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Monday, April 22, 2013

Unstated Findings of the Detainee Treatment Report: | John Dean | Verdict | Legal Analysis and Commentary from Justia

Unstated Findings of the Detainee Treatment Report: | John Dean | Verdict | Legal Analysis and Commentary from Justia:

On April 16, 2013, The Constitution Project released its report on “Detainee Treatment.” It is an important, not to mention devastating, document.  It’s important because of the group who gathered the information, along with their recommendations, and it’s devastating because of the revelations provided.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review of Stolen Prey

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

One of Sandford's better Lucas Davenport novels. I sometimes wonder though if the reader makes the book. Richard Ferrone has always been one of favorite readers and perhaps his subtle emotional tone shifts add to my enjoyment. Who knows (and who cares?)

No point in a retelling of the plot, what I especially liked about this one was the total lack of drivel with external characters like Weather and Lucas's friend the nun psychologist whose name escapes me. (Robert Parker's books also have ambivalent relationships with women.) They always seemed so unnecessary and a distraction from the basic storyline. I liked the elements of humor and especially the insertion of comments about current detective stories, etc. It keeps things light.

Virgil Flowers, one of Sandford's spinoffs (and a good series) plays a minor role in Davenport's search for two guys who mugged him at an ATM.

The only puzzling aspect of the book was the three Mexican characters, or should I say caricatures, Unos, Dos, and Tres. They seemed to be a mixture of ridicule and cartoon and seemed slightly off-kilter from the rest of the book. I did enjoy the hints of humor that seemed more prevalent in this book than some of the others in the series.

I like all of the Sandford series although the Kidd books, with their emphasis on computer technology, are horribly dated. But take all the Sandford works for what they are worth, just fun reads and a good way to pass the time while mowing the lawn or getting teeth drilled.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review of A Time to Die: The Untold Story of the Kursk Tragedy

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of A Time to Die: The Untold Story of the Kursk Tragedy:

The Kursk's brief life spanned a revolutionary period. She had been planned under Gorbachev, the keel had been "laid down" under Yeltsin, but when finally commissioned, the Soviet Union   had self-destructed and she was commissioned into the Russian Northern Fleet, prepared for a war that seemed less and less likely.  Huge -- there is a drawing of a 747 superimposed on a schematic of the Kursk that dwarfs the airplane,-- the Kursk and her sister ship were the pride of the increasingly destitute Russian navy: the captain of the Kursk took home less than $1,000 per year and often a paymaster would be left behind a cruise to stand at the bank to make sure the crew's salaries were collected before the money disappeared from the bank. In fact, one of the officers on board was suing the government and Navy for pay for the sailors. The Kursk's final voyage was part of a very ambitious -- a word used advisedly because it was not sure that money would be available to pay for the fuel --war game intended to impress Putin who had suggested he wanted to restore the Russian military to its former glory. The plan was also to use the cover of the war games to sneak one of the Russian boomers under the summer ice of the Arctic past watching American submarines proving they could deploy a nuclear sub without the United State knowing about it. Things began to go wrong from the start.  Several missile launches failed spectacularly and the pressure to send good news to the Defense Ministry was pushing crews to take risks.  In the final phase of the war games four submarines were to elude discovery and fire a test torpedo at the Peter the Great a large cruiser.

I suspect most of us have some hydrogen peroxide lying around the house.  Simple stuff, just water with an extra oxygen atom. But bring it into contact with copper and you have the recipe for a serious disaster as the peroxide tries to eject the extra oxygen atom creating immense heat. Once started, nothing will stop the process until all the combustible material is gone. The practice torpedo that blew up had never been used in practice and the HTP used in the propulsion system had leaked on to the casing, made of copper and brass. It exploded with immense heat and force. In the forward torpedo room of the Kursk, there were live torpedoes with real TNT in them. When they cooked off in a secondary explosion, it registered on the Richter scale as 3.5 magnitude. It blew a huge hole in the pressure hull of the sub. The blast was halted only by the nuclear vessel shielding. This prevented the controls rods from being knocked out of alignment and a potential runaway reactor. Instead of a submarine accident it might have been an ecological disaster.

