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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Is Ross Ulbricht, Silk Road’s pirate king, a mobster or a martyr? | Technology | The Guardian

I'm sure the parents whose children died of drug-related issues want to strike out at Silk Road.  But their argument seems to sound much like those who want to blame the gun manufacturer for how their product is used. Now even I, a gun-regulation-nut, thinks that not a fair position. Just how much responsibility should the maker of a product bear for the misuse of is product.  If Ulbricht really just wanted to create an anonymous and untraceable way for people to communicate, should that in principle be illegal?  And if he made a lot of money from his design should he be punished so harshly for its misuse?  Did he promote its use among drug dealers?  I don't know, but it seems to me the answers to those questions should have a bearing on the outcome.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries, No. 1) by Louise Penny | LibraryThing

Audiobook:  I almost quit listening to this book right in the beginning.  I wasn’t sure where it was going, but the quality of the writing was much better than average so I kept on.  Good thing. It’s a very interesting book, although I must say I didn’t care much for Gamache’s treatment of his new team member, Nicole.  It appeared that he was only interested in a lackey at the feet of the master, rather than an independent thinker, a quality he called arrogant. But that’s OK, one doesn’t have to like the characters.

You can read summaries of the plot all over the place;  no need to be redundant here. I liked the use of the painting providing clues and being at the heart of the dead artist’s relationship to the community. Some interesting details of archery and painting and a nice start to a series that I will certainly follow.  

Not to mention fun details of Quebecois tensions with regard the “English.”  “Quebec works in reality, just not on paper.”  That was the response to a character complaining about the loss of rights to the English who live in Quebec, the French seemingly running the show.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Raid and the Kid by Harri Nykanen | LibraryThing

Nykanen is a Finnish writer of noir.  I stumbled on his name in a review of other Finnish authors and thought I would give him a try.  Despite its 280 pages, it felt like a novella.

Raid is an assassin who stumbles on a kid being chased by some South American drug runners.  The kid had found several kilos of cocaine  being smuggling in shipments of bananas. Son of the grocer where the bananas had been mistakenly shipped, the kid (who is much older than I would consider as a kid) decided to sell what he could, naively unworried about those who actually thought they owned the coke. Raid gets the kid out of his immediate predicament, but he knows they’ll be back so he decides to have the police get involved to take the heat of the kid and his family. Enter police Lt. Jansson who unwittingly has been investigating two murders seemingly unrelated to the coke.

The irony of this book is that it’s about 75% police procedural and really very little of the title character.  Not a problem, just an observation.  I would hope the author might have plans to develop a series around the police characters who, in the main, are far more interesting than Raid.  Fast, uncomplicated read. Sometimes complications can be a good thing.

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Organic, GMO and Industry and what "Natural" means

An excellent article by a scientist who started out defending organic food but after some research discovered some interesting history and facts. She includes some thoughts on what "natural" means. Some selective quotes below:

"I thought organic farming was based on evidence, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t designed by studying what would be best for the environment. On the contrary, to my surprise I found it’s roots were actually in biodynamic agriculture – a method that emphasizes spiritual and mystical perspectives on farming. What? How could I have missed such a point for a decade? The picture I was beginning to piece together was that being ‘organic’ was based on the idea that modern farming – industrial agriculture – was bad, and the old ways of farming were better. That whatever natural was, that was better."

"I began to question if there even was a ‘natural way to farm’? If natural was defined by, say, the exclusion of human activities, then surely there was nothing natural to farming. On the other hand, if we accepted humans as a part of nature, and our continued innovations as part of *our nature*, then all farming was natural. Saying that more traditional farming practices would be inherently better than those using more advanced technology wasn’t a concept that could be settled by a romantic appeal to nature. Only careful definitions of ‘better’, followed by observations, testing, and evaluation of evidence could tell us something about that."

