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Monday, December 26, 2016

Review: Blind Goddess by Anne Holt

Audiobook. Excellent police procedural, first in a series, read by the inimitable Kate Reading. The only caveat I have about listening to this as an audiobook is sorting out the Norwegian names and keeping the characters straight.

Hanne Wilhelmsen is a detective inspector in Oslo and the putative protagonist of this series, yet she came across as almost a minor character. The story, hardly a spoiler, involves corruption at the highest levels, but the solution lay more with the foolishness and errors of the bad guys rather than any particularly illuminating insights of the cops.

Certainly others in the series will be worth reading.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Blue States are the Real Tea (and States Rights) Parties

The Tea Party movement was intended to reflect concerns of the original settlers who resented paying taxes to England when they weren't represented. Ironically, many of the large states, most of them blue, find themselves in precisely the same situation because of the Electoral College where every state gets a number of electors equal to its congressional delegation. The Tax Foundation did an analysis of how much each state gets back from the federal government compared to what it pays in federal taxes. It revealed substantial inequities. ( For example, New Mexico and Mississippi get back over $2.00 for each $1.00 sent to Washington. That's true of many of the smaller states. Yet because of the electoral College, the residents of those smaller states have far more power in the Electoral College per voter than do larger states. "So California's 55 electoral votes reflect 53 House members and two senators. For seven states, including Wyoming, Delaware and the Dakotas, those extra two electoral votes bring their total to the minimum of three. Put another way, Alaska's three electors will cast 0.56 percent of the 538 electoral votes despite casting just 0.23 percent of the national popular vote. But the advantage doesn't just favor Republicans. Democratic Nevada makes up 1.12 percent of the Electoral College but cast less than 1 of a 100 national ballots. (

On the other hand, because the federal government really has little enforcement power in the states, any president has to rely on local enforcement since it doesn't have the resources to accomplish any president's goals. Marijuana is a perfect example. Several states have effectively legalized the sale of the drug even though it remains illegal under federal law. The feds just don't have enough manpower to enforce it. Trump may discover that enforcing his immigration policies may become impossible in those states where the state (or city) government refuses to assist in enforcement. How he goes about making deals to accomplish his goals may be interesting to watch.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Why Hillary Lost.

My good friend Andy, who teaches political science and who studies election returns and history with a passion that's gratifying, have been spending the past 18 months debating, arguing, and analyzing the recent presidential and senatorial (not so much the congressional) elections. I had made a monetary bet (a nickel to be precise) over 12 months ago that Trump would be nominated by the GOP and probably win. I won the bet, of course, which seemed contrary to the conventional wisdom. Here are several reasons why I think Hillary lost. (Note that I use first names not out of disrespect but to distinguish Bill and Hillary as Bill played a large role in her loss. See below.)

The Democrats had an Electoral College strategy. That backfired. The assumption was that the so-called Rust-Belt states would continue to vote Democratic and that would give them an Electoral College win. Mistake. The Electoral College is an anachronism and should be abolished. It was created as much to prevent the abolition of slavery as anything else, but both parties have used it to their advantage and small states love it so it will not go away.

It's very difficult for the party in power to be re-elected following eight years in office. That’s only happened twice since 1828 for the Democrats, when the modern two-party era started in earnest. In 1836, the Democratic Vice President Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson by defeating four Whig candidates, while President Franklin D. Roosevelt succeeded himself in 1940 by running for an unprecedented third term.” FDR was such a special case as to be discounted.

People don't vote for rational reasons. They vote emotionally. Aristotle taught us that 2,000 years ago and Trump (perhaps accidentally) tied into a growing anger at the elites in Washington who fail to understand the impact of the majority of people whose income has dropped over the past couple of decades and who, rightly or wrongly, blame trade deals for the loss of many jobs. Trump appealed directly to that anger. If you listened to his speeches he hammered away on the economic theme constantly, i.e. immigrants are taking your jobs, NAFTA is taking your jobs, and only he can fix that. Hillary, through Bill, was tied directly to NAFTA and she had been very supportive of the TPP saying it was the “gold standard” of deals. Denying later that she had ever said it when there was tons of video showing that she had contributed to the “untrustworthy” image already out there. Not to mention that changing her position also contributed to that perception. She would have been far better to defend her position and argue why it was a good thing.

DNC sabotage of Sanders. If the Russian hacks had any effect it was because of the release of the DNC emails showing how they had tried to sabotage the Sanders campaign. But even worse, in my opinion, were the Podesta emails which showed how the Clintons were enamored of the Washington elite and really dispensed with the “deplorables” (more below) and that she was out-of-touch with the economically disadvantaged, not to mention her groveling before Goldman Sachs and that ilk. As I note below, it was the content that hurt her, not the release.

The constant dribble of problems with regard to the email server hurt. She never faced the issue head on. It should have been dispensed with right up front when Sanders wrongly said no one cared about the issue in the debate. Had she been right up front a year ago, released all the emails, said it was a dumb mistake, I don't think it would have continued to haunt her. Personally, in this day and age, any politician who uses email for anything, on or off government servers, is dumber than a post. Just look at General Patraeus for another example of email stupidity.

Hillary's association with Bill was always problematic, but his visit to the AG Loretta Lynch was horribly destructive. His wife was under federal investigation, so meeting with her, regardless of whether it was innocuous or not, created the perception --and we all know that perceptions are far more important than reality-- that he was trying to influence the outcome. The practical result was that Lynch had to recuse herself from anything to do with the investigation putting FBI Director Comey in the hot seat and he knowingly or unwittingly devastated her campaign with his announcements, first that she was culpable but not indictable (coming barely a week after the Bill visit to Lynch making the appearance of impropriety even worse), then the announcement of more emails just days before the election. The FBI rank and file didn't like Hillary and it showed.

Hillary never campaigned in Wisconsin or Michigan. The assumption was that the Obama strategy of getting out the vote would suffice. Note, however, that Obama had campaigned actively in Wisconsin. Had she spent time there she might have won. The margin was very small. Same problem in Michigan. The Detroit Free Press noted her loss came from , “Clinton’s neglect of the region and her failure to fully mobilize her party’s own base, including young voters and African-Americans.” Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania were each decided by about one percentage point. Her comment calling Trump supporters deplorable needs no analysis. It was dumb.

Trump's savvy manipulation of media. Trump was running rings around the media, especially the Washington press corp who basically just talk to each other and reinforce each others' myopic views of the country. He cleverly used them to keep his name out front with outrageous remarks they dutifully reported and openly despised, thus reinforcing the view that the elites had abandoned the working class who were suffering from trade deals and immigration (whether they are right or not is immaterial.) To reuse an overworked phrase, the media treated Trump differently than did his supporters. They took Trump literally but not seriously; his supporters took him seriously but not literally. The east coast elites totally misjudged the level of anger in the country where traditional Democrats, blue-collar workers, have felt abandoned by their party. These “deplorables” (to use Hillary's deplorable designation) have felt abandoned. She did nothing to assuage their anger. Trump played on it.

Jill Stein may have made a difference in Wisconsin and Michigan where the Trump margin of victory was 22,177 and 10,704 respectively, but not in Pennsylvania where it was over 70,000. Her recount campaigns are a guilt-trip only since she probably lost both Wisconsin and Michigan for Hillary. My guess is the recounts, which involve examining the paper ballots will show no hacking of the computers and that the counts are reasonably close to the total originally reported so Stein is right to feel guilty but it would not have made a difference in the outcome even if she had not run.

Russian hacking didn't affect election except indirectly by revealing how the DNC had tried to sabotage Bernie although she still beat him in number of total votes (ironic in light of the presidential election.) It would have been virtually impossible to hack the voting system. In Wisconsin, the election systems are controlled by the counties sometimes even municipalities and multiple mechanisms abound. But it was the content of the emails that hurt her not the fact they had been released. Again, the attempt to suppress the content argued against her claim of transparency. The Democrats have consistently argued the emails were no big deal. Now they claim they cost them the election. You can't have it both ways.

The election was won not because of misogyny nor racism (although for some that might have been a motivation.) The fact is Trump won the votes of many college-educated women (45%) and blacks (Trump got a substantially larger percentage of black voters than did Romney.) Blacks have continued to suffer economically and feel betrayed by the Democrats. The Clinton campaign took the black vote for granted as they did the female vote. A big mistake.

Hillary continued to be seen as “untrustworthy” and “dishonest” in spite of numerous media reports showing her to be much more factual than Trump in her statements. She hurt herself though after each loss in the primary by talking about how she would have to change her message to appeal to the voters. With Sanders and Trump there was never any doubt about changing the message; it was always consistent.


