wasn't so smart after all when it came to making political bets. This year, the pro-business GOP Crossroads fundraising combine and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce weren't as good at picking winners as the labor movement, which appears to be one of the surprise winners of Election Day."

'via Blog this'

Monday, November 05, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism:

Note.  If you don't like spoilers, don't read the book since the first chapter reveals what happens right up front. Everyone else *should* read it. Often we labor under the assumption that because things are the way they are today, it must have been ever thus.  This book will quickly disabuse you of that notion.

The extraordinary story of two heroic black lawyers who championed the case of an innocent man, a sheriff more interested in political advancement than justice, mob rule, and one of the very few times when the Supreme Court has issued a contempt citation for failure to follow its rulings, and the importance of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.  To quote Thurgood Marshall: " The Shipp case was perhaps the first instance in which the court demonstrated the the Fourteenth Amendment and the equal protection clause have any substantive meaning to persons of the African-American race. . . .The import of the Sheriff Shipp case on the federal court's authority over state criminal cases should not be underestimated." It also meant that Justice Harlan was to become one of my most recent heroes.

The case began with the assault on a young white woman who had been walking home from work when she was attacked by a black man and although she was never able to identify him precisely, a black man roughly meeting her description by the name of Ed Johnson was arrested.  There was another witness who swore he had seen Johnson with a leather strap in the vicinity. Johnson unwaveringly swore his innocence and had several witnesses who maintained he had been several miles away at a bar.

While Chattanooga had been a place of reasonable racial harmony for several years and had had no recent lynchings, (in fact, two well-respected local ministers, one having served with the union, the other with the Confederacy, were a strong force arguing against mob violence but they were out of town that evening) a mob formed when they heard someone had been arrested and was soon whipped into such a frenzy they began to batter down the doors of the jail.  They were only persuaded from further violence when Sam, McReynolds, the judge assigned to the case showed up and offered to prove that Johnson was not even there.  He and the Sheriff had arranged earlier in the day to have Johnson and another marginal suspect taken to another city. Finally satisfied, the mob dispersed.

Before Gideon v Wainright, suspects had few rights and were not entitled to a lawyer. Unlike most states, however, Tennessee law required that a lawyer be appointed in capital cases. Also unlike today, which practice is now forbidden, it was common for judges to meet with prosecutors to plan the prosecution.  The question was whom to appoint as the defense attorneys for John after the grand jury had returned a "true bill" of indictment.  Despite numerous efforts, the Sheriff had been unable to get a confession from Johnson who continued to swear to his innocence.

The authors do a masterful job of portraying the case. The three court appointed lawyers really did their best against a stacked deck, especially Judge Shepherd who, in an impassioned summation to the jury, ripped the judge and prosecutors for not giving Johnson a fair trial. Initially the jury was split 8-4 for conviction, but after the judge sent them home for the night, he met with the prosecutors.  No one knows what happened during that meeting but everyone feared the eruption that would occur should Johnson be found innocent or there be a hung jury. In any case, immediately upon returning to their deliberations the next morning, the jury announced they had a verdict and all four of the holdouts had changed their minds.

The trial itself had some startling scenes with a couple of jurors, in tears, requesting that the victim be brought back to testify and *they* asked her if she could swear that Johnson was her attacker.  She never could with certainty.  After the verdict Shepherd wanted to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court but three more lawyers, appointed by the court, picked in a closed door meeting with the prosecution (highly unethical behavior) and, it was later admitted by the judge, two of whom were picked by the prosecution, persuaded Johnson, and the other lawyers that *even if he was innocent* it was better to be hung in the course of *justice* rather than by a lynch mob.  When they announced their decision not to appeal the verdict, an extraordinary decision, the judge sentenced Johnson to hang, the penalty for rape in Tennessee.