 The British had known of the dangers of HTP.  The Sidon had a torpedo explode without warning while at the dock in 1955. Twelve men were killed and an investigation revealed the HTP (high-test peroxide) had leaked out of chamber in the torpedo on to some metal and combusted.
They never again carried HTP on a British submarine.

To make matters worse, the emergency buoy that was supposed to release and send  emergency signals if any number of serious conditions arose, had been disabled while on a  patrol in the Mediterranean the summer previous, because they were terrified it would deploy  accidentally and alert American or British forces to the subs presence. By 1999, the fleet was suffering from neglect and lack of funds. Of seventy cranes at the home port, only twenty worked, meaning that torpedoes could only be loaded on a few of the boats.  Sailors were paid only six months out of the year and some of the subs were reduced to hauling food.   One commander connected his nuclear power plant to the town's electrical grid so at least some of the navy families could be warm and have light during the long winter.

By a quirk of fate, after the explosion, which blew an immense hole in the side, the sub settled to the floor of the sea in a rather even fashion. Had it sunk nose first, some 130 feet would have extended above the surface, since the depth of water where she sank was only 350 feet deep, much less than the length of the vessel.  23 sailors survived the sinking initially, but remained entombed in the stern of the sub. We have a pretty good idea of what happened to the men marooned in the rear of the sub. A twenty-eight-year-old officer, Lt. Kolesnikov, began writing a precise journal of who was there and events as long as he could.  There must have had some makeshift light at the beginning and adequate oxygen for his writing is precise.  There were 23 men, all doing reasonably well who could have been saved had the Russians acted with haste, understood what was happening accepted the aid of foreign experts. As the author notes, making this an international rescue should not have been embarrassing since no one nation could martial all the technology and forces needed.   But the idea that Russians would let Americans or NATO forces anywhere near their premiere sub was anathema.

Russian communications failures being rather common coupled with a distinct desire not to be the bearer of bad tidings, the double explosion on a sub in the midst of the Russian fleet and during a simulated wartime exercise, went unmentioned if not unnoticed. There was no reward for being curious. Everyone else in the world was very curious as seismic registration needles around the globe measured something. They and the entire US intelligence  apparatus were at complete loss to understand what had happened. Communication to the outside world was abysmal at best.  The Russians, always eager to put the best foot forward made it seem like everything was great. World interest was accordingly peaked and now they had figurative floodlights on the Kursk. Problem was that Norwegian seismologists had registered the explosions on Saturday, not on Sunday as the Russians had claimed. So the world knew they were lying from the git-go. And they also uttered the word "collision."   This was the worst possible scenario from a political standpoint. There had been several very embarrassing and potential deadly collisions in these waters and the new quieting technologies made them even more likely.  In one instance a Russia sub surfaced right underneath and American spy sub. And the Cold War was supposed to be over! Both subs limped back to base. But it was a close thing.

 Ironic, because the Russians had suffered the loss of the S-80 more than thirty years before in almost exactly the same location. It disappeared without a trace, but the Russians were determined to find it and discover what might have gone wrong as it was the first of its type. They never gave up and 8(!) years after it disappeared it was discovered and the cause of the sinking identified. During a storm, water began to slosh into the vessel through an open hatch.  A sailor was ordered to shut it, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn't. The reason was simple. He had been trained on a different model of submarine in which the hatch handle was screwed shut in the opposite direction. He had tried so hard to close it the threads on the screw mechanism had been completely stripped.  Another irony was that precisely the characteristics that made the sub so difficult to find, i.e. its design to suppress noise and not reflect sonar signals, worked against saving the sailors trapped in section nine.