Thursday, December 08, 2016

Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Let me begin by saying that Cleave is a very good writer.  He has a facility with metaphors, similes and images that is quite startling.  I just found the plot (was there one?) to be worse than thin. You can read elsewhere what purports to happen, I’ll just note that it follows several characters as they experience the first couple years of WW II in Britain and Malta.

Some things just didn’t ring true. The racism experienced by Zachary brought South Carolina to mind, not pre-war England, there just weren’t that many blacks around, let alone American blacks. and I suspect that a black child moved to the country to escape the bombing would have been seen more as a curiosity rather than an object to be bullied.

Note that I was in the distinct minority in our reading club.

Review: Grifter's Game by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block has to be one of the most prolific and savvy writers.  Having written under numerous pen names during his early career, he has begin reissuing many of them as e-books or under the Hard Case label. Grifter’s Game is one of the latter, having gone through two previous iterations first as “Mona”, then “Sweet Slow Death”.   It was originally released in 1961.

The plot is hardly original: con man meets beautiful girl; they fall in love; she is married to gangster; they conspire to kill said gangster, etc.  But the treatment is original Block and always enjoyable. The end is surprising.  I listened to this as an audiobook masterfully read by Alan Sklar, one of my favorites.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Review: Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

I couldn’t wait to get my hands (ears) on the latest Bosch audiobook (again perfectly read by Titus Welliver.) I love the confluence of Haller and Bosch and this book is a perfect vehicle for the half-brother symbiosis.

Bosch is hired in great secrecy by a billionaire to find if he has an heir from a liaison many decades before. The stakes are enormous, especially after Bosch gets a holographic will in the mail shortly after the man’s death that names him executor and charges him with continuing his search for the heir. He, of course, calls in Haller and together they pursue the heir.A congruent investigation involves a serial rapist that’s also a good story showing off Bosch’s investigative talents.

One of Connelly’s best.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Review: Snow Angels by James Thompson

“Instead of justice I got truth which was a poor substitute.”

Audiobook. Definitely not a tourist brochure for Finland. Right up front we are told of the Finnish racism, hatred for foreigners, especially Germans, the cold, the lack of light in the winter, and their penchant for alcohol and killing loved ones.

A Somali black movie star has been brutally murdered with a racial slur carved into her body.. The local inspector, Vaasa, married to an American ski resort manager, now pregnant with twins, knows he has political dynamite in this investigation. Suspects arrive in droves, and most of them are in the inspector’s circle. Admittedly, the town is small, but I was beginning to feel claustrophobic at the narrowness of his investigation. Mix in religious and cultural conflict and you have quite a melange. The Laestadian religion, a very conservative offshoot of Lutheranism, plays an important role in the book, as does the Koran. Both provide the motivations for many of the characters’ actions.

The Wikipaedia entry on Thompson notes that Vaara is portrayed as a “good” cop who goes bad in later novels and I can certainly see the seeds of future corruption. Given events, I wondered how he could ever follow up this novel with a second in the series. But I will certainly want to read the rest of the series. . Definitely not a book for those who like their cozies: it’s graphic and often profane.

Thompson, who had studied Finnish (as well as several other languages), was fluent in it, and lived in Finland, died in 2014 after writing four in the Vaasa series.

Review: The Doll Maker by Richard Montanari

Audiobook: I have read one other book in this series, The Rosary Girls. I went back to read my review only to discover I had not bothered. I almost did the same with this book, having finished it months ago, yet not having jotted down any notes or thoughts while reading it.

It’s -- they both? -- were satisfying enough, I guess, if you are looking for a time-waster, but I remember being a bit dissatisfied with the premise of both: damaged person becomes a serial killer who poses his victims in ways determined by events in his childhood. The detectives solve the case more by their involvement rather than active problem-solving, sort of like “Midsomer Murders” where the crimes are solved only by the accretion of more bodies. There’s really not much of a mystery, as the reader is treated periodically to the mind and activities of the killer, who, I must say, seemed more a fantastical, rather than “real,” figure. True crime is far more prosaic motivations less extraordinary.

Nevertheless, the book, perhaps thanks to the reader, held my interest while walking the dog, so 3, rather than 2, stars.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Review: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Strangers on a Train is the classic story of a man who meets a stranger on the train and they discuss the murder of the man’s wife. When this story began by a man, Ted, meeting Lily (she’s gorgeous, of course) in an airport bar and they begin to discuss killing his unfaithful wife, I feared Swanson had simply stolen and amplified the Highsmith plot. I was wrong for it turns out the two have much in common. Won’t say much as it would involve too many spoilers. I’ll just acknowledge the plot moved along with the force of a speeding train.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Review: Escape Clause by John Sandford

That “Fuckin’” Flowers, as he is affectionately called, is relaxing in his favorite swimming hole with Frankie, his girl” on her farm after putting up some hay, a task Virgil hates, so she can sell it instead of feeding it to her non-existent cattle and can claim it as a business expense. All of a sudden her sister Sparkle charges down the path with her squeeze Bob, a nine-months-out-of-the-year-celibate priest (she only gets it during the summer.)  If that weren’t a good enough beginning, Virgil is called away to find two tigers that had been stolen from the Minnesota State Fair zoo.

Best Sandford series, bar none. They are all good. Engagingly read by Eric Conger

Monday, October 24, 2016

Review: Quarry in the Black by Max Allan Collins

Certainly not as interesting as Lawrence Block’s Keller, Quarry is an adequate substitute if you are suffering from assassin-story deprivation. I’ve read all the Kellers and now all the Quarrys. They are both enjoyable, but Keller is a much more interesting and well-developed character.

This time Quarry discovers that a second hit team has been assigned to hit the same target, a serious breach of etiquette. The target is a “future” Martin Luther King. Jr. prospect and soon Quarry is up to his pubic hairs in attractive women and KKK sheets.

Fast, enjoyable read.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: Nightlife by Thomas Perry

Audiobook. Thomas Perry delivers a fine novel about a chameleon-like woman who preys on men (just how deliberate her actions might be I will leave to other readers.) Perry presents the story from a variety of different points-of-view: the Portland detective sergeant looking for her; the gambling-addicted former D.A. office’s retired investigator, and Hugo Poole, the local crime boss’s, hired gun. The killing that started the manhunt and flight was that of Hugo Poole’s cousin and Poole wants to know if the killing might have been revenge for something he himself had done.

There are lots of similarities to Perry’s Jane Whitfield series. The woman, who adopts multiple identities--much too easily IMO ( it just can’t be that easy to create new drivers licenses, and having scanners and printers close at hand all the time also seemed a bit fortuitous) -- manages to stay several steps ahead of her pursuers. How she does it provides for an intriguing, excellent long-flight read or listen.

A minor complaint is that there is often extensive backstory to minor characters with only ten pages to live.

Review: Night Prey by John Sandford

This one is sixth in the series, written by John Camp under the Sandford pseudonym. I prefer the earlier Lucas Davenports to the later ones. Sandford’s other series, I like even better, especially Virgil Flowers, which has a special brand of humor. The Kidd series suffers from being quite dated technically, when read today, but were excellent when I read them several years (decades?) ago.

It’s a good story, although I found Conley’s terminal disease to be implausible in the context of her actions in the story, not to mention Lucas’s little oration on the degrees of rape. That was weird.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Review: Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman

Admittedly, I listened to this book, which may have colored my response to it. On the other hand, I have difficulty with books where seemingly unrelated plot-lines all merge together in the end or never get tied up. On the other hand, the setting and cultural details of the Navajo and Hopi tribes, not to mention the big-bad federal agents are always interesting.

I know there's a trend in some camps to denigrate writers who write about an ethnicity to which they do not belong. It seems to me Hillerman was diligent in his research, and to suggest that to write about something you must have experienced it yourself, would just about destroy all literature.

In the end, pretty good, but not one of my Hillerman favorites.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Review: The Ghost by Robert Harris

Audiobook: I like Robert Harris and have read several of his books, many of which have an historical grounding. As this was promoted as being different, I avoided it, but one day started up the audiobook and I was hooked. The premise is quite interesting. A ghost writer, never identified by name, has been hired to complete a famous ex-prime minister’s memoirs after the apparent suicide of the former “ghost.” There’s a very short deadline, and he’s dismayed to see the 600 pages left by his predecessor are virtually unreadable, boring in the extreme.

