Goodreads Profile

All my book reviews and profile can be found here.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Review: Relatively Guilty by William H.S. McIntyre

“He been stabbed through the brain.” That first line is guaranteed to grab your attention. Robbie is a lawyer in Scotland (just like his creator) whose client is Ilsa Galbraith, a sweet young thing, charged with the vicious murder of her constable husband. She hit him with an axe first, then stabbed him in the head repeatedly with a Phillips screwdriver. Sounds like quite a case until he gets home and discovers his brother, whom he hasn’t seen in three years, asleep in his bed (jet lag following a one-hour flight from London) who announces he has killed Cat, his girlfriend, and Robbie’s erstwhile squeeze (until he found Malky and Cat doing their own form of squeezing in his bed one day.) How could you not like a book that starts off like that in just the first two chapters.

It’s not long before Robbie is trying to extricate himself from a “passing counterfeit money” charge while keeping Cat’s father from killing Malky whom he blames for Cat’s death in the car accident and at the same time provide good legal representation for Ilsa by getting her off on a justifiable homicide since her husband regularly beat her. Or so he thinks.

I loved this book. Not only does it provide a bit of insight into the Scottish legal system (I have never understood the relationship between barristers, solicitors, and QC’s and all that), but Robbie Munro has such a wise-ass view of the system. He’s got a great legal secretary from the old school, Mary Grace, and a wet-behind-the-ears legal intern, Andy and a hot receptionist, Zoe. Punny title, too.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why do juries not believe in God?

It’s a peculiar thing, but when juries, even the most evangelically oriented with a southern Bible-belt God-fearing judge, hear a defendant say “God told me to do it,” as has happened; those juries uniformly disregard the belief of the defendant and convict them. We have an insanity defense, but in a country that wants the Ten Commandments on the walls of buildings and prayer in the schools, there is no “God told me to do it” defense even though in the Bible it’s a common occurrence. So do people really have faith in their faith?

Review: The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-45 by Ian Kershaw

A man cuts some telephone lines he thinks connect the military bases one to another. He's seen by two members of the Hitler Jugend who report his actions. He's summarily arrested by the local police. The regional commander is summoned and a summary trial is conducted and the man executed. This scenario occurs just four hours from the town being overrun by the Allies in Germany. The question Kershaw asks and answers is why did local bureaucracies and systems continue to function so well as apocalypse was often just minutes away. Why continue to resist at a cost of inevitable total destruction. In early 1945, German soldiers were dying at a rate of 350,000 *per month.* It was a scale of killing that even dwarfed the First World War. British and American bombers were leveling cities and killing thousands of civilians, yet the populace and it's representative structure continued to resist and function.

I was confused in the beginning by what seemed to be contradictory points, i.e., that many in the general staff and lower ranks were very supportive of Hitler to the end while at the same time he cites numerous examples of terror shown to any kind of disloyalty or wavering on the part of civilians or military, especially after the Stauffenberg assassination attempt (an astonishing 20,000 German soldiers were shot as opposed to 40 British which would indicate to me a substantial level of defeatism or discord among the lower ranks). Special squads were created to enforce loyalty and the number of executions soared. At the same time he examines numerous letters and diaries showing support for Hitler among those soldiers and the civilian bureaucracy continued to function at a high level. I might argue that finding support for a position in the myriad number of papers left by the highly literate German people might be found regardless of the overall view.

Contradictions abound and just as one view was proposed, Kershaw presented evidence to the contrary. What’s much clearer is the entanglement of motivations of many different people for many different reasons. Partly, it was that Himmler brought his administration of terror from the East back to the Reich. Another was the personal loyalty of from those mignons at the top, Himmler, Bormann, Goebbels, et al, who derived their power from Hitler so it was natural they would remain fanatically loyal to the end. The extreme brutality of the Russian soldiers on the eastern front led to the desire to hasten westward where the Americans and British were perceived to be more amiable.

The slaughter at the end of the war is simply unimaginable and Kershaw doesn’t spare the reader. Hundreds of thousands died in the last few months of the war. Twice as much tonnage of bombs were dropped by the Allies in the first four months of 1945 than in all of 1943. Millions were left homeless and fled the approach of the Soviet Army eager to apply much of the same fearsome slaughter the Germans had inflicted on the Slavic people on their march east. Fifty percent of the German soldiers who died in the war were killed in the last ten months. A few deserted, most continued to fight. The machinery of the state continued and defeatists were murdered by Nazi death squads.