I also intend to read .
[book:Cry from the Deep: The Sinking of the Kursk, the Submarine Disaster That Riveted the World and Put the New Russia to the Ultimate Test|377177]

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Review of Pay Off

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

I have to agree with some of the other reviewers. The book has an interesting premise: a relatively average Joe seeks revenge on a group of people responsible for his father's suicide (the book's formal description is very screwy.) 

This was Leather's first book and he notes that, much like some of Deighton's books, the narrator is never named. His access to the nether world is somewhat satisfactorily explained and there is the stereotypical love for the beautiful and tender call girl. There is the requisite developmentally, but charming, brother he puts at risk. You know, you've seen these players before.

The first part of the book is better than the final portion which descends into the typical gun battle with the hero being saved by his gangland friend at the absolute last minute, nay second. Nothing innovative there except for the distillery details. No spoilers for anyone who has watched any TV show in the last century.

Nevertheless, it is a good start and intriguing enough for me to start another Leather book: Bombmaker which has a very interesting story-line.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Review of Ghostman

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

Ghosting is different from vanishing. Vanishing among professional criminals is discouraged if not condemned.  After the job, you are obliged to follow the plan;  if you disappear, especially with the money, all bets are off, and everyone will be after you.

Ghosting is very different as it involves assuming different identities and becoming different people. In this book, our protagonist -- the name is hardly relevant since he assumes so many different ones, but we'll call him Jack -- is obliged to fly to Atlantic City to clean up after a Federal Payload job that has gone all wrong.  The details of what makes transport of billions of dollars from the Federal Reserve to banks (and especially casinos) around the country is really interesting) and our hero has but 48 hours to clean things up or everything goes to hell for Marcus, the mastermind of the operation who is trying to steal not just from the Treasury department, but the drug cartel. How it was to work is rather ingenious.  But things go wrong and one man is killed and another has vanished.  Jack is charged with cleaning it up and fixing it.

Some critics have criticized Hobbs for lack of character development.  I wonder if this wasn't partly deliberate as the anti-hero is supposed to be colorless, formless and ghostlike.  It doesn’t matter that we don’t like him;  it's a good story, in this case very well read by Jake Weber ( a narrator I had not heard before but will add to my list of narrators to watch, err, listen for.)

BTW, the protagonist read the Aeneid in Latin as a boy (some kids played with model trains, he read Latin) and he always wanted to be Aeneas. His motto became: 'Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.'

My motto has always been Cave ab homine unius libri.

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Monday, April 08, 2013

Review of Bad Blood

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

The case begins with the baseball bat head-bashing murder of a local farmer delivering soybeans to the local mill.  The killer is a well-liked football star and his actions puzzle the community, but not as much as the string of killings that follow.  BCA detective Flowers is asked to help with the investigation by the local newly elected sheriff who fears her election at the expense of one of her deputies might compromise the investigation.

If you read the reviews on Amazon, the one-star comments seem to fall into a couple of groups:  those who object to "bad" words and/or the subject matter (child abuse and its connection to a religious cult or it's just "pornography", a bizarre complaint indeed), and those who complain about the Kindle price (get a life folks, you don't have to buy the book.)  In other words the one star reviews have little substance to them and can be safely ignored as trite.

Some of the dialogue, especially with the children of the cultish group, seemed forced and whether such a group could be as large as it was in a rural community without raising more than a few eyebrows is problematic.  It's a good story.  My quibbling minor complaint is that perhaps Sandford could have used the story to examine the ramifications of  a mindset that teaches a belief system to children they believe to be good that is in direct opposition to normal societal values.

One line I really liked: "Nothing scares a shit-kicker like somebody shooting up his truck."

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Saturday, April 06, 2013

Review of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

"This book is about why it’s so hard for us to get along. We are indeed all stuck here for a while, so let’s at least do what we can to understand why we are so easily divided into hostile groups, . . Politics and religion are both expressions of our underlying moral psychology, and an understanding of that psychology can help to bring people together. My goal in this book is to drain some of the heat, anger, and divisiveness out of these topics and replace them with awe, wonder, and curiosity. We are downright lucky that we evolved this complex moral psychology that allowed our species to burst out of the forests and savannas and into the delights, comforts, and extraordinary peacefulness of modern societies in just a few thousand years. . . I want to show you that an obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition. It is a feature of our evolutionary design, not a bug or error that crept into minds that would otherwise be objective and rational."