Then things get a bit complicated as Adam Lang, the subject of the memoir and supposed author, is indicted by the International Criminal Court for having permitted and encouraged the rendition and torture of suspects following the 9/11 attacks. I suppose it’s the height of irony that the country that created the Nuremberg courts, trials and executions, the United States, has withdrawn from participation in the ICC, along with the Sudan (its president was indicted) and Israel, although being one of the signatories. That it is perhaps afraid of subjecting its leaders to international sanctions for committing war crimes puts the U.S. in good company with countries like China, Iraq and North Korea. I suspect it’s because Congress fears possible indictment of GW Bush for his complicity in the treatment and torture of prisoners. In any case, the indictment of Lange (Tony Blair, anyone?) makes the memoirs, already sought after, hot property, indeed.

Terrorism has been a real boon to those in power providing a rationale for obtaining more control over their “subjects,” while providing them with more mechanisms, in the name of security, of course, to remove themselves even further from the electorate in bomb/gas-proof limousines, guards, etc. That is a sub-theme of the book that has a host of relevant meanings for the word “ghost.” (Note that the book has been reissued under the title “Ghost Writer’ which loses much of the impact of the double meanings.)

Some interesting discussion on the relationship between truth, memoirs, ghost writers, and politics. I found it hard to put down, listening while walking the dog, sorting stamps, cleaning, etc. My only complaint was the ending , the justification for which seemed thin. Good read, nevertheless.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Review: Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben

The first Myron Bolitar, excellently read by Jonathan Marozs. It’s a lot of fun with Coben displaying the wise-cracking Bolitar to good advantage.

Myron, ex-basketball star, lawyer, and former spook, has just started his sports agency business and has signed Christian Steele to a lucrative contract with the Titans. Steele’s girlfriend (and sister to Myron’s girlfriend Jessica) has disappeared and is presumed to have been murdered by some random serial killer. Jessica, whose father, a medical examiner, has also been murdered recently, asks Myron to find out what happened to her sister. Of course, all the murders are related.

The regular characters are introduced in the novel: Wynn, the amoral, rich, sidekick; and Esperanza, his wiseass secretary and former wrestling champion. It all makes for a wonderful melange of mystery and investigation although occasionally it reads like an apologia for sports agents who must operate in a very sleezy world.

I’ve read several in the Bolitar series and like all of them. Some of the jokes in this the first of the series are a bit archaic. For example, “What did you say your name was?” “ Dom Deluise.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review: Keller's Designated Hitter by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block has been reissuing some of his earlier work as Kindle shorts. If you have read much Block, be careful not to purchase something that might have appeared earlier in one of the books. The Keller "novels" for example are often more collections of stories that lend themselves to appearing independently.

That being said, I had not read this one before, which had appeared in a magazine several decades ago. It is typical Keller with him making adjustments to the hit he has been paid to complete, stamps, etc., all written in that wonderful Block style that makes his work so engaging. This one has a baseball theme.

Most of these can be gotten free through Kindle Unlimited. Read them.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Review: Das Boot

Probably the most existential and realistic book of submarine warfare from the point of view of a German crew that I have read. It reveals an experience most would rather not have had to live through.

Submarines need buoyancy to function. Salt water makes that extremely difficult because the specific gravity of salt water varies with depth, temperature, the amount of plankton, salinity, even the time of year. (Apparently fresh water is much easier.) Now let’s assume that the specific gravity changes by 1/1000, a small enough amount. If the weight of the sub is 800 tons, the weight must change by 1/1000 or 1600 lbs., not an insignificant amount. The weight has to be increased or decreased as the case may be.

Or let’s say the cook moves a 100 lb. sack of potatoes from the stern forward. That amount of weight has to be redistributed by pumping an equivalent amount of water back to the stern in the trim tanks. You will never think of submarines in quite the same way after you have read the description of their sub in the midst of a storm having to run on the surface for speed (if you could call it that) and to charge the batteries, the boat plunging and heaving through the waves. Can submarines capsize?

This kind of fascinating information adds such verisimilitude to one of the submarine classics to come out of WW II. The author served as a naval correspondent on U-Boots during the war and experienced much of what he then wrote about. I have seen the movie (in German) and listened to the audiobook in addition to reading the book (in English). Not recommended in any form if you have a heart condition.

“All doubts are silenced by the concept of duty.” Think about that.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Review: Privileged Lives by Edward Stewart

I ran across Edward Stewart’s Lt. Vincent Cardozo series in an Amazon Kindle special promotion. They have been resurrected by Open Road Media, and I’m glad I found them. Stewart, who died at age 58, in 1996, had been a relatively unknown author, but this series promised to perhaps change that. It consists of four books, the last, Jury Double, having been published after his death. One reviewer suggested had he lived the series might have evolved into something like Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series; high praise, indeed. This one is the first.

The book begins with the vignette of a woman awaking after lying in a coma for almost 100 months following an accident. The scene then shifts to Cordozo on the beach being called to the homicide of a man in a mask whose leg had been amputated.

Well written with some nice phrases, e.g.: “ The air in the stairwell pressed like a blanket soaked in hot water.” and “a man who moved with the ease of a stone wall learning to walk.” Dobbs, the gossip columnist reminds me of Alice Longworth who said, “If you have nothing good to say come sit here by me.” He had some wickedly funny comments during his interview with the cops.

Another telling quote that hit home: “No matter what else happens,” he said, “no matter what else you discover has happened, hold on to work. Work is the last, the most important, the only frontier. Everything else comes and goes—but work stays. The one friend, the one parent, the one child, the one lover. It’s the only thread we’ve got to guide us through this labyrinth we call a life.”

On the other hand, this is not a book for the squeamish. There are some descriptions of sexual depravities that would, I’m sure, disturb the fearful and puritanical. I knocked off a star for what I thought were coincidences beyond belief, but generally still a good police procedural.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Review: Man in the Middle by Brian Haig

When you listen to a lot of audiobooks, those in a series tend to take on the characteristics of a particular reader, especially if h/she is well suited to a given author. I’m a devoted fan of the Sean Drummond character invented by Brian Haig who has been narrated primarily by Scott Brick. The narrator becomes Drummond. Brick captures all the nuances of Drummond’s humor. LJ Ganser is fine, just takes some getting used to if you are accustomed to Brick, but he often reads the wiseacre passages so endearing to Drummond fans too flatly.

Drummond is now a Lt. Colonel, still in the JAG, but assigned to the CIA in a special projects group and he’s assumed the role of an FBI agent to infiltrate the investigation into the suicide/homicide of a man with lots of classified access, Clifford Daniels, and the man about to be outed as a major force in promoting the invasion of Iraq.

The scene eventually shifts to Iraq where the plot gets thinner and the content more wordy. Haig engages in digressions that often have little to do with the story, and sometimes the point he wants to make regarding the war gets muddled. For example, he goes to great lengths to portray the dangers of Fallujah yet Drummond and his escorting contractors have little difficulty making it through town to their target where a great fuss is made over Bien’s conduct in identifying the man they want to kidnap (but only after a ridiculous banter over who gets to go that was really silly). Their attempt must be made speedily because the Marines are about to obliterate the town with artillery. Shift to a hospital where much is made of the injuries to soldiers from roadside bombs without even a consideration given to the effect of artillery on non-combatants.

One interesting historical mention was the terrorist bombing in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, in which a truck bomb was placed next to an eight-story structure that housed members of the coalition forces being used to enforce the no-fly zone in Iraq. Close to 500 coalition servicemen were killed or wounded as the whole side of the building collapsed. Precursors of many attacks to come.

In spite of a constant refrain that as members of the Army, both Drummond and Bian Tran, his female MP major sidekick follow orders, they consistently avoid doing what they have been ordered to do, all the while proclaiming the rightness of the cause.

The book resonates best when Sean is dealing with the bureaucracy and its silliness, less so when he meanders all over in assorted sermons/lectures. There are some seriously incredible plot twists and devices. But I do like some of the characters in spite of their flaws hence three instead of two stars. Haig (and his editor) need to learn the difference between imply and infer.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Review: Killer Stuff and Tons of Money by Maureen Stanton

One of the features of Antiques Roadshow that makes it so interesting is the historical information delivered by the experts as they discuss the provenance of some unusual item. That knowledge is what separates the amateurs from the professionals in the antique business. You have to know a lot of stuff. This is one of those ridiculously fascinating books that truly holds my interest becoming impossible to put down as I am overwhelmed with more and more intriguing trivia, e.g., in the chapter about the show, “Lint on the set is a problem, too. “We spend a lot of time picking lint off the tables, floors, the velvet-covered display racks,” Matthews says. And derrieres cause trouble. The crew often films an object set on a waist-high table. “Many times we cannot use the shot because in the background is someone’s ass,” Matthews says. “The Antiques Roadshow butt shot. That’s a phenomenon in this business.”