The failure of the Germans to give up when clearly all was lost may lie in the culture Hitler had created. The oft cited reason of allied demands for unconditional surrender Kershaw dispenses with, if not entirely convincingly. The German people had been so used to dictatorial and fanatic leadership that they were unable to do anything but follow orders and were suitably cowed and ripe for the leadership of anyone. Put broadly, the simplest reason may be that people simply “went along to get along.”

It’s a fascinating study. My only quibble is that I think the book might have been strengthened by a comparison with events in Japan, which, one might argue, were similar.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Review: Garden of Beasts, A Novel of Berlin, 1936 by Jeffrey Deaver

Paul Schumann is a mob hit man. He’s set up by the Feds and captured then offered a choice between working for them to assassinate a key Nazi official, Reinhold Ernst, or face the gas chamber. Sent to Germany under the cover of a journalist following the Olympics in Berlin, he’s soon involved in a serious cat-and-mouse game for a Nazi sympathizer has sent an anonymous note to the German High Command indicating that a “Russian” (Paul is supposed to use a forged Russian passport to escape following the assassination) will cause some damage to some unnamed important official.

Paul has been chosen because he speaks almost native German and is a very careful, precise hitman. But he doesn’t have the cultural background of Nazi Germany in 1936 and little things, like whistling for a taxi, which no German would have done, provide clues for his pursuers. Deaver must have done considerable research to provide details like the “Hitler clothing” that help provide a good sense of time and place.) For example: Morgan said softly, “Don’t use that word here. It will give you away. ‘Nazi’ is Bavarian slang for ‘simpleton.’ The proper abbreviation is ‘Nazo,’ but you don’t hear that much either. Say ‘National Socialist.’ Some people use the initials, NSDAP. Or you can refer to the ‘Party.’ And say it reverently. . . .

After Paul and his contact are forced to kill an SA agent, Inspector Kohl (a brilliant cop who expertly maneuvers his way across the conflicting SD, Gestapo, SA, and SS interference which threaten to muck up his investigation) enters the case and now Paul is being sought by multiple agencies sometimes working at cross-purposes. And can Paul trust his American handlers? Great plot, well executed.

Everything in the novel rings true except the conversations between Ernst, Himmler, Hitler, and Goering. A couple other minor things that bugged me. We’re all used to the phrases “Heil, Hitler,” and “Grüß Gott”, but here both are translated quite literally so they come out “Hail Hitler” and “Greeting God” which, ironically, rang very false to my ear. Better to have left them in their German form. But I quibble. Very engaging story.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Review: Cold War by Philip McCutchan

I’ve never been a huge fan of McCutchan’s Halfhyde nautical fiction, but McCutchan hits his stride in works dealing with the Royal Navy in WW II. Cold War is part of a series that follows the career of Cameron who had been on the Ark Royal when it was sunk near Gibraltar. Now he’s navigating officer on the HMS Sprinter, a frigate escorting a convoy to Russia and carrying two important officials, one a British Minister and the other a Russian general, so the stakes are higher than usual.

As is typical in wartime, nothing goes as planned and after the two VIPs, Minister of War Production Harcourt Prynne and Marshal Yurigin, had been transferred to the Sprinter in preparation for a fast trip to Murmansk, they have an engine breakdown, the captain is killed by a flying splinter, and the new captain is having eyesight problems. Cameron is now the Executive Officer, and everyone is tired of the bombasity of the new warrant officer Fasher, in charge of the guns, who loves applying punishment more than anything else. Adrift in a blinding snowstorm, their radar shows a large capital ship heading straight toward them on a collision course. In a surprising twist at the end, Cameron is ordered to do something totally unexpected.

The tension that appears in other works about the Royal Navy in WWI between reservists and regular Navy is apparent here as well and the title is clever, referring to much more than the weather on the Arctic convoys.

Fans of nautical fiction will enjoy this book. I intend to read more in the Cameron series and more in the line of nautical books published by Endeavour Books which offered me this book in hopes of an honest review which I am glad to do.

