Goodreads Profile

All my book reviews and profile can be found here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gray, Maine’s Confederate Stranger

Gray, Maine’s Confederate Stranger:

'via Blog this'

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

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

An earthquake near an Icelandic lake causes part of the lake to drain and a skeleton is discovered attached to some Soviet listening devices, presumably dating from the Cold War..  Detective Erlendur Sveinsson  (The Jar City) has his own problems with a daughter constantly getting into trouble, a son who resents his aloofness, and his own periodic and obsessive search for a brother gone missing many years before in a snowstorm. He and his colleagues try to track down the identity of the dead man, but no one wants to revisit the Cold War times, especially one in which idealistic socialist Icelandic students succumbed to the blandishments of Soviet agents seeking to spy on a country that  many called “an American aircraft carrier.”

The skeleton was found with an antiquated spy machine tied around it as a weight. Unlike most Icelandic murders, which were easier to solve, this one, appeared to have been carefully planned, skilfully executed, and had remained covered up for so many years. Icelandic murders were not generally committed in this way. They were more coincidental, clumsy and squalid, and the perpetrators almost without exception left a trail of clues.

Erlendur continues his attempts at reconciliation with his daughter Eva who has been in and out of drug rehab and hospitals. (She a recurring character in all three of the Erlendur novels I have read adding to his -- and the reader’s -- despair.)  The images conjured up in my mind were all in black and white.  No color anywhere.

Iceland, as portrayed in these novels, remains inhospitable to the reader, and discourses on the Icelandic diet don’t make me want to rush to O’Hare and grab the first IcelandicAir to Reykjavik.

'What monstrosity is that?' she asked, pointing to a boiled sheep's head on the table, still uneaten. 'A sheep's head, sawn in half and charred,' he said, and saw her wince. 'What sort of people do that?' she asked. 'Icelanders,' he said. 'Actually it's very good,' he added rather hesitantly. 'The tongue and the cheeks . . .' He stopped when he realised that it did not sound particularly appetising. 'So, you eat the eyes and lips too?' she asked, not trying to conceal her disgust. 'The lips? Yes, those too. And the eyes.'

The gloom of these novels was summed up nicely by the discovery of an older woman, seated in front of her television, a plate of salted meat and boiled turnips was on the table beside her. A knife and fork lay on the floor by the chair. A large lump of meat was lodged in her throat. She had not managed to get out of the deep armchair. Her face was dark blue. It turned out that she had no relatives who called on her. No one ever visited her. No one missed her.

'via Blog this'

Monday, July 30, 2012

Stephanie Laurens

Stephanie Laurens:

Really interesting presentation on how the roles and relationships are changing in the publishing/writing/reading world.

'via Blog this'

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of 36 Yalta Boulevard

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of 36 Yalta Boulevard:

Unfortunately, I am again reading/listening to a series out-of-order.  Bridge of Sighs was first, followed by The Confession. They began in the 1940’s and by the time we reach 36 Yalta Boulevard (the fictitious address of the East European country’s --we never are quite sure which, but is typically Soviet Bloc-- spy service, the Ministry of State Security.)

Brano Sev is sent/led/tricked (we’re never quite sure which) into going to Austria where he is framed for a murder. Relegated to a factory job by his bosses, he is resurrected for another in his home town where he accidentally kills one of his handlers - or is he?. Always one to follow orders and assuming he is part of a grand plan, he’s soon up to his ears in a nebulous labyrinth of betrayal and deceit, unable to trust anyone, and he begins to question his superiors orders.

In one of the great ironies, Brano really believes in the system, even as it betrays and beats him, and despite his knowledge of its corruption.  He retains a child-like faith that’s at once simplistic and complicated.  It’s confusing at times, but that confusion reflects Brano’s own.

There are some really good novels out there in the spy genre  examining the gray netherworld of human actions where the protagonists stumble their way through a maze that often seems to have no end, and writers like Le Carre, Seymour, Cruz Smith, Furst, and others have fertile ground to display the misty world of human frailty. Add Steinhauer to the list.

Ludlum fans will not be interested.

'via Blog this'

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

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

Part-time deputy Toby Sawyer is called to the scene of a shooting by the Chief.  Designated to be responsible for keeping an eye on the Luke Jordan’s body until the ME arrives, he gets tired of waiting and decides to hop down the street in this backwater Oklahoma town and visit Molly, his extra-marital girlfriend for a quick poke.  Problem is when he gets back the body is gone.

Told in the first person, Gischler does a great job of keeping the reader as clueless of events as is Toby. He also wonderfully portrays the quiet desperation of a small Oklahoma town. I hiked the three blocks to Molly’s house. Molly was about the only good thing in this town when I came back. I’d left with a guitar and six hundred bucks I’d saved up mowing lawns and pitching sod. Came back to bury my mother and got stuck. The town hadn’t grown one inch since I’d been away. Hell, we were so far out you couldn’t use cell phones. Satellites didn’t fly over. We might as well have been in another fucking dimension. I’m surprised they bothered putting us on the road maps.

Toby is just a part-time but soon discovers his tenacious side and before long finds himself taking on a gang of Mexican worker smugglers and discovering he has a sense of justice he never knew was in him.  Abandoned by everyone, it’s only his infant son that provides the grounding he needs to pull it off. The result is mayhem.

I’ve read several of Gischler’s books and so far, with the exception of the vampire-related one, has never failed to disappoint.  See my other reviews for more about the other and his other titles.

