Goodreads Profile

All my book reviews and profile can be found here.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Live Oaking by Virginia Wood

The author's name is not a pun. 

The Live Oak, as distinguished from the oak trees most of us northerners recognize, grows from Virginia too the Texas border and has a different leaf and because its new leaves appear by pushing off the old ones, is known as a semi-evergreen. It's incredibly strong and large. The branch span on an old tree can shad a half-an-acre. Green live oak weighs 75 pounds per cubic foot and "the weight of a single branch stretching a full 70 feet is calculated in tons." This means the trunk must be incredibly strong and dense making the wood so hard as to be of little use for wood-workers. 

The live oak is tolerant of salt spray so it grows well along the ocean even growing in sand dunes. Decimated by construction of ships and coastal buildings, the tree is now celebrated by the Live Oak Society and in gardens and parks. John Muir considered it "the most magnificent planted tree I have ever seen." A picture of a mature specimen is below. Believe it or not, there is a person in this picture to provide scale.

A great deal of live oak, which by the early 19th century had developed a world-wide reputation for being the best wood for warships, its durability was estimated to be five times that of white oak, was needed to build a ship: 23,000 cubic feet, or 460 live oak trees, in the case of a frigate. Europe had been denuded to build navies. It was a sellers' market and attempts to purchase large quantities of live oak for the Navy resulted in locals demanding exorbitant prices, "for patriotism is a plant which does not grow in this climate." John Quincy Adams had the foresight to try and buy up live oak lands and to try to build a live oak plantation, if you will, under the aegis of a Florida judge who had written the first treatise on the growing and care of live oak. Unfortunately, Adams's efforts were for naught as they fell before the onslaught of Jacksonian politics. 

Ironically, after the need for any kind of wood for ship-building disappeared with the advent of steel ships, the navy had tons of live oak stored under water from before the Civil War. It became so hard that it resisted efforts to work with it during the attempted restoration of the USS Constitution in the late twenties. In 1945, two samples ruined a power saw. 

Wood follows the work of a live oaker as they left New England and sailed south to the live oak forests where the hard work began. They first had to build base camps with their own housing, usually shelters strong enough to keep out the rain and heat. Oxen to haul the logs had to be transported along and often they were forced to put the animals in a kind of sling so they wouldn't fall and break their legs during rougher weather. Live oak is heavier than water so it could not be floated downstream. All of it had to be hauled, so the first task was to build roads to the suitable trees. Once the tree was felled, an arduous job, hewers would take over and begin squaring off the tree and then according to plans, hew the appropriate knee or some other part of the prospective ship's frame. These were then hauled to the landing where they were inspected and marked and only then shipped back to the New England shipyard. 

Obviously, I could go on boring everyone but myself. Lots of excellent line illustrations and detailed notes and bibliography. Marvelous.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Aleutian Grave by William Doonan | LibraryThing

This is the fourth and last of the Henry Grave series of cruise-detective novels I have read. It was as much fun as the others, but i have to admit this one was beginning to feel too formulaic. Grave is as old, as hungry, as lusty, and as clever (but a bit addled) as usual which often brings a smile, but it’s a more tired smile.

This voyage, Henry is helicoptered by the Association of Cruising Vessel Operators, to a Russian ship where it a particularly vicious murder has taken place, one that appears to have been committed by a cannibal. Not to give anything away, the plot involves a plant that blooms every seventy years, an ethnobiologist, an old nemesis, rabbits, Alaskan indian natives, a wendigo, and a shaman. (The author is an archaeologist, after all.) 

A very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. I suggest reading the series in order. I’m now off to read one of Doonan’s non-Grave novels. 3.5 rounded up to 4 stars.

The books in order:
Grave Passage
Mediterranean Grave
Grave Indulgence
Aleutian Grave

'via Blog this'

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Black Mountain by Les Standiford | LibraryThing

Rather ordinary plot but well-executed.  Richard Corrigan is a NY transit cop, relegated to the subways because of an eye injury.  Assigned to crowd control at the governor's appearance in Central Park, he sees an odd looking homeless man moving quickly toward the speaker’s platform with his hands in his packets. Giving chase, Corrigan follows the man running into a subway tunnel where the man falls in front of a subway train and is killed.  What Corrigan thought might be a gun turned out to be an inhaler. His partner throws down a gun to make it look like the guy was armed and Corrigan, much to his disgust is hailed as a hero by the governor.

The governor, as a publicity stunt, decides to take Corrigan along on his wilderness trip and, of course, the party becomes stranded when their plane crashes after dropping them off and a couple of hitmen stalk them through the trek out of the mountains, killing people off as they go along. The bad guys seem to be helped by the weather which seemed a bit too much deus ex machina, but nevermind.