True aficionados of flea markets, for example, realize that by the time the show/market actually opens 95% of the really good stuff is already gone as the dealers use that time to search through each other's wares for the good stuff. The best target is a rental truck signaling a possible estate being sold, the owners often not recognizing what they might have and willing to let it go cheap.

It’s exciting and addicting, but it’s clear that the breadth and depth of knowledge needed to get to this point is daunting. Knowledge is what makes this robbery okay. Robbery is not the right word, though, because the information is available to anyone willing to study, to do the homework. “If you buy something off someone’s table, you don’t owe them anything,” Avery says. The dealer is responsible for setting the asking price. Caveat venditor.

Why do people start collecting stuff? Stuff that often overwhelms their lives and homes. “... from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s storage unit rentals increased by 90 percent.” Avery’s house had become a warren of paths and finally, using yard sales and group sales shops, and lots of time, he managed to reduce the quantity somewhat. The conundrum was that in order to sell, he had to buy, and determining what to take to any given show on any given weekend was always difficult, but he had to have lots of “stuff.” The impulse to collect begins as early as age three, a tendency that fast food restaurants and toy manufacturers exploit by marketing sets of toys and urging kids to “collect them all.” And some collecting is just weird. “Photographer Amy Kubes has collected her toenails since 1995. “I’ve never missed a cutting,” she wrote. William Davies King, author of Collections of Nothing, has “seventeen to eighteen thousand labels,” including labels from forty-four brands of canned tuna. “I’ll spare you the clams, crabmeat, mussels, oysters, sardines, snails, herring, salmon, and kipper snack” labels, he writes. “

Lots of delectable information. Did you know, for example,
In a single year, 1859, just one glass factory in France produced eighty million bottles for opium. Until it was banned in 1905, opium was cheaper than beer or gin, and easily purchased in grocery stores, by mail, and over the counter at pharmacies. Parents even gave opium to fussy babies, a product like Street’s Infants’ Quietness, which “quieted” many infants through death by overdose. In Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Thomas de Quincey called opium a “panacea for all human woes” and “the secret of happiness.” Opium addiction was so widespread that an English pharmacist, C. R. Alder Wright, formulated a derivative called diacetylmorphine, which he hoped would be less addicting. The new drug, sold by the German company Bayer, was called Heroin for its heroic ability to cure. Heroin was the best-selling drug brand of its time.

And the hint of the day: “It might surprise antiques dealers to learn that a recent study found that low starting bids yielded higher final prices, at least on the Internet. In 2006, researchers sought to discover the causes behind this “reversal of the anchoring effect,” so they set up simultaneous auctions on eBay. Their study showed that when the starting bid is low, anyone can jump in (“reduced barriers to entry”). This increases activity, causing a “sheep effect” (my term—if everyone else wants something, then it must be valuable).”

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Superficial patriotism

There was a lot of grumbling and aspersing about the seeming difference between the Republican and Democratic conventions in the number of flags flying. Aside from the obvious silliness in determining what might constitute the proper number of flags that must be displayed in order to be considered appropriately patriotic, i.e. is the threshold 5, 50, or 100, or perhaps 76, that kind of flag-waving patriotism is so superficial. Who's the more patriotic, the man driving down the road with a flag waving from the car who throws his McDonald’s trash out the window? Or the guy without the flag who stops to pick it up?

The whining about the number of flags is simply a way to distract attention from the vacuity of the Republican candidates.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Review: Ruin Value by J. Sydney Jones

It’s just after the war and before the Nuremberg trials. The werwolves ( young boys indoctrinated by the SS to wreak havoc on the Allies through sabotage and murder, operating as quasi-commandos after the war) were giving grief to supply officers. A Thriving Black Market A unique combination of characters: Former Chief Inspector Beck is in a POW camp, Kate, is an American journalist whose father is an important senator, Colonel Jensen is a lecherous officer trying to maintain supply lines, and Captain Nathan Morgan, a former OSS espionage agent and ex- NY homicide detective who springs Beck from jail to gain his assistance in finding out who has been killing people by slitting their throats and leaving a page from a novel behind with certain words underlined. But the investigators don’t have exactly clean hands either. Lots of grays.

Let us say, then, that my Gestapo colleagues and I had a falling out over who was really in charge of criminal investigations in the Nuremberg district. That argument manifested itself specifically and, finally, in a needless and idiotic order. I refused to institute it at Kripo; ergo, I was a political criminal.” “The order?” Beck hesitated, blew air out, shrugged. “To shoot on sight any Jew caught in the district after the final transports had been sent to the occupied territories. It seemed a senseless piece of cruelty. Those people would be sent to their deaths once captured anyway. Why make my Kripo personnel complicit in their murder?” The American officer was silent, staring at Beck with those innocent but not so innocent eyes. “Not exactly what you wanted to hear, eh? Not exactly drawing a line in the sand for morality.” “So you admit knowledge of the death camps?” “Of course. All of Germany knew.

Nuremberg had been declared a “dead” city by the Allies. For the trials it was perfect; for criminal, too.

There was limited electricity, public water, or transport, and barely any mail or telephone to speak of in the several months after the end of the war. The local government was a joke, and the occupation authorities were the only thing between the city and total anarchy. Three months earlier, OSS analysts had declared the place among the dead cities of Europe. But the accident of a huge Palace of Justice complex, inexplicably untouched by Allied bombing that had leveled the rest of the inner city, made it the venue for the trial of the century. There was the further confusion of shared authority between the Allies themselves and between the Allies and the German police who had only started operating again last month; the complete absence of societal controls—women who would screw for an orange, displaced men who’d murder for less; a lack of records to track known criminals. A cop’s nightmare.

An excellent murder mystery set in an interesting location during an intriguing historical time period.

Generally Speaking by Lawrence Block - For Philatelists Only?

Probably a book of interest only to those engrossed in stamp collecting. Lawrence Block, himself, is quite a collector and that’s reflected in his Keller stories which have his hitman protagonist endearingly looking for and buying stamps for his collection.

Block got his start in writing supplying a column for a numismatic magazine, interestingly, but I don’t believe he was ever bitten by that bug. His ruminations on the advantages of stamp collecting; inexpensive or costly, requires little physical labor or space, either generalist or specialist, and moderately intellectual, not to mention they don’t have to be walked, all ring quite true.

The book consists of a series of essays that Block wrote for Linn’s Stamp magazine and they became one of its most read features. Being a collector and liking Block’s writing, I enjoyed them very much.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Benghazi, Lebanon, and the GOP Convention

In 1983, a truck bomb, created by a group calling themselves the “Islamic Jihad”, was exploded outside the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon. 240 Marines were killed. Many others were wounded and some of those later died. This was “the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States Marine Corps since World War II's Battle of Iwo Jima, the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States Armed Forces since the first day of the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive, the deadliest single terrorist attack on American citizens in general prior to the September 11 attacks, and the deadliest single terrorist attack on American citizens overseas.”

Contrast that with Benghazi which featured prominently at the GOP convention, recently ended. Four Americans died. A tragedy, but nowhere near the carnage that happened in Lebanon. Yet Reagan continues to be celebrated by the GOP while screaming for Clinton, who was not even president at the time, to be incarcerated and pilloried.

Now, I have a lot of disagreement on issues like health care, foreign policy, etc. with Hillary Clinton, but for the GOP to focus on an event like Benghazi to the exclusion of other much more important issues seems foolish and short-sighted if not just mean.

Another disconnect was Trump’s speech which harkened back to those of Nixon and Pat Buchanan in its focus on “law and order” and the problems with education. Those issues are constitutionally left to the states, of which a majority are controlled by the GOP. Not to mention the U.S. House and Senate have been controlled by the GOP. On the one hand many in the GOP proclaim the value of states rights, yet refuse to take responsibility for the issues they insist are in horrible shape but for which they are constitutionally responsible.

The whole plagiarism issue was kind of silly. If they wanted to celebrate the words of Michelle Obama, and worthy thoughts they are, indeed, they probably should have attributed them, which would have been a nice gesture that takes nothing away from the value of the words. On the other hand, both women no doubt had speech-writers and the Trump speech-writers should have known better.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: House Revenge by Mike Lawson

Don’t ever piss off Joe DeMarco. He brings a new cleverness to revenge.