'via Blog this'

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

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

This book has a kazillion ratings and reviews so I doubt there is little I can add. I found the story and dialog to be quite believable. As someone who came of age during the sixties I well remember the battles, both physical and verbal, between the “separate-but-equal” crowd and those pushing hard for civil rights.  We lived in a suburb of Philadelphia and my mother had a lady come in once a week to do the cleaning. I happened to be home from school one day - it must have been a holiday or something - and at lunch I took my bowl of soup and crackers into the dining room with my book (reading, not TV, is the foundation of anti-social behavior) while my mother and the cleaning lady (it still is irksome to use that term) ate in the kitchen. My mother later told me the lady said it was the first time she had ever sat at the same table to eat something with a white woman.  (My mother had issues of her own, but they had more to do with educational elitism than race per se, witness her early antipathy to our adoption of several mixed-race children whom she perceived to be a less than stellar intellect. This was in the early seventies when cross-racial adoption was still a rarity.)

Much as I despise religion, I have to give it credit for providing the impetus (at least in the north, but also in some churches in the south) for the civil rights movement.  It was distinctly a religious crusade, fostered by the National of Islam under Elijah Mohammed (the so-called Black Muslims,) some Catholic priests like the Berrigans (much to the dismay of their bishops) and many Protestant ministers. Bombings of churches could only lend more credibility to the marchers.

I was attending a Quaker school and remember hearing stories about one family in the Meeting that adamantly refused to permit letting blacks into the Meeting. This was in the fifties. Since Quakers have to do everything by consensus, they could essential block black membership. The issue remained unresolved until the family saw the proverbial handwriting on the wall and moved away.

I read many of the reviews and comments on Amazon and was struck by a couple who thought the book demeaned black maids. I found just the contrary, that if any group was degraded, it was the clique of white girls who, with only a few exceptions, didn’t do anything of worth and cared mostly for clothes, boyfriends, and whether a black ass had sat on their white toilet seat. Some African American readers felt the black maids were demeaned by the book. I find many of these comments quite interesting because I don't think the book is about black maids at all.  I think it's about a vapid white culture that is concerned with appearances and boys, and make-up and whether their precious behinds will be soiled by sitting on a toilet that might have been used by a black person.  For me, the book ridiculed that white culture and showed how one person made an attempt to cross over and understand the other culture's point of view, but it remains the perception of the white culture at the time so by necessity, the view of black dialect and actions must be a flawed one.

I loved the scene where Abilene is trying to potty-train Mae Mobley and is in a quandary because the child needs to see how adults do it, yet Abilene is terrified to use the bathroom in the white house rather than the colored one built for her in the garage.  So she shows her the colored one which  Mae Mobley Leefolt then wants to use all the time, to her white mother’s horror.

Yes, there are some anachronistic events, yes, the dialect seems forced sometimes.  So what. Outstanding book that reveals the tensions of being black and a decadent and dying white culture in the United States during a period of cultural upheaval.

'via Blog this'

Friday, July 27, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of God and Stephen Hawking

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of God and Stephen Hawking:

Normally, I wouldn’t read this kind of book, but given the substantial number of positive comments, and its abbreviated length, I figured what the hell.  Admittedly, I skimmed much of it. I doubt very much that parsing each sentence would have made any difference.

The preponderance of reviewers around the web appear to believe Lennox destroyed Hawking’s arguments. He did no such thing and to do so would have been impossible since each is starting with a different set of assumptions: Lennox with his belief that God exists and that something cannot arise from nothing (totally failing to explain God’s origin); Hawking with the opposite, that something can easily arise from nothing. It doesn't help that each has a different definition of what constitutes “nothing.”  One could have reconciled both positions by simply accepting the proposition that God is the laws of physics, but that wouldn’t be any fun.

I suspect that reviewers will line up for or against this book depending on their prior assumptions as well, so I am not ranking this book because I’m sure that my certainty that there is no God (as defined by Christians, Moslems, and Jews, i.e. an entity that actually gives a shit and responds to requests to intervene often violating the laws of physics when necessary)  just couldn’t possibly exist would predispose a negative rank.

Lennox’s book is a response to Hawking’s book, The Grand Design, which I have not read. A review in Science News (7.27.12) notes that Hawking’s poses and proposes to answer the following questions. “ Why is there a universe? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Why are the laws of nature what they are? While acknowledging the fine-tuning of Earth that allows for favorable life conditions, Hawking promotes the multiverse theory, which holds that our universe is only one of countless others, each with their own forces of nature.”  So both he and Lennox are engaged in a conjectural debate. I don’t like that since you can’t conjecture your way out of a paper bag. By doing so, Hawking’s speculation opened the door wide to counter-speculation.  (Anyone who argues that using the Bible as a source to refute conjecture just doesn’t know his history or Bible.  There’s way too much evidence on how those beliefs evolved and were developed. There is as much evidence for the existence of Leprachauns and Santa Claus as there is for God and they all rely on faith.)  I’m always amused by those who claim that the Big Bang, evolution, etc. are mere theories, and then go on to unquestionably accept the greatest hypothesis of them all, that “God” exists, for which there is no evidence at all.

So the debate, if one dare call it that, is like two guys sitting in a bar, one claiming Babe Ruth was the greatest baseball player;  the other asserting it had to be Hank Aaron, each absolutely certain. Fun, I guess, if you are well-lubricated. For the rest of us, it’s just a boring conversation that only makes the righteous on both sides happy.  For my part, Hawking should have stuck to astrophysics and Lennox to math neither of which is useful to the debate and left the speculation to pundits.

'via Blog this'

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Silent Hunters: German U-boat Commanders Of World War Ii

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Silent Hunters: German U-boat Commanders Of World War Ii:

This is a slim collection of essays by different authors so naturally the style and substance vary. One I enjoyed was  Eric Trust's hagiography of Friederich Guggenberger. Coming from a military family and finishing school during the hyperinflation and depression of the thirties it was no wonder he choose the naval device. As a member of "Crew 34" he was in illustrious company of several future u-boat commanders.

Guggenberger's claim to fame comes from his sinking of the Ark Royal, a British carrier, in the Mediterranean. That and the later sinking of a battleship made Hitler believe his decision to move subs from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean was a good one. It was not. Less tonnage sunk and more casualties was the result.