The governor is your standard schnook to the point where rooting for the bad guys is a definite option.  There is never any doubt as to the ultimate outcome so a thriller it’s not and this is perhaps one of those books enhanced by the skill of the narrator, Richard Ferrone, who is very good, indeed.

'via Blog this'

Friday, November 28, 2014

Junkyard Dogs: A Walt Longmire Mystery (A Longmire Mystery) by Craig Johnson | LibraryThing

This is the sixth or seventh Longmire book I’ve read and it has the most delightful beginning. I won’t explain other than to drop a few hints:  a rope, cleaning a chimney, a bumper, a 72-year-old, lots of snow, and waving while going down the street.

The plot of the book is nothing special but the relationship between the characters is.  That’s what makes these books.  You get to know and like them.

The ending has a certain slapstick quality to it even as the violence escalates.  Good series.  I suggest reading them in order.

'via Blog this'

Monday, November 24, 2014

So long as you both shall live: An 87th precinct mystery by Ed McBain | LibraryThing

Fat Ollie takes center stage in this 87th Precinct McBain.  Bert Kling is marrying Augusta, a model, who is kidnapped from their wedding suite by a looney.  The scene shifts back and forth between Augusta, who is not about to let things take their course without a fight, and the investigation.   They are stymied with seemingly no leads, but Ollie, “ who was bigoted, slovenly, opinionated, crude, insensitive, gross, humorless, unimaginative…No, that wasn’t true. Ollie was imaginative,” joins the hunt and, with the help of the wedding photographer, develops the two leads that break the case open.

Short, almost a novella, the book is standard McBain fare, that is to say, a solid police procedural.

'via Blog this'

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Walking the Perfect Square by Reed Farrel Coleman | LibraryThing

I ran across Coleman when I read his continuation of Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series.  I liked that a lot so I thought I would take a look at Coleman’s Moe Prager series.

Moe Prager has been invalided out of the NYPD after having knee surgery.  How it happened depended on how drunk he was during the retelling.  The truth was he slipped on a piece of carbon paper in the squad room.  Having fortuitously found a missing girl while on the beat, he is approached by Francis Maloney, a haughty anti-semite (“your people”) to help search for his son, Patrick, who has disappeared.  Agreeing only because Francis says he can help (or hinder) Moe’s application for a liquor license, Moe soon wonders as to Maloney’s seriousness. after a more recent picture than the one Francis is plastering all over town surfaces.  It shows Patrick with tattoos and rings in several orifices.  It’s a picture Francis categorically refuses to acknowledge and proscribes Moe from using it in the search.

Most of the book takes place in 1978 but is connected to events in 1998 (somewhat awkwardly) and revolves around issues of homosexuality within families and familial relationships. The disappeared boy was known to have walked backwards in perfect squares while he thought no one was watching. He’s also known to have wanted to marry at any cost and became extremely upset when one of his girlfriends insisted on terminating her pregnancy from their intimacy.

Aside from some sections that read like a psychiatry textbook and that felt very dated, it’s a good story that handles changing mores quite deftly.

'via Blog this'

Grave Indulgence by William Doonan | LibraryThing

The Indulgence is the largest cruise ship in the world with every imaginable attraction including a rainforest with its own indigenous people, a 3D surround movie theater, and a high wire line that transports you through the air above the ship.  Funded by a prince of an Arab country, Henry is hired to make sure nothing happens to Meg Savoy, an American Air Force general who has many secrets with regard to drone operations that many other countries would enjoy getting their computers on.

As usual Henry is annoyingly lustful and occasionally forgetful, although his malapropisms and odd memory seem as much a part of his technique as old age. He’s also sly as a fox. He stumbles into several side plots and with his usual aplomb (but very hard spine) manages to outwit the bad guys. He has to worry this voyage about what seems to be some early Alzheimer’s as well.

These books are obviously not to be taken seriously, but much like a fine, creamy chocolate, become addictive and hard to put down.  They are well written and often chuckle-out-loud funny. I’ve read three now and hope Doonan continues to write in the series. I should be so spry at 85.

Now on to Aleutian Grave.

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mediterranean Grave by William Doonan | LibraryThing

These stories are captivating.  I did a little research on the author who holds a Ph.D. in archaeology and was a lecturer on cruise ships for many years in addition to working on digs, so the archaeological references certainly ring true.  Our hero was an archaeologist, too, that is, until he lost the mummies.

This time, Henry Grave, investigator for the Cruise Line Association, is sent to Greece and on board the Vesper, where the man guarding a priceless Minoan vase has been murdered and the vase disappeared.  Henry investigates in his usual Columbo-like manner filled with House of Pancake business cards, but cunning cleverness.

