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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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