Review: A Blood-Dimmed Tide by Gerald Astor

Gerald Astor has done a masterful job of weaving together personal recollections from the different sides in the Battle of the Bulge. I really enjoy history that mixes context with oral history of the participants. Stories of the rank-and-file are always interesting. In one such example, Lt. General Bradley came up to the line and was miffed when the soldier didn't accord the proper respect with a salute and told him so. The soldier replied that with all the German snipers around, any saluting made the recipient of the salute instant dog food. That, the general understood, and thanked him. I wonder if Patton would have reacted the same. Probably would have been another slapping incident. Of course, no sniper would have failed to see the pearl-handled revolvers. That positive aside, with all the different characters and such a close-up of individual events, it’s sometimes difficult to get the broader picture.

Few of the German commanders were optimistic about the success of Hitler's command for the breakout to take Antwerp through the Ardennes. Training had been poor and the units thrown together collected the rejects of other units. Hitler had ordered that each unit send their best troops, but most commanders, not being daft, sent their rejects and kept the best for themselves. Field Marshal Model was quoted as believing that the attack had barely a ten percent chance of success. Ironically, Skorzeny's idea of dressing Germans as American soldiers paid off occasionally. In one instance a bridge that was to be blown to hinder German tanks, failed to go up because some of the “Americans” involved in laying the charges sabotaged the effort.

Things weren't much better on the American side. The brass were wildly over optimistic in their assessment of German strength and generally bought the air corps reports that the German war machine had been decimated, something we now know to be a fairy tale. German war production was actually up, although they were having some fuel issues. The army did not trust civilians so they disregarded OSS information gleaned from the populace. In addition the troops on the line, as the Germans intelligence had reported, had become a 9-5 army, keeping watch only until about an hour after sunset, then hitting the sack, returning to their observation points an hour before dawn. This lead some German commanders to want to cancel the proposed artillery barrage that was to proceed the attack arguing it would simply alert the American troops. They were overruled. Often, troops that had hardly been in any fighting were ordered to destroy their weapons and surrender. Given the incident at Malmedy, they might have done better to keep fighting. At least then they might have sown a bit more confusion among the German ranks. (I was shocked at how many soldiers were injured when they tried to destroy their rifles by smashing them on rocks only to shoot themselves because they had failed to unload them.) Sometimes paperwork and bureaucracy hindered soldiers in the field. One airdrop of food and ammunition was ultimately canceled because the C-47s, flying out of the UK (another mistake) was canceled when fighter protection hadn’t been notified and the appropriate maps remained undelivered.

It’s a wonder things went as well as they did for the Germans, given the poor training of the “volunteers,” and their own lack of faith in the attempt. Certainly the overly optimistic allies helped. Montgomery was convinced, “the enemy was in a bad way,” and had neither the transport nor fuel to mount an attack. The American front line was know as a 9-5 army, staying on guard until only one hour past dark, then heading back to their huts for sleep, returning to their posts an hour before daybreak.

But after the salient attacks on Bastogne, the push back from the Third Army was tortuous for the infantry. The Germans had specifically infiltrated English-speaking troops in American uniforms into their front lines and they had captured a lot of American equipment so sometimes telling who was the enemy could be problematic. The ground was frozen making foxholes almost impossible to dig, dysentery was rampant, and outfits shifted from place to place making the soldiers wonder just where they were and having no understanding for the total picture. “With all of our constant confusion, I couldn’t see how we were winning and the Germans were retreating. I wasn’t killing anybody. I didn’t see any Germans and their only manifestation was in their shells and machine guns.” Many were frustrated and the inevitable atrocities occurred. “They had nothing to look forward to—except a wound that would evacuate them or a coffin . . . . fighting mad after wading through waist-high snowdrifts for twelve hours to get to Herresbach. Some of our boys ran wild, shooting everything that moved in the town. The Krauts used up all their ammo shooting at our guys, then came out yelling, ‘Kamerad!’ Our troopers would reply with ‘Kamerad, hell!’ and a burst from a tommy gun.” Patton even remarked in his diary that he hoped no one would find out.

In the end, it’s no spoiler that the attempted German breakout was doomed to failure as the Allies’ overwhelming air superiority and materiel determined the outcome as did Hitler’s failure to provide support for the effort once underway. Probably not the best book to read for an overall strategic view of the battle, but excellent for detailed personal accounts.