A good mystery with Henry having only three days to solve the crime.  Some nice travel comments, as well.  I really like this series.

'via Blog this'

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Future by Al Gore

I'm usually reluctant to read political documents, but this was chosen for our reading club so I decided to slog through it.  It's often interesting although I felt sometimes that he was just summarizing each of the myriad of research articles pulled together by his research assistants in some kind of coherent fashion.

There's no way in hell I could summarize everything in less than 50 pages but I've got some general comments below.  It's a good book to use from the index, i.e., want to see about a certain issue, hit the index and then read the few pages devoted to that topic.

  1. Very good at capturing generational angst by which I mean that each generation seems to have some issue of apocalyptic concern that MUST be solved or the world will come to an end. Depending where (when) you live (d) that concern may be different but it's always there and is of overwhelming importance to those concerned.
  2. Great summary of much of the information out there and the issues. See my comments re the index above.
  3. Nifty bibliography.  A great resource.
  4. Good summary of conflicts on page 124
  5. Retired people are a huge problem.  (Full disclosure:  I'm retired)  This is a point I make to my colleagues and students.  It takes 4.2 workers between the ages of 16 and 60 to provide enough tax revenue to support one retired person.  That means lots of jobs to be created or lots of retired people to die off.  Or lots of immigrants.
  6. Very good summary of the problems in the financial industry 
  1. Ignored the role of religion and religious extremism.  Religion is barely mentioned yet it's a major source of conflict which has the more immediate potential to cause a lot of grief.
  2. Too US-centric, i.e. U.S. as moral force that needs to enforce that morality.  If corporations are too multi-national how do you effect change in other countries. I just don't buy the idea that the United States has to be the moral (read military) savior of the planet.  Gore does and states so explicitly.
  3. Is it fair to deprive developing countries of the opportunity to become wealthier?  We set a certain standard which we need them to emulate in order to consume more goods and then tell them they can't because it's bad for the planet.
  4. Again, the favorite whipping boy is corporations.  It's all their fault.  Everything.  And this person business, yet as a lawyer he should have known the idea of corporations having "personhood" status is a very old one.i.e., “Since at least Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward – 17 U.S. 518 (1819), the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized corporations as having the same rights as natural persons to contract and to enforce contracts.”  That also increases their liability. “The basis for allowing corporations to assert protection under the U.S. Constitution is that they are organizations of people, and the people should not be deprived of their constitutional rights when they act collectively. (see the excellent Wikipedia entry for more.) In this view, treating corporations as "persons" is a convenient legal fiction which allows corporations to sue and to be sued, provides a single entity for easier taxation and regulation, simplifies complex transactions that would otherwise involve, in the case of large corporations, thousands of people, and protects the individual rights of the shareholders as well as the right of association.  A larger issue is that all of us who have, or want to have, a pension, MUST support the success of these corporations since pension funds are their biggest investors.   Gore should know better.  He sits on Apple's board.
  5. Ignores the failure of the legislative. The Supreme Court gets blamed for everything yet they are forced into this position because the legislative branch has completely abrogated its responsibility.  Money in politics, which Gore handles nicely, is a big problem. He has few solutions of merit, however.
  6. Solutions all require an authoritarian form of government.
  7. Emphasis on “reason-based” thinking when what we are learning is that to make change one has to appeal to the emotional side
  8. He has a tendency to celebrate the technological and then focus on the problems of technology which leaves the reader unclear as to what he’s demanding.
  9. No discussion of nuclear which is totally carbon-free.  Reliance on solar and wind ignore storage issues.  Energy experts say that as long as the storage issue remains unsolved, you have to build double the capacity if you build a lot of renewables so the grid remains stable.  New nuclear technology such as low-pressure liquid sodium reactors hold a lot of promise.
  10. Ignores conservation and impact on standard of living, i.e. reduced consumption. 
General Issues:
  1. Gore serves on several corporate boards including Apple – what’s his responsibility as an individual in the seats of power.
  2. He’s a multi-millionaire. Gore got rich off his sale of the network: $100 million.
  3. Rich v poor – when has it ever not been so? Solutions are a bit simplistic: Lots of ideas collected by his research assistants, but  ultimately I found his book very unsatisfying - lacks a sense of history and  assumes that problems he sees are unique to current generation
  4. How do you define and accomplish goals in a democracy where self-interest is the highest value?
  5. Does apocalypticism bring benefits or just ignoring the problem.
  6. How do you determine what’s an opportunity vs a negative? 
I couldn't help thinking if things would have been different had he been elected in 2000.  It's unlikely he would have invaded Iraq, but he surely would have caved to pressure to invade Afghanistan.  And how would he have handled Libya, Egypt, Israel, Syria, et al. The pressure on Democrats to use military might is always irresistible.  I have a sneaky suspicion that we would be in precisely the same place we are today.  That's discouraging.