His boss John Mahoney, high-ranking Congressman, was approached by Eleanor Dobbs, an 82-year-old woman living in an apartment building that has been marked for destruction so Sean Callahan can build (and make gobs of money) a new upscale development. In spite of Callahan’s having offered her a great deal of money to move, Dobbs is set on living out the remaining three years on her lease.

Callahan pisses off Mahoney and the result is a monumental ego battle. Joe, taking Eleanor’s side, goes (IMO) way out-of-bounds in getting back at Callahan. I like Lawson’s serious. And this book, certainly held my interest (perhaps helped by the outstanding narration of Joe Barrett), but several lives were lost because of Eleanor’s intransigence and Mahoney and Demarco’s total over-reaction. The ending is tied up just a bit too neatly for my taste.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Review: Enola Gay by Gordon Thomas

Lots of ironies and happenstance surrounded the delivery of the first atomic bomb. FDR backed the beginning of the Manhattan Project without the knowledge of Congress using money off the books. Max Tibbetts, a pilot with an impeccable record who had been the first to fly a B-17 on a bombing raid across the English Channel and was in charge of flight testing the B-29, a plane that had killed its first test pilot and was thought by some to be too dangerous to fly, almost didn’t get the job to drop the bomb. In an interview he admitted he had gotten into trouble in high school for a backseat “dalliance” with a girl. Had he forgotten about it or lied about it he would not have been chosen. They were looking for someone who could be totally honest. Because of that his name would be forever enshrined with the bomb and Hiroshima, a city he had never heard of.

Use of the bomb was never a certainty. Neils Bohr, one of the scientists working on the project, thought science belonged to the world and wanted to open up the research to everyone. A laudable thought but in 1944? To the Germans and Japanese?

Thomas focuses mainly on two participants to get differing POV: Colonel Tibbetts as he prepared the 393 Bombing Group for the mission over Japan; and Officer Yokoyama in charge of the anti-aircraft guns on the hills surrounding Hiroshima. I had always been under the assumption that Hiroshima was primarily a civilian target targeted simply because after General LeMay’s firebombing of Japan there were few cities left to bomb. But, apparently Hiroshima was home to several military industrial sites producing many weapons, although by this stage of the war raw materials were in such short supply they were barely operating. Hiroshima, was highly vulnerable to air attack. All a bomber need do was drop its load within the bowl to be almost certain of causing damage. Apart from a single kidney-shaped hill in the eastern sector of the city, about half a mile long and two hundred feet high, Hiroshima was uniformly exposed to the spreading energy that big bombs generate. Structurally—like San Francisco in the earthquake and fire of 1906—Hiroshima was built to burn. Ninety percent of its houses were made of wood. Large groups of dwellings were clustered together. The Japanese had rationalized the fall of the Marianas and other Pacific Japanese bases by saying it was a strategic withdrawal to lure the Americans closer to the Homeland where they could be more easily destroyed.

In the U.S. secrecy surrounded all preparations for the atomic bomb development and attack. "Many thousands of man-hours and dollars had been spent on tapping telephones, secretly opening letters, collecting details of extramarital affairs, homosexual tendencies, and political affiliations. The dossiers represented the most thorough secret investigation until then carried out in the name of the U.S. government.

I still remain a bit astonished at the naive faith everyone had in the bomb. They really had no idea whether it would work and if it did, what the results might be. How far from the center would radioactivity extend, what would be the effects of the blinding flash, were just a couple of the many questions they had. The extraordinary secrecy probably had as much to do with their fear the bomb might not work as it did that it would work.

The United States, to this date, remains the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons in war.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Review: Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal by David France OR "Does Abstinence Make the Church Grow Fondlers.

This book could have provided the basis for the docudrama Spotlight (an excellent movie, by the way.) You will also, after reading it, realize how the movie barely scratched the surface of the problem and how much the reporters owed to work done by others, work that had been shown them years before and which they ignored.

It’s a very interesting book concerning the raging pedophile scandal in the Catholic Church, which has spread way beyond the United States into Ireland (!), Germany , and the Netherlands. Der Spiegel ran a series awhile back linking Pope Benedict (formerly Cardinal Ratzinger) to the cover-up in Germany so it’s hard to see how anything will change in spite of Pope Francis.

France begins by tracking the biographies of several seminarians looking for early hints of their later problems. The Church, it appears, attracts a certain personality already conflicted with their sexual persona. The attitude of the Church toward celibacy just made things worse. It was treated as some holy relic. “Years later, when scandal buckled the American church, theologians would look back and see the problem inherent in this approach. By casting celibacy as a fragile rarity in a world of temptation, it placed sexual action out of the hands of the actor, [the temptation to pun here is overwhelming] condemning him (or empowering him) to fail from time to time.”

To deal with temptations, which were totally removed from seminarians, the Papacy had little to offer other than to avoid movie theaters. Pray to the Virgin Mary. Receive the Eucharist often—because celibacy may be a gift to God, but God’s gift back is the power to sustain it. Sounding a practical note, Pius promoted a technique he called “flight and alert vigilance,” and he spelled out the many ways to elude temptation The experience of one seminarian, Sprags, is instructive: Especially on matters of sexual drive, the one enormous struggle they all faced, the seminarians were left to their own devices. The subject was cordoned off like a crime scene, to be milled around and gawked at but never approached. For Spags, this had the unintended consequence of making sex sexier, a succulent and mysterious thing too deliciously outrĂ© to mention. Matters relating to reproduction and marriage in moral theology textbooks, for instance, were rendered in Latin, as though in some sort of secret code to be pored over intensely. Spags had never once masturbated. This required a great struggle of the will and prayer, but temperance always triumphed. He wondered if this meant he was especially headstrong, or just a lot less hormonally charged than his peers. He would never know—the closest Spags ever came to discussing it came during his annual evaluations, at which point his spiritual director would frankly inquire, “Any issues with celibacy?” Honestly, Spags answered, “None.”

As the historian Garry Wills wrote in Papal Sin, “The more the assembled members [a lay conclave] looked at the inherited ‘wisdom’ of the Church, the more they saw the questionable roots from which it grew—the fear and hatred of sex, the feeling that pleasure in it is a biological bribe to guarantee the race’s perpetuation, that any use of pleasure beyond that purpose is shameful. This was not a view derived from scripture or from Christ, but from Seneca and Augustine.”

After a while the litany of constant evil gets a bit overwhelming.

The Cover-up

As we all learned from Watergate, the initial problem is never as damaging as the cover-up that follows. So it has been with the Catholic Church. Critics and supporters divide into two camps, it seems after reading reviews and other books, those who think what happened with priests is simply a reflection of the 6% problem in society in general, and those who believe the celibate culture of the church tends to attract persons struggling with their sexuality coupled with a hierarchical structure that distributes power to its priestly class.

Both groups tend to miss the point. It’s the cover-up that’s a much larger and costly (exceeding $3 Billion) problem. Had the hierarchy recognized (heaven knows they had plenty of evidence) that some priests had a problem with kids and got them help (instead of just praying about the issue) and moved them to a monastery or some function removed from children and then got help for the molested kids, they would have been celebrated as a caring and well-functioning institution. Instead, they buried their collective heads in the scripture, suppressed those trying to warn them, hid documents, bought off victims, used their institutional power to prevent investigations, and generally hoped everything would go away.

Father John McNeill’s book The Church and the Homosexual dealt with some of the issue related to chastity and its impact on homosexuals as opposed to heterosexuals in an environment that demanded chastity. “This is not an equivalent demand for a heterosexual priest and a homosexual priest. Most people miss that, they seem to deal with the fact that chastity would be the same thing for both groups. But a heterosexual priest’s sexual desire to reach out to a woman is considered good in itself. And always a valid choice if they chose to leave the priesthood. Whereas the homosexual priest is taught that his desire to reach out to another male is evil. And never an option. Therefore it’s not a question of sacrificing a good as it is for a heterosexual, it’s repressing an evil desire. The church wants gay priests to interiorize homophobia and self-hatred and this leads to all sorts of neurotic stuff.” Father McNeill was expelled from the Jesuits by Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict.)

This is not an issue unique to the United States. Investigations have surfaced in almost every country revealing a conspiratorial pattern of abuse and cover-up. (The example in Africa of priests forcing nuns to service them out of fear of HIV is especially egregious.) Those who are doubtful need only to read the Irish Murphy Report (available online in its entirety), which shows a pattern of institutional neglect, abuse, and cover-up on the part of the Catholic Church. The standard defense of the church that I have heard repeatedly is that the number of priests who were pedophiles is no larger a percentage than in the general population. That may indeed be true; the difference being that the church made a deliberate and concerted effort to hide their predations and continued to put children in harm's way. For that alone, the church deserves to be dismantled.