What made the book really interesting for me was the last essay on the case of Heinz Wilhelm Eck, the only U-Boat captain to be tried, convicted and [spoiler coming] executed for war crimes. This case was used as the basis for a novel by Gwen Griffin, An Operational Necessity.  A short version of what happened can be found at  Eck’s conduct, I argued in my review of], was hardly different than actions committed by numerous Allied soldiers and commanders. That hardly makes it right, but execution.....?

Before embarking on his last mission, Eck had been warned by U-Boat veteran Albert Schnee, ranked #22 among German U-Boat commanders, that Eck’s command, the U-852,  was one of the largest and slowest U-Boats and to be extremely careful in the transit area, mentioning that traces of wreckage, and presumably survivors, of a torpedoed ship, could place the U-boat in danger. All four type IXD2 boats preceding Eck’s U-852 had been sunk. Schnee’s warning was emphasized by Gunter Hessler.  Fifty-four days later, Eck ordered the machine-gunning of the survivors of the Peleus. Unfortunately for Eck, one survived. Ironically, the British knew of his presence less because of the wreckage he failed to sink and instead because of his radio message to Berlin reporting the sinking of the Peleus.

Located and attacked by British aircraft, the U-852 was so damaged that it could not dive, but Eck determined to save his crew by beaching the boat.  They managed to fight off further strafing attacks.  Eck failed to successfully  destroy the boat with demolition charges and more crucially did not destroy the ship’s log which was then captured. It was only the log that linked the U-852 to the Peleus.  Crewman escaping the boat were machine-gunned in the water by the British planes and several were killed.

Germane to Eck’s case was the Laconia affair in 1942 in which a German sub had torpedoed a large ex-liner transport carrying thousands of prisoners of war, civilians, and wounded British troops. The submarine, aided by others that came to the scene, began a rescue oiperation and broadcast their position saying they would continue rescue operations as long as they were not attacked.  They draped their boats in Red Cross banners.  Despite this, they were attacked and bombed by an American B-24 who had radioed for orders and was told to attack the U-boats, their decks covered with survivors.  The American commander who gave the order to attack, Captain Robert Richardson, justified his actions as an “operational necessity.”  Following this, Admiral Doenitz forbade helping any survivors. Eck wanted to use the Laconia incident and Doenitz orders as justification for his actions during the trial.

The trial was held in October of 1945 and the verdict was a forgone conclusion given the decisions of the court disallowing the defense time to prepare or even time for their witnesses to arrive.

I’ve probably already included too many spoilers but since the events surrounding the case are fairly well known, it most likely doesn’t matter.   This essay alone made the book worthwhile. It’s a fascinating case that raise all sorts of moral and legal issues with regard to how we conduct war and the responsibilities of the combatants.

'via Blog this'

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Volcano Cowboys: The Rocky Evolution of a Dangerous Science

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Volcano Cowboys: The Rocky Evolution of a Dangerous Science:

Volcanology consists primarily of observation. Description is not unusual in any science (astronomy is another example) but it is usually the first step in the scientific process. Following observations, hypotheses are then tested through repeated experiments. Volcanoes don’t lend themselves to such experimentation and they are usually located in remote, often inaccessible locations and the environment tends to be hostile to say the least.

Thomson, science writer for Time Magazine, has explored how the explosion at Mt. St. Helens affected the science of volcanology and vividly describes the assorted personalities that go into this dangerous field. Most volcanologists before St. Helens literally blew its top had studied the flows in Hawaii, but they were to discover that what they learned there bore little relationship to what they needed to know in order to predict when a mountain might explode. Snow-covered volcanoes like St. Helens contain water and as the water becomes heated its temperature rises beyond the boiling point to become steam. The rocks and structure of the mountain contain the steam, but eventually the pressure builds, occasionally cracking open a rock and spewing forth steam with a roar not unlike a jet engine’s. At St. Helens, instruments measured an extraordinary change in the landscape. A dome was actually increasing in size on top of the mountain; it was bulging as much as three inches per day. St. Helens had been quite thoroughly studied ,and believing that the past holds the key to the future, the volcanologists, trying to compress a process that normally would take place over years, i.e., testing ideas and theories, into a matter of days and short weeks, assumed that Helens, if, and when it blew, would follow previous patterns. Unfortunately, they were fooled, and the enormous debris avalanche caused the mountain to explode sideways instead of off the top. Of the fifty-seven deaths that occurred, only two were inside the predicted danger zone.

 The lessons learned at St. Helens were quite valuable for the future of volcanic eruption prediction. The difficulty in dealing with the social impact was another, less malleable, lesson. Geologists were forced into making decisions that could have enormously disruptive influences on people’s lives, not to mention causing huge financial losses. The imprecision of science and the fear of false alarms contrasted with the natural false security, and the “lack of will to act in the face of uncertainty” was illustrated in the eruption and terrible mudslides of Nevada del Ruiz in Columbia. (The potential for an immensely costly eruption in terms of both loss of life and property damage from Mt. Rainier near Seattle is frightening.)

Many of the lessons learned from explorations of volcanoes following St. Helens were applied successfully in the Philippines when geologists were able to warn of the impending eruption of Mt. Pinatubo quite accurately. Thompson’s narration of the events leading up to that explosive eruption – immensely more powerful than St. Helens – makes for riveting reading; it kept me up half the night. The eruption staggered the imagination. Air Force officers who had been evacuated from Clark Air Force Base watched in awe as the ash column from Pinatubo hit forty thousand feet in thirty seconds and was still climbing. By contrast, an F-15 at full power turns a pilot almost to stone as it rockets to six thousand feet in about sixty seconds. The column eventually reached twenty-two miles up and three hundred miles across. Because of the warning signals learned at St. Helens, the volcanologists were able to predict with some accuracy when the major eruption would occur, and many lives were saved by timely evacuations. By the way, you just don’t want to know what volcanic ash does to a 747 engine flying near it. Considering that most of Southeast Asia is sitting on live volcanoes and that Mt. Rainier is due for another eruption, this books makes timely reading. Be prepared to be riveted to your seat.