Grave Passage by William Doonan | LibraryThing

I love ships, but I remember being horribly seasick way back when I was a child and we took transatlantic liners to Europe so naturally I have always been reluctant to do what I’d really like to do and which my father did -- sail on a freighter sometime.  I love the looks of the classic liner, even the modern cruise ship’s lines have appeal.  But after watching YouTube videos of cruises and seeing the number of passengers they cram on board with golf courses and rock climbing and shopping and all that bullshit, I am thoroughly deterred.  When (and if) I ever go to sea, I want to be at sea, not on some floating resort with people my age. Ugh.

That doesn’t mean I dislike reading about ships.  That’s why I bought several books in the Henry Grave series.  He’s an investigator for the Cruise Line Association.  He’s also old (eighties) but he’s a cunning fellow, so when an FBI profiler, who was a lecturer on a cruise ship and famous for his capture of the Crossing Guard Killer, is found dead at the top of the rock climbing wall.   Grave has a bizarre background and he’s funny talking about it: “We Googled you,” Hugh Arlen said, interrupting my train of thought. “That’s a computer term. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the internet.” “I once had a number calculating machine.” “We learned some interesting things about you. You were a POW.” “I was. It was the most intensive weight reduction program money can buy. I was quite thin by the end. Also, I lost four teeth, but that’s a story for another day. I had them replaced. You can see just back here.” I leaned forward and opened my mouth wide. 

Needless to say he appears totally innocuous. But very clever.  Having known a talented forger in the POW camps, he has an entire collection of fake ID cards.  And who would question and old man’s veracity?   Interviewing one couple he hands them a card.  Wrong card. Turns out it says he’s from Penthouse.

I frowned. I looked at the card. I think it wasn’t the one I was looking for. “Just freelance. An article here and there.” “It says here you’re the senior editor.” Opal pointed to the title under my name. I found my glasses and had a closer look. So it did.  “It’s a thankless job,” I told them. Opal backed off a little. “I had grand ideas when I took the job. We were going to move into whole new areas; more focus on the environment, alternative energies, orphans and koala bears, that sort of thing. I felt the magazine had gotten off track with all the nudity.” “But it’s a pornography magazine,” Doug insisted. “Nudity is its track.” I nodded. “Which is why they fired me as senior editor, but I still get to write hard-hitting articles. Last month I wrote about teenage runaways in Egypt. They leave their families and then go to the pyramids to try to make it there but they can’t find work so they just sniff glue at the pyramids. It’s very sad. You have no idea how young these kids are.”

Delightful read.  A whole series awaits.

'via Blog this'

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Mezzo Wore Mink by Mark Schweizer | LibraryThing

Another charming mystery with Chief of Police Hayden and the St. Barnabas congregation.  Everything is tongue-in-cheek as Schweitzer gently savages religious rigidity.   The shtick in the series is that Hayden is also a frustrated writer, much maligned by Meg, his girlfriend.  He’s writing a series of potboilers using Raymond Chandler’s typewriter and while wearing Chandler's hat.  The writing of these stories within the novel are singularly bad, and he reads them to the choir before practice.   
For example: “It’s on now,” she said, with a sly smile. “Anything come to mind?” She sat reclining on the sofa, her heaving bosom rising and falling like twin boiling Christmas puddings on Boxing Day, and even as her mouth whimpered no, no, no, the rest of her body ached yes, yes, yes, except for her appendix which had been removed the year before and so didn’t care very much either way.”
Hayden’s take on Worship Committee meetings:   Worship Committee meetings at church are to be avoided if at all possible. This is Rule No. 1 in the Hayden Konig Church Musician’s Handbook. Rule No. 2 is never, ever agree to do anything that Meg asks in her sultry, Lauren Bacall voice while whispering in my ear. Closely following is Rule No. 3: If anyone complains about how loud the organ is, the best possible response is to pull out all the stops. There are a myriad of other rules. For example: Never sing any anthem in which the composer or poet tries to rhyme any word with Jesus. This includes squeeze us, frees us, please us, etcetera.  There are exceptions, of course, and one of them was a brilliant Christmas madrigal, penned by myself, in which I managed to rhyme Holy Jesus with Mouldy Cheeses.
The St. Barnabas priests are usually borderline lunatics and often killers.  The latest temporary church leader wants to institute "The Singing Christmas Tree", (it should pay for itself in ten years or so) but that’s already being done by a church down the road, so Hayden humorously suggests "The Living Gobbler" for Thanksgiving. ( “How hard can it be? A couple of songs…the choir dressed up like tap-dancing broccoli.” “O, Lord,” said Georgia. “Tap-dancing broccoli?” “Sure,” I said. “Throw in some Thanksgiving tunes…” “How about Just As I Yam?” said Pete. “That’s a good one,” I said. “I was thinking of Up From The Gravy.”) The priest loves the idea.
Esoteric musical references are sprinkled throughout. He also has a pet owl, Archimedes, who occasionally flits in through the electric window to retrieve a dead mouse Hayden sets out for him.
Pete, the mayor, is in a tough reelection campaign.  He’s accused by Cynthia, his opponent, of letting in people of suspect moral character, namely, DANGL,  “The Daystar Naturists of God and Love. … I don’t think they’ll come into town naked. That’s why they have a camp. They’re not militant nudists. They’re Christian nudists.”
These are fun books.  Often LOL funny, although I downgraded this one a little because it seemed to drag a bit toward the end and  we really didn’t care who committed the crime. I’ve read about six novels in the series and we read all the rest for sure.