They had failed to reckon with Noah Parden, whose resume alone is worth a book.  His trip to Washington where he convinced Justice Harlan to issue a stay of execution and the later decision that resulted in the federal application of basic rights to the states under the 14th amendment is riveting.  What Parden had managed to do was to persuade the Court of the need to apply the Sixth Amendment requirement of a fair trial to the states Due Process was not to mean simply did the rules get followed, but did the defendant get a fair trial.  Equal Protection had to mean that black defendants would get the same presumptions of innocence and privileges accorded to white defendants.

Unfortunately, the significance was perhaps not lost on the mob, which, horrified that the federal court might deign to dispute its cherished denial of black men's rights, decided to enforce its own brand of morality.  The Supreme Court has no enforcement powers but what they did was, I believe, never before, nor since done.  No spoilers here, read the book.

Ed Johnson lies today forgotten in a closed African-American cemetery under a tombstone on which is inscribed, I AM A INNOCENT MAN. GOD BLESS YOU ALL.

Interestingly, much of the research for the book was done at Tuskeegee University in Alabama which has a detailed record of virtually every lynching.  Many of the original documents are in terrible shape and part of the proceeds of the book will be allocated to help the preservation of those materials.

'via Blog this'

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Goodreads | Perfect Hatred by Leighton Gage - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

Goodreads | Perfect Hatred by Leighton Gage - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists:

My foray into Brazilian police procedurals was rewarding indeed. A terrorist kills a woman using her baby and carriage to hide a bomb which he detonates just as a policeman is about to inquire as to the baby's lack of response. Some 350 miles south, a popular candidate for political office is assassinated.

Chief Inspector Mario Silva, of the Federal Police, immediately takes charge of the investigation. Fortunately, the bomb, which had been placed under the child, had contained numerous shards of hardware and a washer had gone through the child, slowing its trajectory enough so it bent part of the carriage frame. That meant there would be some of the child's DNA available for identification. (As an aside, I had no idea there was such a thing as "post-detonation taggants." They are bomb-proof, unique particles that are added to explosives so that they can be traced back to sellers and places of origin. Interesting.

Politics being what it is in Brasilia, when the politician, a relative unknown, is assassinated, Silva must focus his efforts on that case rather than the sixty plus people who had been killed in the bombing. It soon becomes complicated, as good mysteries must, and we learn the assassinated politician, Plinio, a revered man, had several enemies, many of whom were not immediately obvious.

Lots of interesting information about Brazil and its relationships with other countries, particularly Paraguay (and most of that not complimentary.) Little snippets of historical information that some readers may find unnecessary but which I always find fascinating, e.g., re Lebanon, "Each new outbreak of violence plunged the country deeper into chaos and caused more of her children to seek new homes abroad. Many chose Brazil. By the beginning of the 1990s, there were, it was said with some justification, more Lebanese in São Paulo than in Beirut. But, before the refugees, before the great torrent of immigration began, there were a few young Lebanese upon whom Brazil exerted its attraction, not as a refuge, but as a land of limitless opportunity."

Siilva finds himself under personal attack in the form of an irate land owner who wants to kill him as well as in a battle with pervasive corruption intertwined with an increasingly dangerous radical Islamic group

A solid read.

Thanks to the publisher for this ARC in exchange for my always uninfluenced review. I never review books I don't like.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Julian

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Julian:

 "The book is told from Julian's point of view as a form of autobiography with little side social commentaries of two of his friends. The debate between the supporters of Athanasius (who finally won out) and the Arians is well explained. In the fourth century (see also When Jesus Became God, the debate over the divinity of Jesus was of huge consequence. The Arians (basing their case on John 14:25) believed in the doctrine of homoiousios: Jesus was a similar substance to God the father but created by him. The followers of Athanasius adopted that "pernicious doctrine" later codified in the Nicene Creed of homoousius (meaning that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one and the same)."