The entire article is at:

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Meaningless evaluations

Whenever I go to have my car fixed, I'm treated to the inevitable request at the end of the service, to fill out a questionnaire on how they performed.  I also always get the admonition to be sure to give them 10 of 10 because anything below that is considered failing. If I have any issues, I need to talk with them, but not use the questionnaire to point out a deficiency

I recently spoke with someone in the hotel industry who said their company did the same thing.  Anything below a perfect score was failing.  I no longer fill out these questionnaires because it is apparent they are not being used to improve service, but rather to brag about how great they are.  After all, if you always get perfect scores from your customers how great you must be.

Evaluations should be used to find out what you are doing wrong so it can be fixed rather than to just get a pat on the back. I see this in grading papers as well. I try to use my evaluations to point out where students need to improve, what they need to do better, but students simply want the high points not necessarily to improve.  (I over-generalize about students, of course. There are many exceptions.  I find few in the business world, however.)

Personally, if I were running a business, I would want customers to be honest and then use the results to measure improvement over time.  My hotelier said they were used to fire staff who didn't get perfect scores for the business.  That's crazy and counter-productive. Evaluations need to be used for improvement not punishment.

In the meantime, I quit filling out the dumb things.

Friday, May 22, 2015

"The Ivy League is, of course, the preferred bleaching tub and charm school of the American oligarchy."

Full disclosure:  I'm an Ivy League grad.

The above is a quote from a fascinating essay by Mike Lofgren who decries the effects on government of what he calls the "Deep State", and intricate and symbiotic conglomerate of public and private institutions that, regardless of which party is in power and despite apparent gridlock, always manages to fund its pet projects.

You can read the entire essay at

"Petraeus and most of the avatars of the Deep State — the White House advisers who urged Obama not to impose compensation limits on Wall Street CEOs, the contractor-connected think tank experts who besought us to “stay the course” in Iraq, the economic gurus who perpetually demonstrate that globalization and deregulation are a blessing that makes us all better off in the long run — are careful to pretend that they have no ideology. Their preferred pose is that of the politically neutral technocrat offering well considered advice based on profound expertise. That is nonsense. They are deeply dyed in the hue of the official ideology of the governing class, an ideology that is neither specifically Democrat nor Republican. Domestically, whatever they might privately believe about essentially diversionary social issues such as abortion or gay marriage, they almost invariably believe in the “Washington Consensus”: financialization, outsourcing, privatization, deregulation and the commodifying of labor. Internationally, they espouse 21st-century “American Exceptionalism”: the right and duty of the United States to meddle in every region of the world with coercive diplomacy and boots on the ground and to ignore painfully won international norms of civilized behavior."

Why Wine Drinkers Are Healthier, Hint: It's Not the Wine

For years scientists have been trying to figure out just what it is in wine that apparently makes wine drinkers more resistant to coronary heart disease and certain cancers. The idea was to isolate the magic component and turn it into a pill, e.g. Resveratrol.

Mark Schatzker in a new book (The Dorito Effect) reports on a Danish experiment that is both elegant and brilliant. They examined grocery receipts, ultimately looking at 3.5 million transactions. "They found that wine drinkers didn't shop the same way as beer drinkers. [I don't know how much consideration they gave to lemonade drinkers.] Wine drinkers were more likely to place olives, low-fat cheese, fruits and vegetables, low-fat meat, spices and tea in their carts.  Beer drinkers on the other hand, were more likely to reach for the chips, ketchup, margarine, sugar, ready-cooked meals, and soft drinks."

The inevitable conclusion might be that "perhaps the health of wine drinkers isn't caused by the wine so much as by the fact that wine drinkers like wine in the first place. . . .It comes down to what a person finds delicious."  [I'm screwed.]

Grammar rant of the week.

I continue to be depressed by otherwise intelligent and well-educated people who misuse words.  For example figuratively/literally and famous/notorious/infamous.

I know that "literally" is now being used as a form of emphasis but that doesn't make it right. If you say "He was so mad he literally blew his head off," I expect to see a gun and bits of brain spread around or at least evidence of a strong wind.  If you just meant to say the guy was really mad, then just say he was really, really mad or use the word "figuratively", but save the word "literally" for when he really does it. And stop overusing the word "actually."  My God, it's getting boring when every statement is preceded by "actually."