'via Blog this'

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Goodreads | The Watch That Went to War by Ira Weinstein — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

One of the really great things about the ease of self-publishing today is the plethora of personal memoirs of WW II and Vietnam veterans (not so many from the Korean War, oddly) that have appeared recently.  Some of these approach the status of literature, others are more like the stories told by your grandfather to his children and grandchildren.  Either way, they are extraordinarily valuable, providing insight into the experiences and feelings of young people (for most were barely out of their teens) facing truly difficult circumstances.

Weinstein’s brief book fits the second category and often the snippets feel a bit disorganized and rambling.  But would you criticize your grandfather for that in the midst of an enthralling story?  I didn’t think so.

'via Blog this'

Friday, November 07, 2014

Nine Dragons (A Harry Bosch Novel) by Michael Connelly | LibraryThing

When authors with a successful series and a well-defined character take that character out of his/her normal environment, to a foreign country, say, where he performs spectacularly, you know  the book is about to go off the rails.  The only explanation I can come up with is that the author wanted a trip to whatever country where the new mystery takes place and wanted a tax write-off for the trip.

I like Michael Connelly and the Harry Bosch series.  This one, while a fast-paced read, as are the others, left me very unsatisfied.  Harry is not a very nice character, self-centered and hypercritical of others. For sure, he’s a good detective, but to ream out his partners for not telling him about everything, and then withhold crucial information from them doesn’t seem right or ethical, and it’s just stupid.

My eyes also begin to roll out of their sockets when the investigations become personal. My friends in law enforcement tell me that just never happens, and in this case, where Harry’s daughter is kidnapped in Hong Kong where she lives with his ex-wife, to prevent Harry’s investigation into a Triad extortion ring in LA, just totally strained my credibility.   Coincidences abound.  The gun found on a couple of bad guys in a hotel where they suspect his daughter might have been held, just happens to be inscribed with the initials of a “tunnel rat” in Vietnam, which Harry had been.  I mean, really.

Harry flies to Hong Kong to find and release his daughter, whom, he assumes, has been kidnapped by the Triad because of his personal actions in the LA investigation. He is confident he can accomplish all this in a *weekend* before he has to return to LA.  (Is there any doubt in the readers mind he’ll pull this off?  Is there anyone who actually believes this might ever be possible?) He leaves a trail of bodies following an “investigation” that was less believable than the Wizard of Oz.

Connelly is a competent writer and a good story-teller.  But this one just had me shaking my head in wonder.

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Floaters by Joseph Wambaugh | LibraryThing

Fortney and Leeds are two harbor patrol cops in San Diego.  Blaze is a hooker enlisted by Ambrose, the Keeper of the Cup, to engage in a scheme to thwart the New Zealanders likely win of the America Cup. It’s a complicated plan involving making one crane operator sick so another can arrange for the boat with it’s slick design to fall as it’s being lifted into the water.  Dawn is another hooker who happens to know Blaze and arranges to leave town before she can be murdered by her pimp.  Then there are a couple of really smart cops, “Letch” (you can guess how he got his nickname) Boggs, and Annie Zorn formerly Bartlett and Sullivan, a homicide detective.

All of these characters come together.

Lots of humorous and cynical dialogue and scenes.  I love the one where Fortney and Leeds see what is apparently a man walking on water (it *was* Easter Sunday so it might be allowed) only to discover it was a man walking on the top of his motor home at the boat ramp, screaming, “You fucking bitch.  I told you to put it in gear.”