Additional reading: (an extraordinary resource for additional citations.)

For information about how the money was manipulated by the church in the settlements, see Render unto Rome the Secret Life of the Catholic Church by Jason Berry

Review: Blood Count by Robert Goddard

I had forgotten how much I enjoy Robert Goddard’s books until I started this audiobook read very well by David Rintoul. Goddard seems to specialize in ordinary people finding themselves in difficult situations and usually involving some kind of multi-continent chase.

In this one, the past of a liver transplant surgeon, Edward Hammond, comes back to haunt him. Several years before he had been offered a considerable amount of money to save the life of Dragan Gazi, a man now on trial in the Hague for war crimes, with a liver transplant. Gazi’s daughter, Ingrid, has approached and tasked him with retrieving Gazi’s millions which are hidden away in bank accounts somewhere. If he refuses, Ingrid will reveal evidence that Hammond had had his wife Katie killed because she was about to divorce him and marry someone else.

The man holding the key to the location of the money, Gazi’s accountant, Marco Piravani, doesn’t want to be found, however, let alone release the money to Ingrid. To detail more of the plot would be to drive spoiler police over the edge.Let’s just say the situation he finds himself in is very complicated and one that Hammond himself does not recognize or understand.

It’s a story of revenge, responsibility, medical ethics, corruption, and family and tribal loyalty. An interesting story diminished only by an overabundance of coincidence.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: The Case of the One-Penny Orange by EV Cunningham (pseu. of Howard Fast)

Charming detective story. Howard Fast was a prolific writer across many genres. I had not realized that he also wrote a series of detective novels under the EV Cunningham pen name that have been recently re-issued under his real name by Open Road Media (bless them.) They feature a tenacious Nisei detective, Masao Matsui. For those who don’t know, Nisei was a term invented to describe those of Japanese heritage born in the United States. (Don’t get me started on the inherent xenophobia of these kinds of designations.)

As you might have guessed, the case involves a stamp and the murder of a stamp dealer. The murders escalate and the provenance of the stamp and its effect on a twelve-year-old become important, not to mention Buchenwald. Matsui, head of the Beverly Hills homicide squad, is a treat to watch as he interacts with his colleagues and boss employing the “kill ‘em with kindness” technique. Little action, well, except for the three chain-wielding motorcyclists, just good dialogue and intriguing plot.

For those who care about such things (I find them endlessly fascinating, including Lawrence Block’s creation Keller’s passion for stamps) the one-penny orange was first issued in 1847 in Mauritius and is one of the rarest of all stamps. The history is quite interesting. You can find more at

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: Natural Causes by James Oswald

Newly minted Inspector McLean is assigned a ridiculously difficult case. A girl, dead for at least fifty years, has been found walled up and ritually disemboweled in the basement of a house being renovated. Another case involves an important local man and some recent burglaries. And to top it off, McLean’s grandmother dies leaving him 5 million pounds.

It’s a moderately interesting story although some of the events, like the inheritance, seem superfluous unless intended to be relevant in future series title. Fortunately, the hint of supernatural involvement remained just that, but even the mere suggestion was a bit off-putting.

The author says in a note that the novel was fleshed out from a short-story and it does have a bloated feel sometimes. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable and I’ll continue with the series.

N.B. The publisher’s blurb is stupid.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The GOP Convention, or, I'm Renegging on a Prediction

A year ago, at the beginning of the primary season, I predicted, to the disdain and ridicule of my friends, that Donald Trump would be the GOP nominee. I collected on several bets. I could see the anger and disgust with Washington, hence my prediction. I am revising that prediction; I now think it will be an establishment candidate, not Mitt Romney, although he’s been angling for it with gusto the last couple of months, but probably Paul Ryan who doesn’t want to be the candidate as much as he didn’t want to be Speaker of the House.

My reasoning is simple. The Republican establishment, you know the Washington types who all live in the same bubble, are terrified that a Trump candidacy will bring about an election tsunami that will sweep away the GOP majority in the House and devastate their House majority. Establishment Republicans dominate the convention rules committee. I don’t think Trump understands the importance of the rules of the convention. He’s used to a corporate environment where the executive is really an executive and runs the show. Hah.

The Rules Committee will simply argue that the delegates can vote for whomever they please on the first ballot in order to bring some consistency to procedure since many states have as many different rules regarding delegate slates, etc. Then, behind the scenes they will convince enough delegates to vote for a favorite son or someone else on the first ballot, just enough to deny a first ballot victory to Trump. Then all bets are off, and Romney will try to ride in on a white charger to save the party, but he will be seen more as riding a mule. Now Paul Ryan, on the other hand, who has been cleverly saying how much he won’t take the nomination (we’ve heard that before, too) but will ultimately succumb. That’s why he did the about face on supporting Trump; he doesn’t want it to appear he’s angling for himself, which of course, he certainly is.

The Establishment will rightly argue that with Hillary’s negatives as high as they are, a Ryan nomination will easily prevent the tsunami and save the day by winning with a Ryan candidacy. Ryan has little negative baggage and would be a formidable candidate. Will that strategy piss off a lot of Trump’s supporters? Sure, but the Establishment doesn’t care because they want to win and they think most of them would rather vote for Ryan (who ostensibly supports Trump) than the devil Hillary. They see that as a path to victory and there’s nothing the political establishment likes better than that road.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review: Deadly Honeymoon

It’s wonderful that many books that would have disappeared into the ether never to be read again are being reissued as ebooks. Lawrence Block is resurrecting many of his early books, some written pseudonymously and now released under his true name. Pulp fiction and cheap paperbacks were often the best way for writers to break into the business and to support themselves early in their careers.

Deadly Honeymoon is just such an early Block and the first book of his to be optioned for movie rights. It follows David and Jill, newly weds (she’s still a virgin at 24 true to the morays of the fifties) and they are unfortunate enough to witness the mob hit on a man hiding from gangsters in the cabin next to them while on their honeymoon. They are seen and David is beaten while Jill is being raped. They mention none of this to the police who come to investigate the killing, but immediately plot their revenge and much of the book follows their search for the killers about which they know very little. Their investigation presages the detective work of Block’s later protagonists like Scudder.

My only complaint, and this is related more to the novella’s anachronistic content, was the prosaic and utterly predictable ending.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Review: Keller's Fedora by Lawrence Block

If this keeps up, I may have to take up stamp collecting. A new Keller novella is always worth celebrating and when I saw several for sale as Kindle singles on Amazon, I snapped them all up. This one does not disappoint and has the usual waggish dialogue, puns, and stamps including Keller's own unique way of handling a ticklish problem. Not to mention a fedora -- that's new.

So why do football teams put their logos and colors on baseball hats?

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Stanford rape case. How can we learn from it.

For those unfamiliar with the case the basic facts are that a 19 yr-old Stanford swimmer, at the end of a party, found a woman lying on the ground unconscious and proceeded to do something on top of her when he was discovered by two students bicycling by. They chased him and he was apprehended and initially charged with rape until DNA evidence revealed it didn’t meet the criteria for rape; i.e., she had been penetrated by a foreign object, in this case his finger (hence the sex offender label for the perpetrator.) Note that technically what the student did was not rape but sexual assault (there was no penile penetration which is required for rape under California law.)

Instead of rushing to judgment on this individual case, our society needs a serious and unemotional discussion of a wide assortment of issues and questions. I note some below.

What role should universities play in adjudicating issues between students and non-students. Isn’t rape far too serious a crime to be left to faculty who have no subpoena or investigatory powers. Are they consistent in their punishments? Is there another case of a student being banned for life from Stanford for a similar crime? Was it a pre-existing policy or one invented for the moment and because of public pressure?

We need to have a serious discussion and examination of why we put people in prison. Someone once said that in the United States we incarcerate those we don’t like rather than those we should be afraid of. How is society better served in this case by applying a ten year prison sentence as opposed to a six-month, or one-year, or whatever. What rationale is used to determine the best length of sentence? Do we accept as a societal value that people can change or do we assume that once a bad actor, always a bad actor.
What role did the wealth of the parents and their ability to hire a fancy lawyer have in the sentencing? If the fellow had been black would the outcome have been very different?