A more serious error in word usage is to use the words famous, notorious, and infamous as if they were synonyms.  They are not.  Notorious means being famous for having done something evil as does infamous. Famous implies being well-known for  something well done.  Newscasters are famous for this error, but then most of them are idiots.  Don't be an idiot.  "Enormity" has now become a synonym for something huge having almost completely lost the more subtle meaning of "monstrous wickedness."  There's nothing wrong with using the word "enormous" to mean something huge.  Save "enormity" for the Holocaust or other genocide.

By using these words incorrectly, the language is diminished and subtleties of usage are completely lost.

Next week "I" and "me."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Strawberry Sunday: A John Marshall Tanner Novel by Stephen Greenleaf | LibraryThing

Audiobook. I’ve been a huge fan of this series, and I’ve read all, now that I finished this one.  Probably not the best one to read last as I found it a bit off. I rarely mind an author who makes it clear where he stands on an issue, and my heart goes out to the strawberry workers who work extremely hard for a ridiculously small amount of money.  I get that, but Greenleaf hammers it home a bit too forcefully, I think.

Tanner is in the hospital after being shot in the final scene of the previous book in the series, Past Tense (  His recovery is paralleled by that of Rita Lombardi.  They become friends and Tanner is shocked when he hears of her death in the strawberry country of California.  He decides to investigate and find out why she was murdered.  

The weakest parts of the book are Tanner’s ruminations on strawberry farming and his relationship with Rita. The characters border on stereotypical: the big bad farm owner who can’t leave the last authoritarian century; his ne'er-do-well children, the small town cops in thrall to the big landowner, etc., etc. And Tanner’s investigation seems to consist mostly of conversations with the principals from which he draws erroneous conclusions, acting on them too swiftly. He stumbles a lot in this book, and not just with the investigation.  Too many loose ends, I fear.  Still, the better parts outnumber the weaker, so I enjoyed it.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted

Long time Republican worried about what has happened to the Republican Party.  A quote from his blog:

 "And there was worse to come. Whether it was Rep. Joe Wilson boorishly yelling “you lie!”– unprecedented behavior during a joint meeting of Congress assembled to hear a presidential address – or the obscene carnival of Birtherism, Obama-the-secret-Muslim, death panels, and all the rest of it, the party took on a nasty, bullying, crazy edge. From my perch on the budget committee I watched with a mixture of fascination and foreboding as my party was hijacked by a new crop of opportunists and true believers hell-bent on dragging the country into their jerry-built New Jerusalem: an upside-down utopia where corporations rule, the Constitution, like science, is faith-based, and war is the first, not the last, resort in foreign policy."

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Quote of the day

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

Anatole France

From a post by Mike Lofgren, who I shall have to read more. (

Rants Within the Undead God: Clash of Worldviews: God and the Devil

This is very clever. Click on the title link to view the entire bog post.  A sample:

"GOD: How can the devil hope to understand love?

 DEVIL: I’m the lord of nature—now that you’ve left the playing field. Love is natural so I understand it far better than you do. The better question is how the singular mind at the apex of Being, who’s neither male nor female and thus no parent of anything, and who existed timelessly prior to the creation of all biological processes could hope to understand love in anything but the most academic manner? You know nothing of love or of the natural world that the other archons and I rule, because you’re Being in general, not any mere particular being. Natural creatures can’t understand you and you can’t understand them.

 GOD: I became a man to overcome precisely that obstacle.

 DEVIL: Please! The dying and rising godman myth is about vegetative and astronomical cycles. Just because an offshoot of neo-Jewish worshippers literalized an esoteric form of the Mysteries to overpower their fellows through oversimplification and misdirection doesn’t mean you actually incarnated as a mortal. No, the problems of mysticism remain as bewildering as ever."