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Two for the Money

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Two for the Money:

Two for the money is, of course, a pun and the book contains two novellas, sort of. No spoilers. You will just have to read this book to understand why I can’t tell you about Book Two or provide much of the plot.

Excellent Nolan the thief story.   Nolan is getting old, or at least to an age that he thinks is old (he’s forty-nine but [spoiler coming: turns fifty in Book Two.) He’s also an Iowan, or at least Iowa has become his locale of preference given his problems with Chicago.

Iowa City depressed Nolan. It wasn’t the Midwestern atmosphere that bothered him, or even Iowa itself—he liked being left alone, which was basically what people did to each other in Midwestern states, as opposed to East Coast rudeness, West Coast weirdness and Southern pseudo-hospitality. Iowa City was a college town, and that depressed Nolan. Or more specifically, college-town girls depressed him. Maybe it was this new awareness of what he was beginning to view as the onrush of senility. Or just an awkwardness that came from being around people he couldn’t relate to. But these young girls, damn it, all looking so fuckable and at the same time untouchable, in their jeans and flimsy tee-shirts. . . . He guessed it was ego; he didn’t like looking at a desirable woman without at least the remote possibility of getting in. Not that he’d ever been much for playing the stud, that wasn’t it; sex was a gut need to be filled when time and circumstance allowed. But with young girls like these, daughters and possibly granddaughters of the one or two generations of women he’d had intercourse with, he had no basis for rapport, no way, man, none at all to relate with such creatures. Conversation was enough of a pain for Nolan without having to struggle for whatever wave-length these children were on this week. So Nolan is alone.

He has returned to the Chicago area where he is recognized and shot by a member of the “Family” with which Nolan has a long-standing grudge.  He had killed the brother of “Charlie,” one of the Family bosses who has sworn revenge and who has had a contract out on Nolan for fifteen years. Nolan, tired of hiding, running, and thieving, seeks a reconciliation with Charlie so he can have access to all the money he has squirreled away from assorted heists over the years under an alias that Charlie now controls.  Charlie agrees, but with a condition: he must pay $100,000 for the privilege.

“You heard me, Nolan. Go out and get it for me. Earn it. Steal it. Counterfeit it if you can do a good enough job. But you got to be able to show me where you got it. I want to pick up the newspaper and see such-and-such jewelry store got hit, or so-and-so rich bastard was robbed. Don’t even think about using any of the Earl Webb money to pay me off.” “Why the hell not?” “Because I don’t want you to. Because it would be too goddamn fucking easy.”

So Nolan is stuck planning a bank heist with some amateurs. The heist goes well but things begin to go very wrong.  He has the money to pay off Charlie, but is he just being set up?

Collins has the ageism and worry for the future dead on.  It’s uncanny how this book has the feel a Richard Stark Parker novel. High praise, indeed. Kudos to the publisher who resurrected these  these early novels as ebooks.

'via Blog this'

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal:

If you have seen the movie, The Social Network, you already know the plot. Filled with the purported conversations of college students from years ago, one must remain somewhat skeptical. However, I get really nervous when the author describes taking a flight from New York to San Francisco on a 757 “wide-body.” (It’s a narrow-body.)

Mezrich, himself, says several of the characters are composites (more red flags,) and some reviewers have complained the book was too long and boring. I listened to it as an audiobook while mowing the lawn, so my expectations in that regard aren’t terribly high, and I did enjoy - or at least found interesting - the legal stuff, i.e. really rich students suing other really rich students while sucking at daddy’s teat.

One does wonder what Zuckerberg might have accomplished had he been studying philosophy instead of computer science.   The social outcast as future billionaire.  Mostly the characters come across as very unhappy people.

Amusing, but take with a block of salt. The author himself has noted elsewhere that he was making do with limited sources, but that the point of the book was not to be history but rather a commentary on the values of current culture.  I understand [book:Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions|514313] is a better representation of what the author can do.

'via Blog this'

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Superversive - Quotha: The Mouse of Slick

The Superversive - Quotha: The Mouse of Slick:

Meanwhile, across the river, I have my adult publisher, Orion – and they also have problems with me. Relations between us have been strained ever since they published my Sherlock Holmes novel,The Mouse of Slick, with no fewer than 35 proof-reading errors. Their proof-reader tried to kill herself. She shot herself with a gnu.

'via Blog this'

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Sh*t My Dad Says

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Sh*t My Dad Says:

I had occasion to refer back to my review recently, and I do like my first paragraph. That being said, the overuse of "fuck" and similar words shows a lack of imagination. Now George Will really knows how to insult. I absolutely LOVE what he called Donald Trump: a"bloviating ignoramus." Now that's trenchant, much better than calling him a fucking idiot, which is what I would have done. 

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The E-textbook | The Passive Voice

The E-textbook | The Passive Voice:

Note the economics for the author of this $10 e-textbook.

'via Blog this'

TSA Technologies, Security Theater & Oversight Failures - Flying With Fish

TSA Technologies, Security Theater & Oversight Failures - Flying With Fish:

"Before the TSA focuses on using a laser at 50 meters to detect a person flying with marijuana, or a person with high adrenaline from a long kiss goodbye at the curb, someone’s sweat indicating they are a nervous flyer, or a nervous flyer having just taken Xanax … they may want to focus on the basics, like detecting explosives."

'via Blog this'

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Whack A Mole

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Whack A Mole:

Third in the John Ceepak series of novels, loosely labeled police procedurals. I read the first two and very much enjoyed their humorous undertone.  This one is much, much darker with graphic descriptions of the dismembered victims of a Sea Haven serial killer who buried his victims twenty-plus years ago and is now leaving parts of their bodies, polaroids, and religious hints around the island during the height of tourist season.  It sets a very different tone for the series.