'via Blog this'

Friday, November 02, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Jeffersonian Crisis: Courts and Politics in the Young Republic

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Jeffersonian Crisis: Courts and Politics in the Young Republic:

In 1787, Richard Spraight wrote a friend, “If the judiciary acted as a check on legislature, then who was to act as a check on the judiciary?” Ring a bell? It would seem there are so many basic conflicts inherent in our system that we have yet to resolve. Ellis focuses on the relationship of judicial power, (basically self arrogated) to American democracy and how it developed during the formative years. He see the struggle as between political moderates and extremists rather than from the traditional Federalist v Republican viewpoint.

Typically, before the revolution, the judiciary was the branch of government that affected people the most intimately and often violence broke out when the King tampered with the system. Most magistrates (except in Rhode Island and Connecticut) were political appointees and beholden to the governor so the result was a form of oligarchy. The Articles of Confederation made no provision for the judiciary its loose structure leaving virtually everything up to the states. The new Constitution hammered together in 1787 created a national court but had them riding the circuit.

Since Washington and Adams were Federalists, they naturally used the appointive powers, to assign mostly Federalists to open judicial slots and these began making decisions which infuriated the Anti-Federalists, represented by Jefferson and the Republicans. Especially when they upheld the Alien and Sedition Acts, an early preview of the Patriot Act. Despite their professed abhorrence for political parties, by 1800, there were already well-defined partisan groups.

I remain astonished by how little has changed. Following the election of 1800, the Republican party split as they now had to administer government. “With victory secured, the problem of developing positive policies soon made it clear that the party was composed of different groups holding conflicting and irreconcilable attitudes toward the way government should be administered.” The Old Republicans, agrarian and anti-federalist saw the win as a moral victory, they had overthrown the sinful monarchist Federalists and now had a chance to undo the damage caused by the likes of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton who had accumulated far too much power in the central government. Their goal was to gain control of the judiciary, pass multiple amendments to the constitution, and assure that the Federalists would never again gain control. The other wing of the party was less concerned about strong government per se, only its misuse. They wanted to “reclaim, rather than to punish,” in the words of John Hunter to James Madison.

A fine example of the quandary everyone found themselves in is the case of the impeachment of Judge Pickering. A man who had clearly gone insane, would appear on the bench drug and making judgments everyone agreed were ridiculous, no one knew how to get rid of him. Impeachment was problematic because insanity didn't meet the definition of *high crimes and misdemeanors* so the Federalists, of which he was one, argued at his impeachment trial that since he was insane he couldn't be removed while the "Republicans were forced into the difficult position of claiming that Pickering was in his right mind.This did not please the moderate Republicans, among whom there was considerable reluctance about convicting a mental incompetent.," and they knew it was but a short step for any executive then to eliminate the opposition by a simple declaration of mental incompetence. Thus was the Constitution of no help whatsoever and the divisiveness of parties simply made things worse as allegiances hardened.

The impeachment trial of Associate Justice Samuel Chase revealed the political role of impeachment and also the invalidity of adopting an uncompromising and rigid stance on issues, positions that may yet come to haunt the current Tea Party. Chase had certainly acted intemperately, delivering clearly biased charges to the jury in cases where he used the Alien and Sedition Acts to punish Republican spokesmen, most notably James Callender. Jefferson, ever the consummate politician, realized the need for moderation and compromise and philosophically he understood the importance of an independent judiciary, a judiciary dominated by Federalists thanks to John Adams. His chief antagonist was to be John Randolph, agrarian states rights true believer, who was appalled and infuriated by the Yazoo Compromise. It was Randolph who concocted the articles of impeachment against Chase by going beyond the textual justification for impeachment in the Constitution in an effort to set a precedent for removing a sitting justice that was clearly politically motivated. He badly mishandled the case and was up against Chase, a not inconsequential jurist who hired some brilliant lawyers and they devastated Randolph in the trial presided over by Aaron Burr (who had his own reasons for not wanting to see Chase impeached - but that's another story.) Jefferson, too, had his reasons for wanting to humiliate Randolph, formerly a great supporter as he realized the importance of the mercantile economy developing in New England and he wanted to get elected to a second term.