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Surreality at SCOTUS

Just to be clear, I think the death penalty is wrong, both from a pragmatic and moral position. The government should not be allowed to do what is forbidden to its citizens. So I was very interested in listening to the oral arguments of Glossip v Gross. It was unsettling to listen to the justices and advocates discuss the intricacies of methods in which states kill people.  The case in question involved the use by Oklahoma of Midazolam, a drug which is supposed to induce unconsciousness so that the victim won't feel effects of the other drugs that actually kill him (almost never a her, only 1.8% of prisoners on death row are female.)  Apparently, the drug that actually kills, creates the sensation of being burned alive, from the inside, hence the Midazolam.  That choice is under review following evidence it doesn't work the way it's supposed to.  The drug of choice that had previously been used is difficult to obtain since the manufacturers are in countries that forbid its use for executions.  Justice Alito asked a sobering question, noting that several states permit assisted suicide and there seems to be a painless protocol for that so why can't someone figure out a method that's similar.

So the justices found themselves in the unenviable position of having to ask what alternatives might be available should they rule Midalzolam, whose efficacy was in question, as unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment. That amendment prohibits the "infliction" of "cruel and unusual punishments."  Now, for my money, the scheme in Oklahoma and several other states certainly qualifies as "unusual."  But the Constitution, being typically vague, provides little assistance. Those attorneys seeking to make capital punishment harder to administer (as Justice Alito rightly noted this case was simply a backdoor attempt at eliminating capital punishment) were faced with questions from the justices demanding to know what alternatives they might suggest should the Oklahoma protocol be invalidated. Shooting? Hanging? (Both of these eliminated because of the negative effects on the bystanders.)  Back to the electric chair? (The gas chamber has been eliminated most everywhere thanks to its association with the Nazi gas chambers. "The prison warden [in Arizona in 1992]  stated that he would quit if required to conduct another gas chamber execution [after having watched the length of time it took the prisoner to die.])* The search for a "humane" (euphemism for one that doesn't have a negative effect on the bystanders!) continues and the court is caught in the middle.

They should have let Furman v Georgia stand and saved themselves a lot of trouble.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hounded (An Andy Carpenter Novel) by David Rosenfelt | LibraryThing

Audiobook. Perfectly read by Grover Gardner.  I read several of the early Andy Carpenter series several years ago, liked them, and then promptly forgot about them.  I was very pleasantly surprised to see that there have been several new ones published and available on Audible.  I bought a bunch.

Andy is asked by his friend in the police department, Capt. Pete Stanton, to foster a bassett hound and a little boy, Ricky Diaz, the son of an informant, who has been killed. Then Pete is charged with the informant’s murder and the evidence against him is overwhelming. Andy, being independently wealthy, takes on the defense of his friend along with his usual sidekicks, Lori, his P.I. girlfriend; Sam, the computer genius and hacker; Hike, the perpetual pessimist; and Marcus, the gentle hulk.

It’s no spoiler to reveal that the case against Pete is so airtight the only way Andy can get Pete off is to find the motive behind what is clearly a frame-up.  Nor is it revealing anything that Lori, and soon Andy, are quite taken with Ricky and the hound. Nor that the veterinary medicine research (Rosenfelt is obviously a dog-lover and he and his wife founded a dog rescue) plays a role.

One reads these not for the mystery but rather the characters and Andy’s self-deprecating sense of humor and wise-cracks, not to mention courtroom shenanigans.

Very enjoyable listening.

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Emily Farris and Public Policy Polling - The Atlantic

In this interesting article, a social scientist had her name added to a poll to see why voters often had positive or negative reactions to nonexistent people or propositions.  She discovered that 20% had an unfavorable reaction to her as a candidate for president even though she wasn't running and no one could have even heard of her.

"It’s well-established that voters will volunteer views concerning wholly fictitious issues or candidates. One landmark study asking voters for their opinions on the Public Affairs Act of 1975 found a third of them willing to voice opinions on the non-existent statute. Subsequent surveys have replicated that result. Voters can be reluctant to confess ignorance, or conflate invented laws or candidates with real ones."