Narrated by Danny, the erstwhile summer cop taken under Boy Scout Ceepak’s wings, Danny is a very naive Archie to Ceepak’s ultra-pure Wolfe.  Jen has a wonderful review that summarizes all you need to know about the plot. []

The characters are what make this series different.  Ceepak is morally pure and can’t tell a lie. Danny is less wholesome but a more real sidekick who often runs interference for John, sometimes lying to protect feelings or help someone.  Several reviewers have suggested we need more Ceepaks. I would suggest it’s the Danny’s that make life tolerable.

'via Blog this'

Goldman Sachs and a Sale Gone Horribly Awry -

Goldman Sachs and a Sale Gone Horribly Awry -

More evidence that brokers and Wall Street care nothing for their clients, only their own profits.  With all pension funds and personal investments so tied irrevocably to these firms, it's time to admit that we're basically screwed.

'via Blog this'

Friday, July 13, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Danger's Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Danger's Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her:

What to make of this book. Not being a professional historian working in this area but with some interest in things nautical, I have no in-depth knowledge of the factual nature of this book. Nevertheless, there were some little things that struck me: the Langley (CV-1)described as having begin its life as a light cruiser (it was a collier - note that a later USS Langley CV-17 was indeed originally ordered as a light cruiser), “heads” being called bathrooms, the “rising sun” insignia described as being on the tail of a plane (all pictures I’ve seen had the red ball on the fuselage and the wings,) and bombs are not usually attached to the landing gear.

So I poked around in some reviews and leaving aside the inevitable antagonism toward the Kennedys -- why can’t we see people as individuals instead of part of the inevitably hated tribe -- there were several naval types who railed at the naval errors which they reported filled the book. (One wag reported that reading the first half of the book was like “walking around with a pebble in your shoe” - what a great line.)

On the other hand, the goal of the author was to celebrate the ordinary seaman and aviator (ironically both Admirals Mitscher and Burke were aboard the Bunker Hill); to examine why they performed such heroic actions under impossible conditions; why Japanese often flew their planes willingly into American ships; and to examine whatever cultural differences might exist between the two countries that might explain the differences.

A basic tenet of western culture is that suicide is immoral, yet despite our celebration of the individual as opposed to the Japanese adoration for those who subsume themselves for the group, we, too, honor those who “give their lives for their country.” That implies a willful act, one that could be considered suicide and it’s certainly done for the “greater good.” Charging the machine gun to certain death gets the country’s highest honor. If these values were not inculcated into us from birth, I suppose the military could not exist.

So the question I continue to ask myself, and sought from this book, is just why we are so willing to give our lives for something as ephemeral and inconsequential as a political entity we call a country and/or a political system which many of us could not define except in mythological terms. My nephew and I once had a most interesting debate over lunch in Wurzburg where he teaches ethics and philosophy about a statement made by a German(!) professor I had in college who said that “no political system was worth one life.” If one accepts that one might be, just where does one draw the line: a thousand, ten thousand, a million? So my expectations for the book had less to do with whether the author was a Kennedy or whether the original Langley started as a collier, or where the Japanese planes painted their insignia. It was why people do what they do in times of extreme stress and how we define heroes. I still cannot answer that question to my satisfaction.

The book has an extraordinary bibliography and Kennedy has clearly done his homework. The rather obvious mistakes I noted above should probably be chalked up to bad editing at Simon & Schuster and not seen as a reflection on the entire book which is extremely interesting.

'via Blog this'

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of No Way Down: Life and Death on K2

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of No Way Down: Life and Death on K2:

The hour-by-hour story of the infamous K2 expedition in 2008 that claimed the lives of eleven climbers. The author interviewed many of the survivors and pieced together the most likely series of events from their accounts, although in spots his delving into minds of those who died, while probably as accurate as one could be, still remain speculative. Nevertheless, there are segments of nail-biting suspense

After having waited several months into the very short summer climbing season on K2, the second highest mountain in the world, and considered one of the most difficult and dangerous, several teams of climbers attempted a summit. Despite delays along the way that should have had them postpone their climb toward the top, many continued on. The most dangerous part of each climb is the return trip when climbers are exhausted and often suffering the effects of high altitude.

A glossary of names might have been helpful and there were passages that felt as if they had been amateurishly translated from another language. If you don’t want to read a whole book about the incidents, you might want to just look at the Wikipedia entry which is quite detailed and good.

An excellent addition to mountain climbing literature.

'via Blog this'

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Whats the matter- Airports

Whats the matter: "However, the most alarming trend to strike airports in the past half century has nothing to do with games, pillows, suicide hijackings or erotic pat-downs from TSA.  No, the most troubling thing about airports is noise.  If American airports need to borrow one idea from their foreign counterparts, it’s that passengers need not be assailed by a continuous loop of useless and redundant public address announcements.  Security alerts, boarding calls, traffic and parking directives all playing simultaneously.  At some airports this sonic layering is unbearable.  I have heard up to four announcements playing at once, rendering all of them unintelligible in a hurricane of noise."

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fox and O'Reilly screw up again.

The New York Times:

Wait a minute: wasn't gas sup­posed to be $5 a gal­lon now, cost­ing $75 for that same trip? Let's re­turn to the ex­perts:
"Cer­tain­ly, this sum­mer, we'll see the high­est gas prices in years." So said House Speak­er John Boeh­ner, in Feb­ru­ary.
"Right now we're head­ed to­ward $5 a gal­lon and by the end of sum­mer - maybe 6." That was Bill O'Reil­ly, of Fox News, in the same month.
"They're gonna go to $5, $6, $7." And that was Don­ald Trump in April, show­ing why he's no bet­ter at pre­dict­ing fu­el prices than he is at read­ing pub­lic doc­u­ments from the state of Ha­waii."