How can we design trials so that victims aren’t revictimized during the trial? On the other hand, the Supreme Court had prohibited the use of victim impact statements in capital cases as interfering with due process, a decision that was reversed in 1991. How do we balance the rights of the accused with those of the victim and remove emotion from what should be an impartial judicial proceeding?

Far too little has been said about the movement to remove the judge because of the perceived “injustice” of the sentence. Liberals for years have railed against conservatives trying to remove judges and justices (successfully in Iowa) for unpopular decisions. How is that different here? If the sentence was wrong, the California ethics commission should deal with it, not a bunch of pitchfork-laden petitioners.

Are we applying the “sex-offender” label too broadly thus removing important distinctions between youthful stupidity and serial child molesters (the Catholic Church has gotten off extremely lightly, for example.) Go to a sex offender map of your hometown and you will be astounded by their prevalence yet few details. Is punishment intended to be perpetual?

We all too often overlook the role of alcohol in crime. Apparently, both people involved were hammered. Would events have been different had either one or both had less to drink? I suspect so and two lives would have followed a very different course. It’s time for society to stop setting the example of having fun only when drunk.

Unfortunately, the case has been used by zealots of all variety to manipulate the facts of the case to their own advantage (to raise money among other things.) This serves neither the victim nor society. The judge's ruling was actually more severe that that imposed by a Utah judge on a man convicted of raping two fully conscious women. What role did the Internet have in creating the outrage over the Stanford case?


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Review: Blind Mission by Avichai Schmidt

I really enjoyed this thriller that was marred only by a total breakdown of copy-editing. I mean really. Ultimately, the author has to take responsibility for not catching numerous word omissions, misspellings, and other egregious errors. That being said the story has everything else one could want: an intelligent protagonist who uses his brain for once rather than bashing, and an iniquitous, insidious, and ingenious plot.

Take your average joe, a salesman, who gets invited to visit a company for a possible large sale only to be driven blindfolded to a warehouse where he is offered a job with a terrorist operation. He declines and is driven back whence he came only to discover his entire life has been turned upside down. He has no job, his bank accounts have been canceled, supposedly he was killed in a car crash, and then he ostensibly commits a murder. Little does he know that all his actions are being foretold and manipulated by, well, just who is pulling the strings, cords that he realizes are being pulled, but which actions are what they want him to do and which are him taking the reins of his life to get out from under them. Very clever.

It’s a terrific read, four stars rather than five for the lousy proofing.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Why are Christians so Anxious to Have Atheist Deathbed Conversions?

Lawrence Krauss has nice essay on the rather fanatical insistence on the part of some Evangelicals that famous atheists have had deathbed conversions to Christianity (never Islam or whatever.) He, and others, have suggested that much like going to church on Sundays, it helps validate their faith, even more so if the "convertee" is someone famous and highly respected.

In the end, what evangelists don’t recognize is that atheism is not a belief system like Christianity, from which one might defect after hearing some arguments or having a few sombre conversations. It is, instead, simply a rational decision not to accept the existence of God without evidence. As wise thinkers, including Laplace, Hume, Sagan, and Hitchens, have often said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It’s hard to imagine a more extraordinary claim than that some hidden intelligence created a universe of more than a hundred billion galaxies, each containing more than a hundred billion stars, and then waited more than 13.7 billion years until a planet in a remote corner of a single galaxy evolved an atmosphere sufficiently oxygenated to support life, only to then reveal his existence to an assortment of violent tribal groups before disappearing again.

Review: Berlin Burning: A Weimar Republic Murder Mystery novella by Damien Seaman

This novella takes place in 1932 and highlights the tension between the political thuggery of the Brownshirts and the regular police forces as the Nazis came to power. It follows the investigation of Kriminalkommissar Trautman and his assistant Roth into the murder of a Brownshirt. The presumed murderer is the dead man’s girlfriend, daughter of a local mafia-type boss and because of the political implications the Schutzpolizei, Schupo for short, under Kessler want to wrest control away from Trautman.

The Kripo (Kriminalpolizei) were the investigative branch of the state who, similar to our detectives squads while the Schutzpolizei were the uniformed branch ostensibly charged with enforcing the more prosaic laws although the overlap and distinctions became quite nebulous as various groups sought power in the thirties in Germany. By 1936, the Kripo had become a national police force with the most power, as far as I can determine.

It’s an OK story that suffers from its brevity. In a full novel the conflict and tensions between the regular police forces and those being taken over by the Nazis to promote their insidious political goals could have been explored in more depth and with more clarity, something Philip Kerr does so well in his Bernie Gunther series.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Review: Making of a Submarine Officer by Alexander Fleming

I very much enjoyed this book, which will probably be of limited interest to most people not of a nautical bent. Fleming had never faced failure in his life having been a superior student and one that learned things easily, yet his first cruise on the nuclear submarine San Francisco was a difficult one as he was forced to learn how to function in a group where everyone had to rely on everyone else and contained a melange of personalities. It covers events from 2002-2005 and was certainly not uneventful having a underwater grounding that resulted in considerable damage to the hull.

Fleming had graduated from my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania with honors in physics and Russian, but after the first year he was close to a nervous breakdown (his words) and wondering if he would spend the last three years of his Naval commitment sitting at a desk.

I’ve read a lot of nautical memoirs but this is the first that really makes you feel part of the ship and feel his pain as he navigates his way through the labyrinth of naval etiquette and responsibility, usually exhausted from the strain of studying to qualify for different jobs on board a ship suffering from constant material failures and being sent to Guam which had just been hit by a major typhoon and had never serviced a nuclear sub. The paperwork alone seemed enough to sink any vessel. Much of that paperwork stems from an effort to make everything perfect (a system that must have totally broken down during their overhaul.) The Naval Sea Systems Command, which controls everything concerning materials and design of ships, created a new standard of material and work control for all the things that make up a submarine. Every bolt, valve, o-ring, and lubricant that goes into a submarine must be perfect, certified, and able to be traced to its origin. If any discrepancies exist, then the piece will not be allowed, and someone has to have locked positive control of it for its entire ‘life.’ The Navy intentionally staffs QA jobs with the most uncompromising and disciplined people that it can find. These people can stop any boat in its tracks if they find even the smallest documentation problem.

Space is at a premium, especially as the junior most officer. After he first steps on board he “immediately discover[s] the first problem of being on a submarine: you are always in the way, no matter where you stand. Submarine passageways are only wide enough for one set of shoulders; if two people pass each other they have to turn sideways, and their chests still touch with both backs on the wall. At the bottom of the ladder, I immediately cause a road-block because I do not know which way to go. Several people give me nasty looks as I finally follow Brown down the steep ladder one more level. We walk aft past an endless stream of people staring at me since I am apparently the fresh meat for the grinder. The hallways are crowded with equipment affixed everywhere. There are lockers and boxes hanging in every space, and I feel surrounded on all sides. There is no wasted space.”

Mistakes happen when many in the crew are newbies. The one that sprayed 700 gallons of raw sewage over the galley area because a junior mechanic misaligned a valve was one of the most disgusting. Cuts and small injuries heal much slower on board because the oxygen mixture is reduced to only 18-20 percent. (Normal outside would be about 21 percent.) This reduces the chances of fire. Some captains would reward the crew by increasing the oxygen content by a percentage point.

The San Francisco had been bedeviled by a loud noise all during her transit to Guam and thereafter. Finally the Navy decided something needed to be done since a loud submarine is probably worse than no submarine and she was sent to San Diego into drydock where they discovered that during her overhaul, the San Francisco had been fitted with the wrong screw by the Norfolk yard, probably to save money. The fix cost millions for repairs not to mention the negative consequences on her mission readiness.

The repairs to the bow following the collision with the sea mountain while running at flank speed at a depth of 525 feet were fascinating. (That they survived is testimony to the hard work of the crew.) They cut the bow off the soon to be decommissioned USS Honolulu and welded it on the San Francisco at a cost of $79 million. Still in service it is expected to retire in 2017.

Fleming conclude the Guam experiment was an expensive failure, but it seems to me only because of problems with the San Francisco, a ship seemingly bedeviled by numerous material failures culminating in the underwater collision that very nearly sank the boat. Fleming’s coming of age, learning hard lessons from several captains, is painfully revealed, but I suspect much of his difficulty stemmed from being coddled in expensive and privileged boarding schools.

Nevertheless, I had difficulty putting this book down.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Review: The Crossing by Michael Connelly

Audiobook: The title has multiple meanings in the context of the story: it refers to looking for connections in an investigation, i.e. where the paths of suspects or witnesses might meet; and when a former cop jumps sides and starts working for the defense.