By the way, Astor quotes Charles MacDonald, author of Company Commander, another excellent memoir of WWII that I have reviewed. (

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Review: Tinfish Run by Ronald Bassett

Excellent nautical fiction. The Virtue is an old WW I destroyer assigned with several other small escorts to convoy four large tankers to Murmansk. The idea was to follow in the distant shadow of PQ 17, a convoy of more than thirty ships protected by battleships and newer destroyers. The idea was to trick the Germans into attacking the larger convoy and to ignore the more important one carrying the fuel.

Bassett follows several members of the crew focusing on seaman Ludd whom he follows in subsequent books. I was not familiar with Bassett but stumbled across him somewhere and then was offered a copy of Neptune Landing (which I had coincidentally already acquired, it being third in the Ludd series.) Endeavor Press is a digital publisher and has a number of interesting nautical books worth checking out for those of us of the nautical bent.

Read the introduction; it provides a lot of useful historical information.

Someone once said that the Navy’s wartime role consisted of ‘periods of intense monotony alleviated by moments of intense excitement’, but this is true only if the word ‘monotony’ is understood to mean week after week of heaving green sea, bitter cold and stinging rain, debilitating fatigue, poor food and cramped quarters. Soldiers and airmen, whilst their locations may have been remote and their duties arduous, usually had the consolation of a NAAFI canteen and similar off-duty distractions, and respite, even if brief, from a war environment. They were seldom long separated from civilian influences and those warming glimpses of domesticity without which values become blurred, language coarsens, and mental processes become locked into formalized channels.

Bassett served in the Royal Navy during WWII and the Korean War and knows whereof he writes. Perhaps not for those who prefer landlocked books, but for us nautical freaks, very nice. I liked it better than Alistair MacLean’s H.M.S. Ulysses, perhaps because it’s not quite as dark and the characters seemed a bit more realistic even if the setting is described less vividly.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Review: In Defense of Judges by AW Gray

Audiobook: Bino Phillips is an attorney with 18 years experience who normally would be at odds with most of the judges in his area, so he’s taken aback when a local judge asks him to be his attorney. Turns out that the only way to unseat a federal judge whom the powers-that-be consider to be too lenient is to charge him with a crime. That he might be innocent is irrelevant.

Couple that with the judge’s attractive daughter who has problems of her own, namely gambling and some rather revealing pictures, not to mention a really crazy ex-con, and Bino’s wise-cracking dialogue, and you have a enjoyable legal mystery. Well, it’s not technically a legal mystery in my book as there are relatively few courtroom scenes. An enjoyable listen well narrated by Joe Barrett.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Review: Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson

This is the book the HBO series used for its basis. Contrary to popular myth, Atlantic City was not a summer playground for the rich but rather a working class getaway that catered to every illicit whim. Brothels and gambling flourished, but Prohibition really made Atlantic City famous and rich. Under “Nucky” Johnson, the “Commodore’s successor, anything nominally illegal elsewhere could be had in Atlantic City. “A naughty time at an affordable price.”

The short history of Atlantic City presented at the beginning of the book is really quite interesting. The land was bought up originally to develop a health spa, but then, in order to make it accessible a railroad was required to get people from New York and Philadelphia. But in order to compete with Cape May, summer playground of the rich, they tried to appeal to the working man so prices had to remain low. Soon there were four railroads delivering customers (in spite of swarms of green flies and mosquitoes that sometimes drove horses crazy - not to mention people.) To serve customers cheaply, labor costs had to be kept low, and poor southern blacks who had suffered as slaves and were then abused after Reconstruction was destroyed politically, migrated to Atlantic City to fill the jobs. Whites wanted nothing to do with them socially and soon the city was segregated into white and black ghettos. "[The] irony of it all was cruel to Blacks. They earned a respectable wage, could vote, and own property. They performed the most personal of services and were entrusted with important responsibilities, but they were barred from restaurants, amusement piers, and booths; were denied shopping privileges by most stores; were admitted to hotels only as workers; were segregated in clinics and hospitals; and could only bathe in one section of the beach, but even then had to wait until after dark."

Louis Kuehnle, otherwise known as the “Commodore,” was soon running the town, but in a wise, if corrupt, manner. He focused on infrastructure, building water and transportation systems that functioned well, and paving the streets. “Commodore understood that Atlantic City’s business owners would gladly sacrifice honest government for a profitable summer and he gave them what they wanted. Kuehnle protected the rackets from prosecution and worked with the tourist industry to ensure its success. In exchange, the community let him call the shots.”