I hardly feel qualified to make any kind of judgments on this book having little background in philosophy, especially moral philosophy, so I especially appreciate Haidt's lucid summary of the development of moral philosophy through examples and hypotheticals.

I remember several years ago having a visit from the local anti-abortion denizens, nice people, very concerned about youth, etc. They steered the conversation to abortion, their favorite topic. Being of a liberal and hopefully rational and reasoned mindset myself, I described a book I had recently read,The Facts of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy by Harold J. Morowitz, James Trefil, a small, excellent analysis of the abortion debate that contains a plea for looking at the issue rationally. I described their suggestion that we need to decide what constitutes "human" and then see when the fetus acquires the capability (cerebral cortex) to be human, etc. etc. To which the response was, "well, I don't believe that." All debate and discussions ceases when that statement arrives. Now, I could have said, well, you old biddy, I don't give a fuck what you believe, I'm trying to find some common ground here." But, my mother having raised me as a good little boy who is always polite to old people, I merely sat there rather stunned. That's the problem. How do you create a discussion of issues when either side can just say, well, I don't believe that.

This is not just a conservative or right-wing problem. Try having a rational or reasonable discussion about the merits of circumcision, climate. autism, raw milk or veganism. I guarantee the true believers will immediately assemble with truckloads of vitriol. We all suffer from what Haidt calls "confirmation bias," that is, our gut tells us what to believe first and then we seek out justifications for that belief.

Haidt's book reaffirms what has become fairly obvious: we divide ourselves into tribes and those tribes consist of like-minded people which we use to validate our intuitive predispositions. His stated goal is to attempt to find a way to bridge the divide between two different moral world views., and to find a way for each side to at least understand the other's perspective.

Both left and right are motivated by the moral foundations of care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. But they differ qualitatively: liberals tend to care more about suffering and violence; conservatives care about harm done to others but not as intensely. Conservatives, on the other hand, place more emphasis on fairness, i.e. getting what you deserve. Both sides value liberty but have differing definition as to what constitutes the oppressor. Similarly, with fairness, each side values it but define it differently: liberals view it from the standpoint of equality while conservatives look to proportionality, i.e. fairness is being rewarded for your accomplishments and if you work harder you should be rewarded proportionally.

The biggest divisions relate to sanctity, authority and loyalty. You can easily guess where the preferences of conservatives and liberals lie. Haidt suggests that liberals will fail to gain wider acceptance until they come to terms with those three moral values and find someway to create their own vocabulary validating them. I would add that liberals will have to be more accepting of groups, particularly religious ones (as much as I despise them,) which serve an evolutionary need to discount selfishness and promote group adherence and benefits.

To some extent that's why I am so puzzled by the right's celebration of Ayn Rand who promoted the antithesis of group-think by celebrating independence and selfishness, i.e. think of yourself first and what benefits accrue to yourself through your actions. She hated coercion both governmental and religious, in particular, yet both encourage group adherence and loyalty.

I just wonder how much of what Haidt says come from his intuitive side (the elephant) and how much from the rational or reasoning part (the rider.)

Here's a quote that struck me: "And why do so many Westerners, even secular ones, continue to see choices about food and sex as being heavily loaded with moral significance? Liberals sometimes say that religious conservatives are sexual prudes for whom anything other than missionary-position intercourse within marriage is a sin. But conservatives can just as well make fun of liberal struggles to choose a balanced breakfast—balanced among moral concerns about free-range eggs, fair-trade coffee, naturalness, and a variety of toxins, some of which (such as genetically modified corn and soybeans) pose a greater threat spiritually than biologically."