So if Obama was t get the blame, shouldn't he get the credit?

 "Last year, for the first time since 1949, the Unit­ed States ex­port­ed more pe­tro­leum prod­ucts than it im­port­ed, the En­ergy De­part­ment re­port­ed."

'via Blog this'

Lawfare › The Draft, the Constitutional Militia, and the Most Important Supreme Court NSL Case You (Probably) Haven’t Heard Of…

Lawfare › The Draft, the Constitutional Militia, and the Most Important Supreme Court NSL Case You (Probably) Haven’t Heard Of…:

 "According to various media reports, General Stanley McChrystal suggested late last month that the United States should bring back the draft if it goes to war again, arguing that the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been adequately spread across different segments of the U.S. population…"

The article then goes on to discuss the constitutional basis for the draft. Pertinent.

'via Blog this'

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Robert B. Parker's Killing The Blues

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Robert B. Parker's Killing The Blues:

I always liked the Jesse Stone series better than Parker's Spenser novels.  After his death, the series has apparently been taken over by Michael Brandman, and it's been a disappointment.  He's tried to capture the staccato cadence of Parker's books and succeeded to some extent, but Stone has lost all subtlety and he's not as interesting a character.  Meld that with several irrelevant side-plots that muddy things (cat, bullying, personal vendetta, another real estate agent squeeze, etc.) and one wonders where things are going.  Brandman is just trying to hard to add the pop-psychology crap that irritated me in the Spenser novels, and we are expected to believe that Jesse Stone lecturing a group of girls on their bad behavior will immediately reform them.  Then he lectures the principal of the school in a silly diatribe.  Molly and Suit disappear into the muck whereas in the real Stone books they were developing into interesting characters. 

Oh well.  Robert Parker should be left to rest in peace.  The idea that anyone could simply pick up and continue a series demeans the author's craft. 

'via Blog this'

Friday, July 06, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Mourn the Living

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Mourn the Living:

 "Collins writes in his introduction that this was an early attempt at writing, dating from the late sixties. He was reminded of its existed when fans began asking for more Nolan, the thief, books. Interestingly, it bears a strong resemblance (in a good way) to Richard Stark's Parker series.

Nolan is on the lam from the mob after killing one of the bosses who had ordered a hit on his girlfriend. There is now a huge reward out for Nolan who has decided he'll bankroll himself by stealing from his former bosses. When Sid Tisor calls asking him to look into the death of his daughter who had gone head first off a building, supposedly after taking LSD, Nolan is reluctant to venture back into Illinois where he is known by too many people. But Sid insists and Nolan owes him a debt.

Good series that, while perhaps not as polished as his later books, is enjoyable and competent. I have read all of the Quarry hit man series by Collins and clearly his writing evolved and became tighter and the characters more finely drawn although one can easily see how Nolan morphed into Quarry."

'via Blog this'

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Death of a Kingfisher

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Death of a Kingfisher:

You can find the plot summary elsewhere. I've now read, or listened to, about 10 of the Hamish Macbeth series and enjoyed all of them. Hamish is still trying to avoid the credit for solving crimes so he won't get promoted from the village he knows and loves.  In this one he's sergeant and has lazy Dick (another who understands the value of appearing to be indolent) to supervise.

Just good fun. Don't read them for the mysteries.  It's the unusual characters and quaintness of the village, I like. I listen to these while doing chores, driving, mowing, whatever.  They always help pass the time.

'via Blog this'

Randi, skepticism, and global warming | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine

Randi, skepticism, and global warming | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine:

'via Blog this'

Roberts wrote both Obamacare opinions -

Roberts wrote both Obamacare opinions -
A reader wrote this very interesting comment:

I drew the opposite conclusion from this report, which may or may not be true. My reasoning is as follows.

I once spent a year as a law clerk in an appellate court. When you are presented with a complicated case, especially a "case of first impression," requiring the interpretation of a law that has never been analysed by a court at your level before, you quickly learn not to trust first impressions. When you read and hear arguments initially, you can find yourself believing one thing, but further research into the record of the case, statutes, and precedents can lead you to the opposite conclusion.

In short, I found as a clerk that I could not truly know what my own opinion was concerning a complex case until I had done some substantial work drafting arguments for the judge to use in the judge's opinion (my own opinions, of course, were without consequence except as they helped inform the judge's decision).

The world of jurisprudence is different from the world of politics. If a politician cannot immediately opine on a given event and then maintain that opinion forever without reflection, that politician is indecisive in the first case and inconsistent in the second. Deliberation is anathema.

Judges must deliberate. When I hear that Roberts thought one way, but upon forming his own arguments was forced to come to a different conclusion, I can only conclude that despite my differences of opinion with Justice Roberts, he does in fact have the sort of mind and temperament that an appellate judge should have.

What the recent history of this court has shown me is that Republicans are still far from their dream of stacking the judiciary with judges that will obey them. Any qualified person they appoint will be too logically consistent and thoughtful to follow the party line. And that is somewhat encouraging.

AF447: When hearing isn't believing

This is an interesting  thesis regarding why the pilots of Air France 447 did not recover from a routine stall and may have implications for how warnings are designed for cockpits.

'via Blog this'

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Death Comes to Happy Valley: Penn State and the Tragic Legacy of Joe Paterno

 "A Kindle Short that neatly summarizes the rise and fall of Joe Paterno, the classic Shakespearean drama. Doesn't have much about the Sandusky scandal, but as I write this new revelations have appeared that would seem to involve Paterno in the cover-up from ten years ago.

Parallels to the Catholic Church (ironic given that Paterno was Catholic) abound. He had become a respected and comfortable institution at Penn State, someone who had a good idea, worked hard, had achieved respect and idolization, but who succumbed to the image of his own myth and when that image was threatened chose to look the other way.

A tragedy."