Unfortunately, following the election of Woodrow Wilson, the Presbyterian antithesis to anything fun and later president, to the NJ governorship cramped things. “Wilson was a crusader who saw things in black and white. Impersonal in his relations, he attracted supporters in much the same way people latch on to an abstract principle.” His attorney general went after election fraud and that resulted in Kuehnle’s imprisonment, opening the way for “Nucky” Johnson who was far more corrupt and even more controlling. Johnson got himself appointed City Treasurer, a non-elective office, which he held for decades and which held the key to all graft. The 18th amendment played right into the hands of Nucky and all during Prohibition booze flowed freely and openly as Atlantic City became a huge transit port for liquor.

Johnson had a gift for understanding people, their desires, and needs. He managed to control the city to such an extent that virtually everyone owed their jobs to him. “Crucial to his power and the control of the Republican organization, he learned how to manipulate Atlantic City’s Black population. He continued the Commodore’s private welfare system, but the assistance he gave Johnson went beyond what Kuehnle had done for blacks; come the winter he was their savior. Long stretches of unemployment in the off-season could be devastating. Johnson saw to it that the Northside had food, clothing, coal, and medical care. “If your kid needed a winter coat, all you had to do was ask—maybe it wouldn’t fit but it was warm. If the grocer cut off your credit, the ward leader told you where to shop on the party’s tab. The same was true if someone needed a doctor or a prescription filled.” Corruption as good government.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Review: Days of Killing: A Novel of Berlin by Peter Sasgen

After 18 months in an NKVD jail for “treason,” i.e. showing more intelligence than his commanding officer, Yuri Nosenko, is suddenly released, fed and treated medically, and given his old rank of captain back. He’s become far more cynical during the course of the war.

“His arrest by the NKVD after Smolovici exposed the treachery, the lies, the twisted logic of Party doctrine, its fear and paranoia. Stalin’s death mills came into sharp focus during his encounter with Soviet justice. Never more than after witnessing Colonel Antonov’s vengeful, fabricated testimony against him—dereliction of duty, disobeying a direct order. And how members of the tribunal hearing his case had, without a moment’s deliberation, returned a unanimous verdict. Guilty of all charges.”

Nosenko learns the reason behind his release is his knowledge of German and Berlin where he had been stationed before the war. The Russians desperately want him to find General Heinrich Müller (known as Gestapo Müller) who has escaped both the NKVD and American intelligence after faking his death during the fall of Berlin. He has documents showing the Russians had committed atrocities against the Poles at Katyn Forest (Nosenko doesn’t know this, only that the Russians are fearful the documents will fall into Allied hands. Müller is ostensibly negotiating with the Allies, but no one knows his location except it’s in Berlin somewhere.) It’s a seemingly impossible task.

To make matters worse, Nosenko’s old nemesis, General Antonov, is now his boss and wants him to fail. Nosenko’s search becomes a descent into never-never land, trudging through the ruins of Berlin, trying to stay ahead of Antonov, but forced to make daily reports. But just what can he report? If he didn’t report the hidden room at Seelingstrasse 509, it might prove useful later, though how he didn’t know. Failure to report it might prove dangerous if Antonov already knew about the room and was waiting to see if Nosenko had found it—a test. If Antonov knew about the room, what else did he know? Had the NKVD planted the wedding dress? The map fragment? If they had, it likely meant that Antonov and Fitin knew that Katarine still lived in the apartment. Another test?

There’s a scene to warm the hearts of all librarians in which Nosenko needs to find some files in the Gestapo archives. The Germans were meticulous record keepers and he believes the files will help him locate Müller. Unfortunately, Gestapo headquarters is a shambles and many of the boxes have been rained on. But he, with the help of another “reprieved Soviet” scour the files and after hours manage to locate what they are looking for. Were I to say much more, I would be attacked by the Spoiler Police.

The story and writing are above average except for short occasional passages of maudlin sentimentality that don’t fit. Great story.

Historical note: Müller is the only high command German who was never captured and whose death has never been confirmed. He had worked his way up through the police to become head of the SS counter-intelligence units and investigated the assassination of Heydrich in Czechoslovakia. He was last seen in Hitler’s bunker the day after Hitler’s suicide.

Why do we fear Muslims terrorists more than Christian shooters?