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Bush and Rubio Are Being Asked the Wrong Iraq Question - The Atlantic

"Rubio’s answer shows how pathological the Republican foreign-policy debate has become. The Iraq War, which I wrongly supported, has cost the United Statesover $2 trillion. It has contributed to the deaths of an estimated half-million Iraqis and almost 4,500 Americans, one-third more than died on 9/11. Iraq has become a failed state, large parts of which are controlled by an organization whose savagery embarrasses al-Qaeda. (Yes, part of the blame for ISIS’s rise rests with President Obama’s policies in Iraq and Syria, but it was President Bush who bulldozed the Iraqi state.) And Saddam Hussein’s overthrow has allowed Iran—a regime Republicans depict as the world’s most dangerous—to extend its power in the region."

"George W. Bush was not forced to invade Iraq because of the weight of objective evidence about WMD. He and his top advisors shamelessly hyped that evidence to justify a war they were seeking an excuse to launch. And in the hysterical aftermath of September 11, Congress was too cowed to effectively challenge them."

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A Bad idea:

OK, I'm a transportation nut. I like planes, trains and cars (not busses.) I've ridden almost all of the Amtrak trains in the country as well as many trains in Europe. I also remember the trains of the fifties when they were all privately owned. I would HATE to return to trains of the fifties. Amtrak has many problems, no question, but they have done a remarkable job with very limited funding and a lot of political interference. As of today we don't know the cause of the Amtrak derailment and need to wait for the NTSB's report before jumping to conclusions, but it does appear as if some kind of projectile thrown at the train (a common occurrence) may have been a factor.
As a libertarian (or perhaps more a pragmatist than ideologue) government has but two roles: build infrastructure and provide for the common defense. We screwed up the common defense part by spending trillions on nation building everywhere but at home, and have ignored infrastructure, Ride the trains in Germany, Switzerland, France or Spain (I hear they are phenomenal in Japan and China, too) and tell me that trains should be privatized. There are some things a national government can indeed do better, e.g., the interstate highway system.

DEA, Amtrak, and Civil-Asset Forfeiture - The Atlantic

I have been reading a series (by David Downing - see reviews below) about an American journalist living in Germany during the runup to WW 2 and before the U.S. entered the war. The scenes described in this article reminded me of scenes from the book describing the Gestapo's actions.

There have also been way too many examples of the drugs laws being used indiscriminately to enrich the DEA coffers (not to mention the pockets of individual law enforcement officers as in the case described in this article).

See also this article in the New Yorker

I have no problem with seizing the  assets of anyone convicted of a racketeering crime, but to take things without even being charged with a crime is horrible.

"Under civil forfeiture, Americans who haven’t been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes. Is that all we’re losing?"

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Quote of the Week

"And Fox’s slipshod handling of facts was even acknowledged by Newt Gingrich during the 2012 campaign. “One of the real changes that comes when you start running for President – as opposed to being an analyst on Fox – is I have to actually know what I'm talking about,” he said. “It's a severe limitation,” Gingrich added."

From a research paper "

How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics 

by Bruce Bartlett

 .  The entire paper can be read at

Also from the paper which argues that Fox News has been bad for Republicans. "People who watch Fox News, the most popular of the 24-hour cable news networks, are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who watch no news at all (after controlling for other news sources, partisanship, education and other demographic factors). Fox News watchers are also 6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government than those who watch no news.[!]"

He argues that Fox is less a "conservative" network than a "partisan" one.

"Although this arrangement unquestionably aids Republicans in winning elections and votes in Congress, it is not without its downsides. One is that Fox now exercises such powerful control over the GOP that it has become the party’s kingmaker in presidential primaries.56 Indeed, during the 2012 election cycle, a number of aspirants for the Republican nomination had been paid Fox commentators, including Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee.57 And woe to the Republican who runs afoul of Fox’s top brass or ignores their advice, as Mitt Romney did on one occasion in 2012.58 Fox is now so important in GOP primaries that candidates must put aside pressing campaign concerns when summoned to a Fox interview, where any error is magnified within the Republican bubble."