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

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

Another classic Parker from Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake.) In this episode, Parker is approached by Cathman, a disgruntled ex-state employee who ostensibly has it in for gambling and the state wants to increase its revenue stream by allowing riverboat gambling. Cathman has blueprints of the boat and additional details, so Parker checks him out and decides it's possible to pull a heist.

As with all the Parker stories, you know there will be a glitch, there always is, so the suspense and interest come less from the planning and details of the heist (and this one is quite complicated), but as much from watching and enjoying how Parker manages to deal with the unexpected and odd difficulties.

Definitely one of the better Parker novels.

'via Blog this'

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

For all the energy, lives and treasure we have devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s important to remember that they had nothing to do with 9/11 which became the excuse for our actions rather than the proximate rationale. We are now in a war that would appear to have literally no end, this “war of terror,” one that any sane person who recently traveled on an airplane can see the terrorists have won as we meekly surrender our civil rights to government agencies who now can tap phones, examine library records, collect data, cavity search, etc., in the name of some illusionary sense of safety, a theater of the absurd. In addition they convinced us , this tiny group of delusionary men (no women), to send thousands of troops to a hostile land and environment where they could be more easily picked off. 

Wright traces the rise of anti-semitism in the MIddle East to the influence of Naziism during WW II and especially afterwards when many Nazis fled to Egypt for sanctuary from the victorious allies. For centuries Jews had lived quite peacefully with their Muslim neighbors, but several events fueled a return to a fundamentalist, Islamicist view. The Six-Day war was used by these in a rather tortured logic to validate their position, i.e. that God had favored the Jews because Muslims had wandered away from the true Islam and the Caliphate. (This kind of perverted thinking is not unique to Islamists. It’s rampant among fundamentalist Christian groups such as the Westboro Baptists who insist that US military deaths are caused by God’s displeasure with current U.S. policies with regard to homosexuality. Other examples abound.) The war, which an overwhelming victory for Israel, humiliated Egypt, where, following Nassar’s death, Sadat needed to appeal to the fundamentalists to strengthen his government; so he released many who had been jailed from prison. Not a smart move.

The actions of the Egyptians, following the assassination of Sadat, solidified a diverse, incoherent movement. He flatly states that 9/11 was born in the torture chambers of the Egyptian government which created an appetite for revenge and turned moderates into extremists, not to mention destroyed any notion that western society actually practiced the ideals of freedom and human rights they espoused. Communism, Zionism, and Imperialism were all lumped together as the great western enemy of Islam and the only solution was to use violence to try to create an Islamic theocracy. By throwing all of the anti-government groups together in prison, many individuals and groups which had been unaware of the other’s existence were now thrown together and molded into a more coherent movement. Torture was an instrument of humiliation, revenge and punishment as well as information gathering and Ayman Zawahiri emerged as the new leader of the group.

I was astonished how intertwined the Bin Laden family, wealthy beyond measure from lucrative construction contracts, was with Saudi government and culture. That said, Osama comes across as a pathetic little man whom, for some bizarre reason, we have inflated to mythic proportions. He left a long trail of words that Wright has used effectively to build a comprehensive picture of the man that Afghans, in the fight against the Russians, thought was rather pathetic, but who was adopted by the United States and supported. Another example of how certain actions taken for a variety of reasons can have long-range negative effects. How one might ever develop the perspicuity to avoid making such mistakes remains a mystery to me.

If there are any heroes in this book, it’s the field officers of the FBI and one John O’Neill (who tragically died in the World Trade Center.) They had been concerned that the Islamic fundamentalists would try something spectacular but got little support from Washington. One Minneapolis supervisor, admonished for his reports and concerns, simply said back to the bosses in DC that he was simply “ “trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center.” This in August of 2001

Wright has done a magnificent job of melding detail and the broader picture to present a better understanding of why we are where we are today.The title, drawn from the Koran is ironic in light of Osama’s killing by American troops: ““Wherever you are, death will find you, Even in the looming tower,” a quote from one of Osama’s many videos.

After-note: Read a couple of the one-star reviews on Amazon to get a feel for psychotic thinking.

Previously written: "Therefore when you induce others to construct a formation while you yourself are formless, then you are concentrated while the opponent is divided... Therefore the consummation of forming an army is to arrive at formlessness. When you have no form, undercover espionage cannot find out anything, intelligence cannot form a strategy." Sun Tzu, 500 B.C.

For some reason, I failed to get very far into this book and was reminded of it when I read an excellent column recently at Salon ( regarding the costs of our obsessiveness with regard to airline security. I was reminded that Wright discussed Al Qaeda strategy at some length. It was quite simple. Bin Laden knew he couldn't maintain an attack on U.S. soil so he needed to get us to come to him. And he has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. We send troops and treasure over to him to be whittled away at. His first attempt to draw us in was the U.S.S. Cole; Clinton failed to fall into the trap as did Reagan after the 200 Marines were killed in Lebanon. Bush swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker. Iraq and Afghanistan have cost more than a trillion dollars of borroweded money in the first unfunded war in our history. And we spend more hundreds of billions searching for the latest object in someone's crotch for the illusion of security. Wait till someone detonates a small bomb in a TSA security line or at a McDonald's. We will then lose all our freedoms in the name of maintaining an empire we cannot afford.

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

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

A friend mentioned that Paul Doiron, who writes a series with a game warden as hero much as does CJ Box, is wildly popular in Maine where this series takes place. So what the hell, I’ll try virtually anything.  It’s pretty good once you get past the hunter vs the rest of us cultural baggage. Hunters apparently develop a certain paranoia for the rest of society whom they believe regard them as bambi killers so we are de rigueur treated to an explanation of why it’s important to have hunting so as to keep the populations reasonable and prevent starvation and road accidents. OK, I get it.  Get over it. 