Leeds is a practical joker. “Two years earlier he’d gone to the trouble of capturing a ground squirrel and putting it in the bottom drawer of the sergeant’s desk. Recapturing it after it scared the crap out of the guy had nearly destroyed the entire office...These days Leeds was preoccupied with politics rather than practical jokes. A hobnailed Republican, he’d dedicated himself to purging the nation of President Clinton, whom he called the dude with the world’s worst taste in babes. Anything could bring on a political diatribe. When they cruised past the Youth Camp area on Fiesta Island and a boozy bunch of teenagers playing volleyball on the beach flipped them off, Leeds said, “I wanna retire to a place where everyone waves at cops with all their fingers.”

Humorous scenes abound with lots of biting social commentary and ridicule of the America’s Cup culture.  Lots of fun.  I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Wambaugh and will now work (hardly work) my way through more of his books.

'via Blog this'

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Deliberate Intent: A Lawyer Tells the True Story of Murder by the Book by Rodney A. Smolla | LibraryThing

John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty: “An opinion that corn dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery ought to be unmolested when simply circulated in the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of the corn dealer.”  So what about a book that encourages and incites people to become hitmen.

Rodney Smolla, who has written several interesting books related to the Supreme Court, was faced with a dilemma. As a strong advocate of the First Amendment, he was being asked to help sue a publisher for publishing a book. That the book had a nefarious history made it more problematic. In 1983 Paladin Press had published a book on how to become a professional hit man and the book provided a recipe of instructions on just how to do it. James Perry followed those instructions after being hired by Lawrence Horn to kill his crippled child and ex-wife. The question was whether the publisher had any liability for the actions of the thug.

Trevor was extremely disabled thanks to a mistake at the hospital where a machine he was on was accidentally knocked loose causing brain damage and a host of other problems. The hospital was successfully sued for the millions estimated to provide long-term care.

Smolla uses discussions (most likely invented) from his First Amendment class to bring the issues into focus:  natural rights, Hobbes v Locke, etc.  The question at the bottom of the suit was expressed well by Judge Bork who asked whether “freedom of speech is something inside or outside the social contract.”  Freedom of speech derives from the social contract, so, in Bork’s view, freedom of speech cannot include the right to advocate overthrowing the social contract.  Does freedom of speech permit one to encourage “people to be vigilantes, to go outside the formal governmental justice system and commit individual acts of ‘justice’ for revenge or retribution.”  That was the legal question facing the publisher and his opponents.

The case bore similarities to the Hustler case and Jerry Falwell (see my review of Jerryn Falwell v Larry Flynt, also by Smolla at Just how far does the First Amendment take us in protecting the truly distastful. (Personally, I found the parody Compari ad in Hustler to be hysterical and clever, but certainly distasteful.)  The Brandenburg v Ohio case was also cited.  Brandenburg was a Ku Klux Klan leader who was arrested under an Ohio syndicalism law that prohibited incitement to violence.  Brandenburg was convicted but his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court as a violation of his free speech rights.  A more recent case coming after the book was written that might have applied would be Snyder v Phelps in which Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church was engaged in picketing the funerals of dead soldiers as a protest against gay rights policies.

Generally, the courts have always held that copycat behavior or emulation of a violent scene in a movie did not leave the creator or producer of the scene at risk of being held responsible for the actions that resulted from watching the depiction. The rationale behind those decisions was that the programs did not encourage such behavior. So what about a book that did?

The case of United States v Progressive might be pertinent except for the classified nature of the material in question.  Progressive magazine was enjoined from publishing an article on how to build a hydrogen bomb.  They had used only publicly available information. The case itself was interesting in that there were two:  one in public and the other in camera, the latter one which the defendants could not attend since they refused security clearances.  Their lawyers were but they were forbidden to reveal what went on in the closed session to their clients. Ultimately the suit was withdrawn by the DOE because other “secret” information had been published elsewhere and the Progressive republished their article.  The issue of intent remained crucial since in the case of the Progressive and the imitative violence cases the intent of the authors was certainly not to be imitated.

The strategy of the publisher’s legal team was to stipulate that the content of the book was clearly to instruct how to kill people for profit, but both teams also agreed to stipulate that the book was available to others who might have an interest in learning about these techniques such as authors, police, etc.  So rather than have a jury trial first, in an unusual move, Smolla had to argue the First Amendment issues first, rather than wait and argue them on appeal, an appeal that would have occurred no matter which side won the jury trial.