"Fox has now become a problem for the Republican Party because it keeps a far right base mobilized and angry, making it hard for the party to move to the center or increase its appeal, as it must do to remain electorally competitive….One of the reasons Mitt Romney was so unable to pivot back to the center was due to the drumbeat at Fox, which contributed to forcing him to the right during the primary season. Even after the primary season, when Fox became a big supporter for Romney, the rift between official editorial position and the political feelings of Fox viewers and hosts was clear."

Friday, May 15, 2015

Stettin Station (A John Russell WWII Spy Thriller) by David Downing | LibraryThing

I must say I have enjoyed this series (which I recommend reading in order) so far.  This is the third and continues an examination of Germany during World War II as seen through the eyes of Russell, an American journalist, who is tied to Germany by his girlfriend, Effie,  and his German-born son.

You get a real sense of the claustrophobia people must felt as they became hemmed in by bombing and the repressiveness of the regime, constantly having to watch what you say, who you say it to, and who might overhear you.

Downing is very skillful in showing elements of the Third Reich’s control.  For example, Russell stops to purchase a copy of the Beobachter  in which he reads that Ernst Udet, WW I ace and big Luftwaffe general had been killed testing a new fighter plane. Thinking that was a bit strange I utilized the wonderful feature of my Kindle and clicking on Udet’s name read the piece on Udet in the Wikipedia only to learn that Udet had committed suicide.  So I figured Downing had erred. Just a few pages later, however, at a press briefing, he uses a question from another reporter to point to the suicide (“Does the administration have any comment on the rumor that Udet had committed suicide?”) The truth is outed as well as the ministry’s attempts to hide it.

Russell is a journalist, after all, and in his attempts to discover what’s really happening on the eastern front, he cultivates a locomotive engineer.  Some of the important detail that’s revealed I had not learned by reading the standard discussions of the Nazi failure in the Russian winter.  For example, Russian tenders carried a larger supply of water, so their water tanks were further apart;  the steam pipes were built around the boiler rather than on the outside as with German engines, so they didn’t freeze.  These all provided clues for Russell as to why the war in the east had bogged down.

Some people have complained about the ending.  It’s a series.  Get over it, people. I can’t wait to start the 4th.  As I noted above, read them in order.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Night and Day (Jesse Stone) by Robert B. Parker | LibraryThing

Robert Parker’s novels all have a cadence to them that many people find disconcerting. An almost staccato dialogue, it can be especially prominent in an audiobook such as this one in the Jesse Stone Series.  I rather like it.

Jesse is faced with two peculiar cases:  the woman principal of the school has parents irate because she dained to lift the skirts of the girls to make sure they had on appropriate undergarments before a dance (no thongs, thank you); and the other a man obsessed with watching women undress at night through their windows, his obsession escalating to entering their homes during the day and forcing them to disrobe at gunpoint and then writing Jesse about it.

Everyone is in therapy in this novel:  Jesse sees Dick for his drinking and inability to deal with his ex-wife’s quasi-abandonment of him; Sunny Randall (a character from another Parker series) is being therapyized by Susan Silvermann (a therapist from the Spencer series); and Betty Ingersoll, the aforementioned principal gets forced into therapy in the end and her husband should have been. It’s true most of them are a bit wacko, but a lot of the psycho-babble that’s delivered in many of the interviews seems more sermonizing than enlightening.  I suspect Robert Parker must have been in therapy for decades.  But, all things, considered, I enjoyed the book and the Jesse Stone character.

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Venture Into Murder by Henry Kisor | LibraryThing

Deputy Steve Martinez, full-blooded Lakota, is now investigating the deaths of several people, one that occurred many years before.   Caught almost in flagrante delicto with someone else, his relationship with Ginny is a bit rocky, and the investigation keeps turning up linkages to “Venture” a profitable specialty plant growing operation that is using an abandoned mine to raise the plants where the temperature and other environmental conditions can be carefully controlled.