Ultimately, "the most important explanation for Chase's exoneration, however is to be found in the struggle between moderate and radical Republicans for domination of the party. The differences were fundamental, and they left little room for compromise." Randolph's parting shot was to move for a Constitutional amendment that would permit the removal of a sitting federal judge by the president with the majority concurrence of both Houses of Congress. (Precedents existed in several state constitutions.) By this time Randolph had been thoroughly discredited and his measure went down as the House postponed it to the oblivion of committee.

I suspect the Republican Party today may be in for similar convulsions should they achieve the reins of power. (Written before the election.)

Skepticblog » When Humans Nearly Vanished

Skepticblog » When Humans Nearly Vanished: "A number of scientists have argued that the Toba catastrophe nearly wiped out the human race, leaving a genetic bottleneck of only about 1,000 to 10,000 breeding pairs of humans worldwide (Rampino and Self, 1993b; Ambrose, 1998). In addition to the geologic evidence of Toba’s size and atmospheric effects, geneticists have found evidence from the molecular clocks in our genomes that human populations went through a genetic bottleneck at about this time."

'via Blog this'

Goodreads | A Good Horse Has No Color by Nancy Marie Brown - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

Amazing the books I run across. This was a delightful find, extremely well written with evocative images and pithy, humor-laden sentences: "My Icelandic was too rudimentary for that. It's a difficult language with an excess of grammar." and "The weather was classic Icelandic: forty degrees and raining sideways." There's also an amusing scene where dual meanings of the Icelandic word for ride can be endowed with sexual connotations. Shades of me growing up and confusing scatology with eschatology.

The author, who at the time was teaching at Penn State, and her husband rented a small summer home (really more of a shack) with no electricity or plumbing on the assumption it would be a good place to escape distractions and to write. Not your customary summer home. It was separated from their car, parked at the end of a cow lane, by some kind of estuary. If the tide was in, an hour was required to walk around to get to their car. If not, and a prominent rock was visible, and, to quote their son, they avoided the "sucking mud", they might reach the car in twenty minutes.

Brown had studied medieval literature (Beowulf in the original Old English drove me crazy in college) and had a professor who communicated his love of Icelandic myths. That pushed her in the direction of studying Icelandic sagas and the book is filled with links to an old Icelandic tale to illustrate a point she is making. Iceland has an interesting history and given its long winter nights and plenty of lambskin to write on, evolved a strong story telling/writing culture, proud of its independent, kingless, society, especially before the Norwegians took over in 1262. They wrote their sagas in the vernacular prose, unlike Europe where verse dominated.

Brown is also somewhat of a horsewoman and was intrigued by the Icelandic horse, a breed carefully isolated from any possibility of being sullied from outside influence. The breed has an interesting mutation that permits five gaits (tolt and pace being the extra two) as opposed to the "normal" three gaits. (Her website has an interesting explanation for the chromosomal differences and whether three or five should be considered normal. ( Most of the book describes her quest to bring home a couple of these unusual horses. The differences in riding style and requirements between what we consider to be "normal" American riding and Icelandic traditions and training were fascinating.

It's a difficult book to classify, part travelogue, part essay, part history, part memoir; but who cares. My only complaint is that you'll want to climb on the next Icelandic Air to check out Iceland and its horses. A great read, especially if you love horses. Except maybe for the part where she discusses why Icelanders eat their horses and why we don't. As with so many things, it has to do with religion (Pope Gregory III) and Norse sagas.x;">'via Blog this'

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Found Wanting

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Found Wanting:

Goddard's book --at least those I've read -- have common theme: a rather ordinary man is thrust into a vast conspiracy through no fault of his own and must figure a way out.   In this case, British civil servant Richard Eusden is asked by his ex-wife, Rachel,  to meet someone in a train station on the continent and collect a briefcase.  He is then to take the briefcase to Marty, his ex-wife's current husband, and a former friend of Richard's.  Rachel then sort of disappears from the story, but she is replaced by a cast of thousands.  I won't even begin to sort out the plot for you because I can't.  Seems everyone is somehow involved with the Tsar and fingerprints and about two-thirds of the way through I kept wondering whatever was motivating Richard who could (and should) have bailed many times.