The penultimate part of the book concerned the oral arguments before the 4th Circuit in the case of Rice v Paladin.  I found this section particularly interesting not only because I like the ripostes inherent in the back-and-forth arguing between advocates and justices, but also because it gave me some insight into the mind of the lawyers pleading a case while they are in front of the court.  Smolla became intrigued at the way Justice Luttig seemed to be steering him toward a particular argument so he did some research into the background and culture of the justice following their presentation.  That led to an extremely interesting discussion of a legal philosophy expounded by Judge Jerome Frank in Law and the Modern Mind.  Frank proposed that contrary to the “judge as umpire” position adopted by Justice Roberts during his confirmation hearings, and if the law consists of the decisions of judges, then “whatever produces the judges’ hunches makes the law.”   So what are these “hunch-producers?”  Frank argued “one must look at the individual judge’s past to find out.”  Smolla suggests Justice Luttig  had “brooded” about the case before the arguments were even made and had a well-formed opinion before a word was spoken in open court. Now I would assume part of that might be because Luttig had digested the briefs before the arguments. Certainly that appears to be the case in the Supreme Court oral arguments I listen to, but another case in Luttig’s background may have also played a part, that of the murder of Major Shirley Russell by her husband Robert Russell.  Fascinating. (An interesting law review article can be found here.

The book didn’t start off well for me.  I found the insertions of class discussions irritating at first, but since the issue was fascinating, I persevered and it really took hold. Smolla does a good job of integrating the memoir of his own “come to Jesus” moment with that of Howard Spiegel and why they decided to take the case. Smolla thinks very highly of himself, a negative, but the "inside" view of how their strategy developed and the personality clashes of the lawyers add an interesting dimension to the book. I won’t reveal the outcome of the case, but my personal take on the case is that Smolla was on the wrong side.

'via Blog this'

A Cinderella Affidavit by Michael Fredrickson | LibraryThing

I really liked this book.  Some reviewers have complained about the number of characters, but the book is more than a “Dick and Jane” compendium of the day’s events.  It’s a complicated story that reveals the inner workings of a law firm in addition to being a fine legal drama and mystery.  Definitely my cup of lemonade. (I don't like tea.)

A Cinderella Affidavit is one developed by narcotics officers to obtain a search warrant that isn’t exactly kosher.  It is based on the cop’s gut feeling about a house or location but may not have a snitch’s information required by a judge. Normally this wouldn’t matter, since the bad guy is caught holding the drugs which are then evidence used at trial, but since Francis Dunleavy, the cop trying to break down the door got killed, the snitch’s presence in court becomes truly important since the affidavit had described, in detail, the person who was supposed to be in the apartment at the time when Dunleavy was killed. Unfortunately the snitch in this case existed, but had made up much of the information.

The opening courtroom seen, taking some depositions, is really quite humorous.  It follows the open-ended battering down of a drug dealer’s den where a Dunlevy is shot. Michael Chen is accused of shooting the policeman through the door.  His lawyer, Sarah, files an appeal, asking for the name of the informant who the affidavit said had given police the information about when the drugs would be in the apartment. Her client doesn’t match the description given by the informant and calling him could provide exculpatory testimony. The state, naturally doesn’t want to reveal the name of the CI.  Turns out the affidavit written by the Lieutenant, a boozer just barely holding it together, had cited this particular snitch (known as IT)  in a whole daisy chain of affidavits that threaten to bring down a raft of cases.  Danny, the IT in this case, had not been Lieutenant Carvello’s snitch, but rather the dead cop’s and he is linked to the Chinatown mob that makes it imperative he not appear in court for any reason.

Matthew is Danny’s lawyer.  It so happens that Danny is IT.  What’s interesting about Matthew is that as tenacious as he is in tracking down the perpetrators (I’m trying to avoid some spoilers here) he commits multiple ethical violations and does some really stupid things. Frankly, it’s a wonder his mentor at the firm stood by him as long as he did, not to mention his girlfriend.  (An interesting aside is that the author of the book was disciplined for some ethical violations himself in his position -- irony of ironies - as general counsel to the Massachusetts Board of Overseers.)

For me, a good legal drama has to have excellent repartee  in the courtroom between the two sides (perhaps that’s why I enjoy listening to Supreme Court oral arguments.)  This book has that along with a nice touch of humor. The plot itself becomes a bit strained, but never mind. It was extremely well narrated by  Ron McLarty, one of my favorites.

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Linux Mint Beginner's Guide by Jonathan Moeller | LibraryThing

I've been fooling around with several (10+) different Linux distros and I really like Linux.  I have pretty much settled on about six different distros that I have set up as dual boots (often with more than one distro in addition to Windows) on several laptops I've fixed up. Mint is one of the best, and I thought this book would be useful in filling in some gaps.  It's a bit elementary for me, but would be excellent for someone just jumping in with little technical experience.

'via Blog this'

Three by Julie Hilden | LibraryThing

I have always wondered when reading a book that indulges in some sexual gymnastics or kink or whatever, just how much the author separates him or herself from the contents. Is the activity something they have experienced, always wanted to, frowned upon?