Kisor, author of Flight of the Gin Fizz, uses his knowledge of aviation to good use, as Steve must pull off a tricky night surveillance flight in the sheriff’s departmental old Cessna, AKA “piece of crap,” to quote his friend Alex of the State Police.  There’s a funny scene when they are flying at night to check out some suspicious characters and Steve shuts the engine off.  Everything is going as rehearsed until he can’t locate the key, which has come out of the ignition and he can’t restart the engine. Alex, who hates flying anyway, about craps in his pants.

Again, as in the first Martinez, it will be the characters and the wonderful little tidbits of history and information on the Porcupine area of the Upper Peninsula that draw you into the story, not the action.

I like the series a lot.

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Friday, May 08, 2015

Goodreads | Genius in Disguise:: Harold Ross of The New Yorker by Thomas Kunkel — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

Harold Ross, the famous founder and editor of The New Yorker, was born in Aspen, Colorado. His parents moved as the silver industry failed, eventually winding up in Salt Lake City. Ross was a precocious youngster who read voraciously, and his mother taught him that structure in grammar was important to clarity of communication. The writing addiction hit him first on his school paper and soon his life was constant peregrination, not uncommon for newspapermen in the early twentieth century. Rarely did he stay more than a few weeks in one place. He loved the romance and adventure of the police beat. In California, he became editor of the Marysville Appeal after the sudden death of the editor, but before long he was off to Panama, then New Orleans. The western character never left Ross. His personal taste in reading ran to dictionaries and true-detective magazines. Despite his coarseness and profaneness, "he had a near perfect ear for language" and did not suffer fools lightly. "We don't run our magazine for dumbbells," he was heard to holler on several occasions.

He enlisted during WW I and was assigned to an engineering battalion. The work was cold, wet, and miserable, and when Pershing approved the idea for what was to become Stars and Stripes, Ross applied for transfer. When the orders were not forthcoming, he went AWOL, traveled to Paris and showed up at the newspaper's door. They were so short-handed that his transfer was immediately approved. He became part of an editorial staff that made the paper a rousing success. Immune to the silliness of rank, they always had the enlisted man's welfare at heart, and that was one reason for the paper's immense success.

Harold Ross was a man of contradictions. His personal reading ran to dictionaries of modern usage and detective stories. He was raised in the west and enjoyed profanity but his magazine came to symbolize urbanity and sophistication. He had a gifted ear for language and was a great editor. The New Yorker became a mission for Ross that reflected his keen curiosity and droll humor (although the magazine's first art editor, Rea Irvin , was substantially responsible for developing the humorous art that was to become almost a trademark of the magazine). The story forms that would later find a place in The New Yorker all could be found in the Rossedited Stars and Stripes. It, too, was a weekly and so had to find some way to distinguish itself from the rest of the hard-news-oriented papers. The premium was placed on storytelling, i.e., behindthe scenes, personality, and feature pieces. The twenties were a good time to begin a national magazine (despite Ross's mission to make it metropolitan). Magazines were the true national medium.

Radio was still in its infancy and television was still a gleam in the engineers' eyes. Ross's vision was to realize that New York merchants might pay more to reach a New York audience. Why advertise to the "old lady in Dubuque." His experience at various magazines in the United States had also revealed how the business side could influence the editorial side. He wanted his magazine to be completely independent, with a complete wall between the business and editorial sides. Ross could be such a bizarre combination of debonair, ladies' man and hick. He was immensely appealing to women, liked them  the magazine never would have been a success without the likes of Dorothy Parker and Janet Flanner, but had curiously Victorian attitudes toward them. He had three wives, all of whom married again successfully after they divorced him.

Once, when St. Clair McKelway stopped by his office to discuss an upcoming story, he noticed that Ross was fidgeting in his chair and asked what was the matter. "They ought to have covers, wooden or metal covers of some kind around the goddamn radiators." McKelway was confused as there were no radiators in their building, so he asked what Ross meant. Here? "Good God, no, said Ross. "At the Ritz. I had this dame in bed and it got cold so I got up and walked over to the window to shut it. I had to lean over to shut the window and my you-knowwhat dangled down on this red-hot radiator. Feels like a second degree burn, for Christ's sake." During the Depression, The New Yorker suffered little. Ross had always seen it as a humor magazine, and since all his money was tied up in the magazine, he lost no money during the crash. They were severely criticized years later for their distinctly apolitical stance, but that had always been the policy. They had no position on anything.