Doiron’s hero is Mike Bowditch who develops a guilt complex after he failed to assist a young woman along the road who later is found dead.  Whether it’s this crisis of conscience (not very well developed, I might add) or his relationship with his criminal father.

I would have rooted for Mike more had he not done so many brain-dead things like driving while under the influence of Vicodin prescribed for a hand injury and then stopping for a beer along the way even as his long-suffering girlfriend pleaded with him not to and to come right home. I suppose one could argue his foolish actions resulted from the Vicodin; nevertheless, it struck me as horribly irresponsible.

The lone hero, unappreciated and thwarted at every turn by his superiors, who manages to solve the puzzle despite rather than with-the-assistance-of-fellow-law-enforcement seems to be a formula that is beginning to wear a little thin. If you’ve read much CJ Box you will feel right at home.

'via Blog this'

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Murrow Boys: The Fleeting Glory of Broadcast Journalism

The “Murrow Boys” were a group of radio correspondents active before, and for a while after, World War II who were considered protégés of the great CBS journalist and smoker, Edward R. Murrow. Together they invented broadcast journalism, watched it become great and then wither under the influence of McCarthyism and the advent of television.

Murrow and the aura of integrity became an icon that modern broadcasters tried to emulate and idolize. Dan Rather “donned the mantle so often in public” that he was asked to tone it down in 1987 by Eric Sevareid, one of the authentic Murrow Boys. “Rather is not Edward R. Murrow,” Sevareid said. Undeterred, Rather and CBS continued to trade on the past, “ignoring the inconvenient parts, such as the fact that Murrow and most of the Boys had been either forced out or sidetracked by the network’s bosses.”

Radio news had been an oxymoron. Those who read the “news” barely knew of what they spoke. Often they were merely shameless shills for sponsors and mouthed the scripts handed to them -- much like TV newscasters today.

Murrow came from a Quaker family. His real name was Egbert; he changed it after being unmercifully hazed by lumberjacks with whom he worked in the northwest during the summers he was in high school. His mother was so religious she refused to answer the phone by saying hello, for fear that she would be invoking the name of the netherworld. Fun was certainly frowned upon.

Radio was still a new medium and Murrow was given a great deal of freedom to recruit. He hired the best newspaper reporters he could find, arguing that regardless of the medium the idea was to write well and provide honest reports. If there isn't any news, just say so. "I have an idea poeople might like that."

He wasn’t concerned about their voices or their mannerisms. He had offered several positions to women, but the New York CBS office was adamantly opposed to such a radical idea. The people he did hire, such as Winston Burdett, Charles Collingwood, and Eric Sevareid,became famous in their own right. A virtual cult developed around Murrow. Unconsciously, many even imitated his style of clothing. He became a sort of surrogate parent; “Murrow chose people who needed him.”
Paul White, of CBS, was the first to codify the concept of objectivity. It was severely tested by the war. Was it possible for a correspondent to "objectively" parrot Nazi propaganda when reporting from Berlin? The notion of objectivity meant different things to different people. To most people today, objectivity simply means agreement with their opinion.

Radio was particularly vulnerable to pressure from government. The airwaves were still considered public property, and some New Dealers wanted all radio under government control. Comments from FDR's press secretary warning the networks to behave were not ignored by the broadcasters. The issue of objectivity was to create enormous rifts in the industry as broadcasters sought to interpret what they knew, to place events in context. When several of the Murrow Boys reported on how the rear echelons were wallowing in luxurious settings and making huge sums from the black market, the generals accused the reporters of ruining morale. Front line troops asked them why they wouldn't report the horrible conditions up front and the disparity with the rear. This same conflict was to bedevil the journalists in Korea and Vietnam. 
Radio brought fame to many of them. They were very good at their jobs. Celebrity was to affect them, too. “As long as a journalist and the outfit he works for are inconsequential, . . . it’s easy for them to believe in and stand for the verities of their craft: truth, reason, independence, freedom and the like. But when the reporter becomes a celebrity, or when his reporting affects masses of people, or when he and his outfit start to earn large amounts of money, then the pressures mount to conform, to protect oneself, to protect one’s income, to protect one’s outfit, to avoid giving offense.” A lesson many of today’s so-called journalists have forgotten or never learned.

The shift to television was to have profound impact on the business of news. After the war, sponsors had become more powerful in dictating the content of news shows they funded. Television’s requirement for larger staff and more expensive equipment made this relationship even more symbiotic. Murrow and his Boys were skeptical. They thought television was lightweight. Images rather than content became important. Nevertheless, Murrow made the transition successfully with his critically acclaimed See It Now program. The transformation to television had been fast. In the three-year period between 1948 and 1951 the nation had moved to television. But even with Murrow running the show, his Boys were appalled when he was heard to suggest that the cameraman was just as important a member of the team as the correspondent. That was part of the radical change. No longer were they independent nor did they have anywhere near the freedom that had existed during World War II. But it was really the money that was making the difference. Eric Sevareid summed it up neatly: "I have been impressed with how timid a million dollars' profit can make a publisher or radio executive, instead of how bold it makes him." How little things have changed.

Television news has become what the Murrow Boys feared, a vast, uninformative wasteland that celebrates image over substance, and happy talk over analysis. The networks cut costs by eliminating foreign correspondents, buying short video pieces from free-lancers and then layering local voices over the top. Broadcasters are hired for their looks rather than their brains. Frank Stanton recalled watching a network news broadcast one night and being appalled by the lack of knowledge of the reporter: "He had the technology, he had the pictures, he had the people to interview, and he asked the stupidest questions in the world. That didn't happen with the Shirers, the Howard K. Smiths, the Sevareids, the Murrows. They had a sense of history. They knew what was going on."

Ironically, CBS continues to extol the Murrow heritage. "It is almost axiomatic that the more an institution breaks faith with those who built it, the more it sanctifies them." This is a wonderful, revealing, impossible-to-put-down book.

'via Blog this'