I've been listening to a lot of commentary in the past couple of weeks related to the San Bernadino shootings and in none of those conversations have we been reminded of the Planned Parenthood killings, nor of the church shooting by the KKK adherent (the Charleston Church Massacre), or the familial shootings like the one in Troup Georgia that killed 5 people. If you look at the 353 shootings this year tracked by you'll see only one that was related to Islamic terrorism. Couple that with the data that gun deaths are in decline (suicides are inching up) since the 90's and you have to wonder at the hysteria being created by Trump and the media. (

The Washington Post as an analysis at suggesting that Christian shooters are "excused" from the terorist label simply because Christianity is more familiar than Islam.

N.B. These numbers do not include the over 900 police shootings that resulted in death so far in 2015.

Review: The Nomination by William Tapply

Federal Judge Thomas Larrigan is being vetted to be the next Supreme Court Justice. While ostensibly having no skeletons in the closet, in reality he has several and he enlists the help of some ex-Marine buddies to take care of those skeletons.

One of those skeletons was his underage mistress, An Li, in Vietnam, who had a child that Thomas took from her and had put up for adoption. An Li, having escaped Vietnam at the end of the war to Paris, had become a well-known actress but is now suffering from a fatal degenerative disease and she happens to see a photograph of a woman she is sure is her daughter, May, now having adopted the name Jessie Church. She tried to contact Jesse who now is an ex-cop working as a P.I. and hiding from a mobster she had testified against so now she’s on the run again and drifting toward her biological mother in N.Y.

I have read a lot of Tapply and mourn his demise. This book is a stand-alone, not part of his regular series, and is a good story. Not great, but it has an intricate plot with well-defined characters. I would have to agree with some reviewers that the book doesn’t hang together as well as some of his Brady Coyne novels. The ending, in particular, seemed a bit haphazard. It was published after his death so I suspect it may have been completed by someone else. Humorous when you think of the ghostwriter character in the book.

A larger moral question is whether we should continue to condemn people for acts committed while young and in the midst of war. As we know all too well, war places enormous stresses on participants. Larrigan assumes he will be condemned and I guess his overriding desire to join the Supreme Court colors his judgment, but by all other appearances he has been a model person since Vietnam. I suppose you could argue that his morality is more than flawed by his initiation of the acts that result in several deaths, but had he simply revealed his actions during the war with a mea culpa shouldn’t his actions have been forgiven? Does no one believe in individual reformation anymore? Or are we to be eternally subject to retribution?

Monday, December 07, 2015

New Gun Rights petition fails at SCOTUS

In Friedman v City of Highland Park there was an attempt to expand gun rights beyond was was granted in Heller and McDonald, i.e. the right to own a hand gun in one's home for protection. The idea was that everyone would be able to own whatever class of weapon they desired. Today the Court refused to grant certiorari to the petitioners.

One of my Goodreads friends, an attorney, posted an excellent review of what that means:

"Today, the US Supreme Court denied certiorari in the case of Friedman v. City of Highland Park. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit had affirmed a District Court decision upholding a municipal ban on assault weapons. The Supreme Court, in an apparent 7-2 decision, refused to take an appeal from the Seventh Circuit decision. Consistent with the Supreme Court's usual practice when it denies writs of certiorari, the majority did not write an opinion. However, Justice Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Scalia. That dissent is set forth here.

There are many reasons why the Supreme Court may not grant a petition for certiorari in any given case. The majority of the Court may agree with the lower court's decision. Alternatively, they may believe that the particular case does not present the issues in a form in which a Supreme Court decision would be particularly useful. Accordingly, it is difficult to read into this denial of certiorari what the majority actually thinks. Based on the account of the case in Justice Thomas's dissent, however, it does appear that the majority may not be willing to go beyond the specific holding of Heller, discussed above in earlier posts, that the Second Amendment prohibits the banning of handguns in the home for self-defense. This denial of certiorari portends the possibility, feared by Thomas's dissent, that Heller may be limited to its facts.

That said, we probably will not know the extent to which the Supreme Court is willing, or unwilling, to extend Heller until a US Court of Appeals holds a ban on assault weapons to be unconstitutional (a scenario that will certainly happen, given the conservatism of some circuits, especially in the South). That will almost certainly prompt the Supreme Court to take the appeal, just as it was forced to take appeals relating to the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") when some but not all circuits held it to be unconstitutional. Accordingly, we will not know the Supreme Court's final determination of these matters unless and until it takes one or more additional Second Amendment cases. Today's rejection of the Friedman appeal does not, however, bode well for conservative judicial activist proponents of an expansive meaning of the Second Amendment. One wonders whether the recent mass shootings in San Bernardino and elsewhere caused some Supreme Court justices to rethink their positions on such issues. It only takes four of the nine justices to grant a petition for writ of certiorari. Justices Scalia and Thomas were not able to persuade even two additional justices to grant certiorari in this case.