The plot was formidable and rather predictable, but as an audiobook it held my interest, perhaps because the shower was nice and warm.  I like Goddard but suspect this is not one of his better books.

'via Blog this'

Monday, October 29, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Before the Frost

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Before the Frost:

I like Mankell, but this book seems to have fallen into the "Silence-of-the-Lambs-Syndrome" that seems to have become endemic.  It's not enough to have someone get killed in the heat of passion or for greed.  Now killers have to have killed hundreds, kill animals, butcher little children, bring about the end of the world, etc., etc.  I hate to break it to these authors, but evil is much more prosaic and often very subtle.  You don't have to create monsters to write intelligently. Adolf Eichmann was the guy next door who was just really good at paperwork.  OK, enough ranting.

Just how much do we know about our close friends; even our family. That might be one theme of this Wallender novel. Linda Wallender takes center stage.  Two threads start the book:  a man is setting swans alight and Anna, Linda’s friend has disappeared shortly after insisting she has just seen her father who hasn’t been heard from in 25 years.  A third strand is added when a woman whose life's work has been to explore and catalog old pilgrim trails disappears, only to be found dismembered in a small cabin in the woods.

It's not too hard to predict that those threads will all wind together soon.  Kurt and Linda are equally irascible but have worked out a precarious truce.  Linda, recent graduate of the police academy, hasn't been yet assigned to begin work at a station so she spends her time trying to track down Anna.  Wallender is a harsh father who has trouble relating to his daughter and she has little patience with her father although both try to find an accommodation as Linda, with the curiosity of a seasoned detective, inserts herself into her father's formal investigation, much to his dismay and irritation.

[SPOILER, well, hardly a spoiler since it's revealed way early, and if you read the book's description there are spoilers out the wazoo, but...] The best parts of the book are investigative;  the worst the insertion of Jim Jones and his relationship to one of the characters.  That was unnecessary and dumb.  Not worthy of Mankell.  It almost seemed as if Mankell had to say something about Jones and this was his vehicle.

'via Blog this'

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Bell Curve Redux

I decided to publish the entire review in one place. On Goodreads it was split up.

One would hope that decisions are made based on solid evidence and a modicum of rational thought. Often that is not the case, however Sometimes rehashed data and superficial analysis, particularly in the area of social policy, appeal to society because they reflect changes in society's perceptions of reality To some extent that explains the popularity of The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. There seems to be an unconscious desire to locate society's ills in our genes. Perhaps another misplaced wish is to allocate blame on something or someone else. The premise of The Bell Curve is that there are inherent genetic differences in intelligence between groups and races, e.g., whites, on the average, score lower than Asians; blacks, score lower than whites, etc. and that intelligent people are more successful, i.e. make more money. (Surely, mixed races score higher than everybody, so score one for interracial marriage.)

Charles Lane ("The Tainted Sources of The Bell Curve," in The New York Review of Books, December 1, 1994) and Stephen Jay Gould ("Curveball" in The New Yorker, November 28, 1994) have taken the trouble to actually look at the documentation Herrnstein and Murray used to support The Bell Curve, and they have found it wanting.

The Bell Curve does not purport to be a piece of original scholarship, but a review of the literature, so examination of the sources is certainly relevant. One source for the book was a publication entitled The Mankind Quarterly or, more specifically, articles written by contributors to that journal. Unfortunately, that magazine was founded for the sole purpose of selling the idea that whites are genetically superior to other races. Its founder and editor-in-chief was a vocal supporter of apartheid and segregation in the United States. Most reputable anthropologists have denounced the magazine. One of the major sources that Herrnstein and Murray use to show evidence of lower I.Q. scores of African blacks is an I.Q. test that had been declared invalid for non-Americans. (One of the questions, for example, showed a tennis court without a net and the test taker was supposed to sketch in the net to get credit for the answer) Lane also discovered that the source Herrnstein and Murray used to document the higher scores of Asians sampled the children of only wealthy Japanese, compared to a much broader sample of American children. A study done by a prominent social scientist in Minnesota that carefully matched socioeconomic and demographic factors found no difference in I.Q. at all between Japanese, Taiwanese and American children. (It is interesting to note that Herrnstein was the author of a 1971 Atlantic article that promoted paying well-educated mothers for higher birth rates.)