So when I saw this book mentioned on Julie Hilden’s bio on her column at, a very interested blog related to court decisions, my eyebrows shot up and I had to scrape them off the ceiling.  Hilden graduated from Harvard and Yale Law School and also holds an MFA in creative writing so the writing is quite competent.  She writes frequently on First Amendment issues and I have enjoyed her columns.

I don’t know what to make of her book, however. It’s about a wife who marries Ilan with the understanding up front they will engage in threesomes. Following their marriage her obsession with him leads to all sorts of self-destructive behavior.  This not the kind of book I usually read, nor like to read, and nothing in this book made it more appealing.  I don’t enjoy reading about self destructive behavior; sex with guns and razor blades has no appeal at all and frankly, if I had my druthers, Ilan would be locked up.  My wife is sensible enough that if I pulled a stunt like that she’d pull a Lorena Bobbitt.  Billed as erotica; it’s not.

Hilden has also written a memoir (a Bad Daughter) which apparently details some of her less fortunate romantic choices. I wish this book had left me with a clearer picture of what a woman should not do, given the outcomes here. Her romantic adulation of Ilan struck me as bizarre.  I’m no prude and would willingly indulge in all sorts of fantasies (well when I was younger perhaps, now I’m just happy to be able to tie my shoelaces and those velcro ones look appealing) but nothing that involved razor blades.  On the other hand, I learned from a description of her memoir that Hilden carries the same gene that led her mother to develop early-onset Alzheimer’s.

But, maybe it’s just the rush to indulge in writing about S&M given the meteoric rise of Shades. I have no idea how to rate this book.  Writing is good (4), content is totally unappealing (1). It would be a very interesting book to discuss with the author, however, so I guess a (3).

'via Blog this'

Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot (A Jesse Stone Novel) by Reed Farrel Coleman | LibraryThing

Of all Robert Parker’s creations I like the Jesse Stone series the best.  A couple of authors have attempted to continue the series, including Michael Brandman and now Reed Farrel Coleman, author of the Moe Prager series. I haven’t tried that series but will.  I know some people disagree, but I think Coleman has better captured Jesse than Brandman.  The interaction between Molly and Jesse is spot on.

We get a little more back story on what happened to Jesse in the minor leagues as he agrees to go to NY for a reunion with his old teammates at the invitation of Vic, the player who stole Kayla, Jesse’s girlfriend following his injury. Seems Vic needs Jesse’s help on a matter, but before he can reveal what it might be, Jesse has to return to Paradise where a girl has been murdered;  one that involves Vic (perhaps a bit too coincidentally.)  And the girl Vic had brought along as “entertainment” for Jesse turns out to be -- well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.  

The only thing I didn’t like much was the last couple of paragraphs.  That kind of open-ended contrivance seems trite.

'via Blog this'

Saturday, October 18, 2014

DUE DILIGENCE (Rachel Gold Mystery) by Michael Kahn | LibraryThing

Due diligence. Utter that dull gray phrase around a pack of corporate lawyers and watch them leer. That’s because the final tab for the due diligence in a significant transaction will easily exceed ten million dollars. Those kinds of numbers enchant even the most somber of practitioners.”

The plot revolves around an accountant who was doing due diligence on a company before a merger could take place.  Rachel had received a call from him explaining he needed her advice on some details of the merger.  When his body is found in the basement having gone through a trash compactor, Rachel is hired to help clean up some of the affairs and discovers an intricate web of deceit and malfeasance.  Soon her investigation leads to a presidential candidate and what he might have done many decades earlier and whether doing something that might benefit millions of people but leads to the deaths of some elderly patients might be ethically suspect.

Each of Kahn’s books takes a legal issue and builds a plot around it. There’s usually some kind of list with obscure combinations of letters and numbers Rachel must decipher. While the details of the characters appear repetitive from one book to the next, I didn’t find that as disconcerting as have some readers.  

Some interesting history of trademarks. I knew little of their origin and raison d’etre. “During medieval times, trademarks became a symbol of responsibility as the powerful guilds of Europe required their members to each use a unique mark. That way a defective product could be traced back to its maker. A trademark was thus the highly personal symbol of a single worker: when his life ended, so did his trademark. By the middle of the twentieth century, however, it had metamorphosed into the multibillion dollar world of brand-name marketing—a world where a single word, such as Xerox or Corvette or Chanel or Kodak, can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Not to mention that St. Louis became home to many brands of beers because it’s built over the top of hundreds of limestone caves.  I just had to check out whether all this was a figment of Kahn’s imagination.  It is not and the caves play a central role in the solution to the puzzle. Note that claustrophobic activities appear in other of Kahn’s novels.  (

'via Blog this'