Raoul Fleischmann, the publisher, of yeast fame, had fronted a huge amount of money to get the magazine going. He ran the business side while Ross handled the editorial. The two entities remained completely distinct, even having separate floors or buildings. There was great antipathy between the two personalities that anecdotally stemmed from a business decision of Fleischmann's during the Depression. He was loath to authorize dividends, wanting to build up a cash reserve. This meant that Ross had to cough up increasingly large sums under the terms of his divorce settlement with Jane Grant that stipulated she would get the income from her share of stock and that Ross would make up the difference between her stock income and $10,000. He never forgave Fleischmann for what was essentially a sound business decision. Separating the two sides of the business meant that editorial was never influenced by business interests, and people still marvel at the freedom Fleischmann gave Ross. Kunkel has a wonderful definition of what makes a good editor  or good leader for that matter. "In the narrowest sense, editors lay twitchy hands on someone else's work, fixing it, patching it, polishing it, and generally trying to keep it -upright. In the broadest sense, however, they set the agenda, standards, and tone for a publication. They hire and fire; they pick stories, and the writers to go with them. They must have enough ego to confidently steer talented people, but the will to subordinate it. They must assuage prima donnas, compel laggards, and sober up drunks. Equal parts shaman and showman, they must have an unwavering vision for their publication, convey it to a staff, and then sell it to the great yawning public. For these reasons and many others, editing a magazine is not a job suited to the faint or uncertain, and it is enormously difficult to do well. . . .[Ross:] also believed that talent attracts talent. You get talent if you publish a good magazine, you get tripe if you publish tripe. . . . And talent, the editor understood, was the key. He never stopped searching for it or, once he had found it, nurturing it. Ross had a respect for creative people that bordered on veneration; everyone else, himself included, was meant to be in their service." "Ross's New Yorker changed the face of contemporary fiction, perfected a new form of literary journalism, established the standards for humor and comic art, swayed the cultural and social agendas, and became synonymous with sophistication. It replaced convention with innovation." Nothing symbolized this more than his publication of John Hersey's "Hiroshima" as one complete article. Originally intended to be serialized, Ross and the editors realized that the obligatory short recapitulations required at the beginning of each part of the serial would detract from the content, so, breaking with all tradition, it was published complete in one issue to the exclusion of everything else. All the regular features and cartoons were dropped. The issue became an instant sensation and was said many years later to have been the most famous and important magazine piece ever published.

By the fifties, The New Yorker had become mandatory reading, a status symbol, a cultural beacon. Much of its reputation was due, in part, to critics like Wolcott Gibbs, whose acerbic reviews often made him anathema to theatres, critics, and actors. His considerable influence resulted from his high standing among fellow critics who, even though few liked him personally, knew he was "usually right, and that he didn't settle for dreck. He helped to keep them honest." It was a metaphor for the entire magazine. This is a wonderful biography, filled with delightful anecdotes about a fascinating man and time.

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Shock Wave (A Virgil Flowers Novel) by John Sandford | LibraryThing

Audiobook.  My favorite Sandford character, again decked out in cowboy boots and rock band t-shirts, and again on vacation, is charged with investigating the bombings of executives of a large chain.

It’s a scenario familiar to many smaller communities:  a large chain like Walmart or Target (in this fictional case the store is called PyeMart) wants to move in and build a store. The community has many small businesses that will go under from the competition of the larger store.  They are also worried about the environmental effects as one of the community draws is the trout stream they worry might be destroyed. So the list of suspects is substantial.

It was pleasant to read a story where the various agencies cooperate with each other and exchange information in order to solve the puzzle. It’s a very good story as Virgil pieces the puzzle together to find the killer.

As James points out in his excellent review, the pleasure of reading the Flowers series comes as much from the evolving character of Virgil who has to be one of the most sympathetic detectives in crime fiction.

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