But it remains for that most lucid of commentators, Stephen Jay Gould, to put the whole issue of heritability of I.Q. into perspective; "Take a trait that is far more heritable than anyone has ever claimed I.Q. to be but is politically uncontroversial - body height. Suppose that I measure the heights of adult males in a poor Indian village beset with nutritional deprivation, and suppose the average height of adult males is five feet six inches. Heritability within the village is high, which is to say that tall fathers... tend to have tall sons while short fathers tend to have short sons. But this high heritability within the village does not mean that better nutrition might not raise average height to five feet ten inches in a few generations. Similarly, the well-documented fifteen-point average difference in I.Q. between blacks and whites in America, with substantial heritability of l.Q. in family lines within each group, permits no automatic conclusion that truly equal opportunity might not raise the black average enough to equal or surpass the white mean.

Herrnstein and Murray conveniently ignore documented high I.Q. scores of poor black children adopted into affluent, intellectual white families. They also overlook average I.Q. increases in some nations since the Second World War equal to the entire fifteen-point difference now separating blacks and whites in America. Gould has another gripe; the failure of lay readers to penetrate the authors' scientism. He quotes many reviewers who said in their reviews that they were unable to judge the adequacy of the arguments because of their lack of scientific training. Gould says, "The book is a rhetorical masterpiece of scientism, and it benefits from the particular kind of fear that numbers impose on nonprofessional commentators. It runs to eight hundred and forty-five pages, including more than a hundred pages of appendixes filled with figures. So the text looks complicated, and reviewers shy away with a knee-jerk claim, that while they suspect fallacies of argument, they really cannot judge." Yet the central premise of The Bell Curve rests entirely on two entirely unsupported assumptions; "(1) that there is a single, general measure of mental ability, and (2) that the I.Q. tests that purport to measure this ability... aren't culturally biased." Ironically, Herrnstein and Murray fail to document these assumptions in their book. According to Gould, "they simply declare that it has been decided."

Gould examined their statistical methodology and found it, too, lacking in precision and accuracy. But he finds their solutions completely abhorrent. They actually write in The Bell Curve that those with lower I.Q.s should be placed in a custodial state ... a high-tech and more lavish version of the Indian reservation for some substantial minority of the nation's population, while the rest of America tries to go about its business." Do you suppose they would let them have guns or TV's? Gould quotes John Stuart Mill; "The tendency has always been strong to believe that whatever received a name must be an entity or being, having an existence of its own. And if no real entity answering to the name could be found, men did not for that reason suppose that none existed, but imagined that it was something particularly abstruse and mysterious." And Gould ends his review; "How strange that we would let a single and false number [I.Q.:] divide us, when evolution has united all people in the recency of our common ancestry-thus undergirding with a shared humanity that infinite variety which custom can never state. E pluribus unum."

Interestingly, there is a very revealing piece of data contained in Appendix 5 of The Bell Curve (and yes, I have read the book) and that is the results of ACT, SAT, and GRE scores of whites and blacks between T 970 and 1990. Blacks score on average generally lower than whites, but what is interesting is that the difference has narrowed. "Overall the evidence seems clear beyond a reasonable doubt... the narrowing was achieved because black scores rose more than white scores, not because white scores were falling." That would seem to provide evidence that perhaps some of the social tinkering may have been working, contrary to Murray's thesis in Losing Ground, a book he published some years ago that was an indictment of the welfare system as a failure.