An article about this decision in today's Washington Post observes:

"The court’s action Monday continues a pattern. After deciding in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 that the Second Amendment provides the right for an individual to keep a weapon in the home, the court has avoided all cases that might clarify if that right is more expansive.

"Gun rights advocates say cities and states continue to put unreasonable restrictions on the constitutional right. But the court has not yet found a case it thinks requires its intervention."

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Review: The Harder They Come by TC Boyle

Audiobook: This book has to have one of the strangest titles, I kept trying to decide whether it was meant or be scatalogical or eschatalogical.

The first short section tried to define Sten who, while on a cruise ship side trip, kills a Costa Rican hood who was trying to rob him and some other passengers. Skip to back home where his son, Adam, a survivalist (and someone who kept reminding me of Holden Caufield which his strange mixture of bravado and naivete and world view) has hooked up with Sara, a local farrier and anti-government loner who refuses to wear a seatbelt and then disses the cop who stops her with inevitable consequences that fuel her anti-authority impulses. Adam refuses to be called by his given name, instead, trying to channel John Colter, after the real-life Lewis and Clark Guide who was an expert at living in the wilderness. Adam wanders in and out of reality (one might argue that Sara is equally delusional) and eventually commits a crime that makes him wanted by the police (Sara is, too, but for different reasons.)

It’s perhaps ironic (did Boyle intend this?) that Sten, who has survived Vietnam and seen horrible things, is normal, whereas his son, the advantaged one, is completely psychotic. As for Sara’s motivation, I’m not sure just how believable it was. She’s fifteen years Adam’s senior, had been a teacher in his father’s school, and now has adopted a freaky anarchical libertarianism.And then there’s the issue of guilt. What responsibility did Sten have for not dealing with Adam’s mental issues earlier? And what role did Sara play in the devolution into violence? The peripheral characters like Art and the Mexicans seem shapeless.

I hope I don’t sound too sarcastic in spots for the book is quite well written and brilliant at portraying the angst of the 21st century rebellious young. It’s sort of a Catcher in the Rye for the new century. There were a few things that bothered me, and perhaps it’s because I listened to, rather than read, the book: I failed to get a good sense of the geography of the place, the relationships between the several locations, i.e., Sten’s house, the grandmother’s house, and Adam’s “cabin,” and the roads that connect them. I also found switching POV’s a bit confusing as the characters moved around in time. If you are the kind of reader who must like a character to enjoy the book, you will most likely dislike this book. I have no such impediment and in spite of my dislike for all the characters the book certainly held my interest.

Based loosely on the case of Adam Bessler. See

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Review: East of Farewell by E. Howard Hunt

E. Howard Hunt. Now there's a name that brings back memories. And not particularly pleasant ones as a member of the “plumbers.” On the other hand, he served in the Navy during WW II on destroyers and as this book was written in 1942 while he was out there living the book.

It takes place on a destroyer on convoy duty. Each chapter is preceded by a short italicized section on preparing the ship, following by perspectives from members of the crew, each with a short bio. While clearly fictional, I suspect the characters had considerable basis from his experience.

Blacks had no place except as servants to the officers. Their world was “yessuh,” no matter whether they were seasick or had other difficulties. The captain was angry because their ship hosted the commodore who second guessed his every move. Others had come from farms. All felt the drudgery.

And I never realized until I went to sea how much you can hate something that you can’t beat … something that wins over you whenever you’re tired … something that won’t let you rest … where there is never anything but the feel of the spray and the shock of the waves and the blackness of night and the fog-gray days and always the sea. Always the sea and the tearing wind and no place ever to lie still while your heart pounds with the feel of the sea and your brain is tight with the smell of the sea and your belly is hollow with the fear of it, and always the ship goes on through the night and the days that are not day.

The theme and writing reminded me a little of Alistair MacLean. If you enjoy nautical fiction, you will like this book. Not up to Marley Mowat, or Herman Wouk, but good enough and of historical interest since it was written during the war it portrays.