Murray and Herrnstein make some statements in The Bell Curve that made me wonder about their cognitive ability. For example, on page 201 they state; "Going on welfare really is a dumb idea, and that is why women who are low in cognitive ability end up there; but also such women have little to take to the job market, and welfare is one of their few appropriate recourses when they have a baby and no husband to help." So I guess it was pretty smart, huh.

A recent study that bears on the problems raised by Herrnstein and Murray reports that many children suffer permanent intellectual damage before they enter first grade. "Neuroscientists now believe that a child's future intellectual growth is shaped during these years by the kind of stimulation a child gets." The child's brain can only become organized and make associations if stimulated early in life, which makes the role of the parent crucial.

Studies done on kittens where one eye was sutured shut - we'll discuss cruelty in laboratory experiments in another issue - and then returned to a normal sensory world left the kittens now permanently blind.

"In 1991, 53 percent of all women with one-year old babies were in the workforce, up from 17 percent in 1965, and nearly half of the children under three were being looked after by someone other than their parents."

The report ["Starting Points; Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Children." Carnegie Corporation, 1994:] cites studies that show the "care infants and toddlers get is often of such substandard quality that it adversely affects their development." The most discouraging aspect suggests that there may be little that educators and parents can do after age three. "There may be a permanent gap between youngsters who have had the stimulation necessary to their mental development and those who have not - no matter what schools and teachers do." And' of course, since they would never take I.Q. tests that early, the differences in I.Q. may stem from early deprivation of stimulation rather than an innate cognitive difference, yet the outcome may be depressingly similar.

One major thesis of Murray and Herrnstein's book is that during the last sixty to seventy years there has been a partitioning of society based on education and intelligence. During the 1930's, for example, there was little difference in the I.Q.s of students at various colleges throughout the country. A student at a small church related school in Idaho was likely to have an I.Q. not too far from the average I.Q. of a student at Harvard, whose average score on the SAT even in 1950 was only 528. Since W.W.II there has been an enormous shift. Society is much more efficient now at sending its brightest students on to college and success. Bright students have been going to the more elite schools, and the population in general that used to include a broader range of intellectual levels, is now sending more of the bright students to college, which is a great sorter - 20% of those in the lower 2 deciles entered college but only 2% got degrees, whereas 70% in the top decile got a BA's. - and this has resulted in the development of what they call a "cognitive elite," a group that gets better jobs, has more education, and associates with itself, a partitioning of society. To some extent, the subject of the book is how the social fabric has been changed by the development of this group that is different from the rest of society by virtue of its being selected out of society. "When people live in encapsulated worlds, it becomes difficult for them, even with the best of intentions, to grasp the realities of the worlds with which they have little experience but over which they have great influence, both public and private." Education is the first sorting mechanism, which leads to the second great sorter: occupation.

Murray has argued that their book should not be used to create policy, a disingenuous position at best. I suspect they did not think through the logical outcome of their proposition. Murray has argued elsewhere that the welfare system is a failure and that we need to eliminate programs as they exist, yet their book screams for more welfare, for if indeed there is a group of people inherently unable to care for themselves or achieve on a high level, then society has no other choice but to put them on welfare and act paternalistically toward them, a proposition, T, for one, don't find compelling evidence for.

Some of the more disingenuous quotes from The Bell Curve: "Measures of intelligence have reliable statistical relationships with important social phenomena, but they are a limited tool for deciding what to make of any given individual." [their italics!... This thing we know as I.Q. is important but not a synonym for human excellence." Now let me get this straight: We can use I.Q. for determining social policy that has enormous impact on individuals, but an individual's l.Q. has nothing to do with their performance in society So treat them as a group because of the group's I.Q., even though it may hinder the individual's performance. The book is filled with such non sequiturs.

There is one aspect of The Bell Curve that I found to be quite useful. Appendix I contains one of the most enlightening chapters on statistics I have read. The authors explain clearly and non-technically what the standard deviation is, how linear regression is used, and how statistics are used to measure and interpret data.

Maher: Romney thinks a blow job is how the Pep Boys clean out a carburetor | The Raw Story

Maher: Romney thinks a blow job is how the Pep Boys clean out a carburetor | The Raw Story:

 "Electing Mitt doesn’t mean just electing him, it’s electing every “right wing nut” to whom he has paid political fealty in the last ten years. “If the Mitt-mobile rolls into Washington, it’ll be towing behind it every anti-intellectual, anti-science freak show. The abstinence-only obsessives, the flat-earthers, the home schoolers, the holy warriors, the anti-women social Neanderthals, the closeted homosexuals and every end-timer who’s ever seen the Virgin Mary in the grass over the septic tank.”"

'via Blog this'

Tina Fey rips ‘grey-faced men with $2 haircuts’ defining rape | The Raw Story

Tina Fey rips ‘grey-faced men with $2 haircuts’ defining rape | The Raw Story:

“Todd Akin. Oof. This guy,” she continued. “Todd Akin claims that women can’t really get pregnant from a legitimate rape because the body secretes hormones. Now I can’t even finish this sentence without getting dumber; it’s making me dumber when I say it—but it’s something about the body not being able to get pregnant when it’s under physical stress.”

'via Blog this'

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Dead Simple

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Dead Simple:

The beginning of this book is the creepiest I have ever run across. Anxious to play a prank on their soon-to-be-married friend Michael Harrison, known for his pranks, four of his friends get him drunk and passed out, then bury him in a coffin with only a tube for air, a porn magazine and a walkie-talkie. Then they drive off and are T-boned by a concrete truck. All are killed. The tow truck driver's retarded son (or should I say mentally challenged), finds the walkie-talkie in the grass where it had been thrown by the accident, talks to Michael, but then drops it and thinks he has broken the unit. Now he's afraid to tell anyone about what he found. Michael's realization that he is buried and that no one is answering his increasing frantic calls on the walkie-talkie will give you nightmares, or at least it would, if you're susceptible to that sort of thing. Forget supernatural/horror crap, realism is far more frightening.

Superintendent Roy Grace is charged with finding the missing man who disappeared just three days before he was to be married. Michael's friend and business partner we soon learn has it in for Michael and Ashley's Michael's intended is startled to learn that the business had considerable funds in a Cayman Islands account. Or is she? (Spoiler police, please note:These really aren't spoilers as we learn the details from several points of view early in the book.) The scenes of Michael growing increasingly frantic in his coffin are really frightening. Some interesting twists kept things moving along nicely.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Authors v Reviewers

The battle continues between readers and authors on Goodreads. Many authors feel personally attacked by comments made by the readers on Goodreads, assuming, I guess, that anyone who reads their books should only have nice things to say. Several have even objected to shelf names like "abandoned" or "Never read" or "really terrible," or whatever. Several or authors complain when reviews aren't "constructive." As if we were their beta-readers. These authors fail to understand that we reviewers on Goodreads are first and foremost readers who are engaged in a conversation with other readers. We are inviting people into our homes to look at our libraries and what we think of books in our libraries. As one friend of mine put it, "I'm saying...stop coming into my house and complaining about what my library looks like. It's my library and I was being kind by letting you see it. The more you complain, the more likely I am to kick you out."

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Priest

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Priest:

The daughter of an important Spanish man is found beaten and raped. Inspector Mike Mulcahy, fresh from his work with Interpol in Spain, is enlisted to assist with translation and the investigation under Detective Inspector Broghan. It's a politically sensitive case and Mulcahy wants nothing to do with it. The only information the girl can supply is that her attacker made the sign of the cross and was dressed like a priest. Forming an alliance with an old journalist friend, Siobhan Fallon, he resists the leadership's pressure to attribute the attacks to the most likely candidate. Mulcahy insists there is a religious element to the attacks which escalate into murder, given that in each case (and the number of victims escalates) a jewelry cross was missing from the victim and it's imprint burned into her skin.

I loved the local Dublin locale and the writing is descriptive and evocative. Ably read by one of my favorite readers, Michael Kramer.

'via Blog this'