Bosch agrees to work for his half-brother, Mickey Haller, in defense of a man accused of a particularly heinous rape and murder. Haller is convinced the man is innocent even though the evidence against him, including his DNA found in the victim, seems overwhelming.

One of the better Bosch books, which are all quite good. What makes this one particularly interesting is that Bosch gets to see the justice system from the point of view of the defense and Connelly does a very nice job portraying the conflicts within Bosch as he works through the investigation, one in which a missing watch holds the key.

Read excellently by Titus Welliver who plays Bosch in the TV series (also excellent.)

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Favor (Stanley Hastings No. 3) by Parnell Hall

Review: Poor Stanley Hastings. While attempting to do a favor for his old antagonist/friend Sgt. MacAuliffe who is worried about his daughter, Hastings gets himself charged with two murders and grand larceny. Needless to say he has a way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Stanley’s main job is working for an ambulance-chasing attorney by signing up clients in wrongful injury suits. I’ve read several of the Hastings series as well as Hall’s Puzzle Lady books, and they never fail to entertain. Each has a comic flair in the dialogue and endearing characters. Leave your literary criticism at home as well as the rational part of your brain and just enjoy them for what they are: just good light, entertainments.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Review: Darkest Fear by Harlan Coben

Myron Bolitar is one of my favorite characters. The series has a fine sense of humor laced with a good mystery. The beginning starts off well with Myron trying to be nice to his mother, a lawyer who never, ever cooks, but who has just turned out a pastry that Myron thinks tastes just like urinal cakes.

In this novel, Coben mixes the serious with levity. He is contacted by an ex-girlfriend who had ultimately married his arch rival on the basketball court and whom he blames for his career-destroying knee injury. It seems her son has a life-threatening disease that can only be cured with a bone marrow transplant and the one match in the registry has disappeared. She wants Myron to find the donor and save her son’s life. From there it gets really complicated mixing a serial killer with a discredited journalist whose being staked out by the FBI and a very rich family who has a secret they refuse to reveal.

Coben ties it together very nicely, but I sometimes wonder if the excellent narration by Jonathan Marosz doesn’t make the difference between 3 and 4 stars.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review: Extreme Prey by John Sandford

Sandford is in top form and Ferrone again reads magnificently in this politically-based story. No longer a police procedural, Lucas has resigned as the top BCI cop and is working on his cabin when he is called by the governor’s staff to come help out with a thorny problem. Henderson, womanizer that he is, is running for Veep and has been approached by several weird people all conveying the message that he needs to move to the center in case something happens to Bowdin (the woman running for president whose VP he would like to be.) As with many thrillers, some suspension of reality is required, as Lucas, hyper-observant as usual, is soon on the track of some old radicals with an agenda that’s not quite clear and may be related to an older unsolved crime.

Many of the other Sandford series protagonists make cameo appearances in the book: Virgil Flowers (my favorite series) and Kidd (also a great series but very dated now) to name but a couple. The last chapter portends an interesting new track for Lucas Davenport. I think it has promise.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: Quinn Checks In by LH Thomson

This is the first in the eponymic series about an ex-art forger who know works for an insurance company as an investigatory. His father and brother are cops (the father is actually retired). In this case a Vermeer is stolen along with a copy of a minor work. What’s unclear is why the copy was stolen in the first place as it had virtually no value.

That minor mystery soon becomes a much larger one linked to a bank heist and the Philadelphia mob enters the scene with its own agenda. It’s a reasonably good start to the series and I’ll move on to the second in spite of an overly convoluted plot.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Transgender rant

I will never understand the fuss over transgenders using whatever bathroom they feel comfortable using. We had a case at the college where I worked. I was the EEO officer in addition to my other responsibilities, so I became involved with the issues and conflicts such a situation engenders (pun intended.)

It was a case where a guy we had known for years had apparently been tortured by having to be a man and decided the hormonal pressures were (and the scientific evidence is clear that it is indeed a hormonal condition)** too much to bear and had decided to undergo therapy and then have a sex-change operation. As part of that process, he had to “become” a woman, dress and “act” the part. I can only imagine how incredibly difficult it was for him, and I was dismayed by the lack of compassion and understanding on the part of a few otherwise intelligent and ostensibly religious people. Believe me, this is not something anyone would put themselves through willingly without a lot of biological pressure. I’m not suggesting the situation wasn’t awkward, but it was nice to see how he was supported and accepted by some, but sad to witness evil and vindictiveness in others.

The fuss over bathroom use is just childish. Congressional advocates in North Carolina who passed the law requiring everyone to use the bathroom consistent with the gender on their birth certificate are either completely ignorant, just plain mean, or playing politics. (In one of the great ironies associated with the legislation, those purporting to advocate “states’ rights” took away a city’s right to prevent discrimination.) How they could ever enforce the law is beyond me. Perhaps matrons at the door checking birth certificates and equipment? And what to do with post-op transgenders?

Women’s bathrooms with more than one toilet have stalls. Those stalls lock. They are quite private. Rapists just are not going to dress up as women so they can pick on little girls in ladies rooms. If they want to rape or molest little kids, all they need to do is go to seminary as we’ve learned from the scandals in the Catholic Church. If some woman walked into men’s bathroom and started using a urinal, the overwhelming response will be a big yawn. If someone dressed as a woman walked into a woman’s bathroom and used a stall, the response would be another yawn.

Gender is much more than physical attributes. Let’s stop playing politics with people’s lives. On , the other hand, as we grow up, and older less forgiving and compassionate people die off, perhaps the problem will solve itself. I’m old enough to remember whites only bathrooms.

**An excellent, but very sad, case study is As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl by John Colapinto. One of the more interesting little tidbits in this book is that 1/1000 children is born with indeterminate gender. Read the book to discover what the common practice to fix this was not too long ago. My review at

See also the review article in Endocrine Practice:

And by all means read this story and watch the video.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Review: A Conflict of Interest by Adam Mitzner

I had read A Case of Redemption and enjoyed it so I thought I’d follow through with the first in the series (backwards, I know). It features attorney Alex Miller, a partner at a large law firm who agrees to take on a securities fraud case for an old friend of the family, Michael Ohlig. Ohlig it turns out was an old family friend and that’s when things begin to get complicated as Alex develops a hard-on for the associate working on the case. That causes lots of repercussions, and I should stop now before descending into that nether-world of spoilers. Conflicts, indeed.

There must be something about lawyers who write books about the law. They all seem so cynical and dispiriting. E.g.,

"Finally, three weeks after my initial meeting with Ohlig, the first meeting of the joint defense group convenes. Every lawyer is accompanied to the meeting by an associate, all of whom are women. Quick math tells you that, with ten lawyers at a blended hourly rate north of $1,000, these meetings cost more than ten grand every sixty minutes. This meeting will last about an hour, but I’m sure everyone will bill it at two, including travel and rounding up, and then the associates will all write memos recounting what happened, which the partners will review, and then the memos will never be looked at again. All in, this meeting will cost Ohlig about $40,000.”

Monday, April 11, 2016

Review: The Hanged Man of St. Pholien by Georges Simenon

When I lived in Neuchatel, Switzerland for a couple of years while in high school, I fell in love with Inspector Maigret and read most of the series in French. My French being worse than dormant in my dotage, I have been pleased to see the release of the Maigret stories for my Kindle and have added several.

Hanged Man was the fourth of the series. Unlike most of the subsequent books, it’s less a police procedural as technically he doesn’t even has a case, and more of a psychological novel resembling his non-Maigret stories. Here, Maigret has been traveling and watching a man senses something peculiar in his behavior. He follows the man who then commits suicide. This leads Maigret to pursue assorted leads in order to understand the motivation behind the man’s suicide. I won’t give away more except to say the book is an interesting examination of guilt.

Maigret is such an interesting character. He can adopt a multitude of persona from the bumbling ignoramus to the brilliant and insightful detective while being compassionate or cruel as the situation demands.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Review: Dead Wake by Erik Larsen

Wonderfully told story of the last voyage of the liner Lusitania. It’s no spoiler to reveal that its sinking had profound political effects, especially in the United States. 126 of the passengers killed were Americans.

The ship itself was quite a story. It was a series of hyperboles. It burned 140 tons of coal per day while in port, standing still, just to keep the dynamos going. While at sea it burned 1600 tons per day. This required over 100 stokers per shift to feed the furnaces that kept the boilers going. Coal dust was a ubiquitous problem. “The dust posed its own hazard. In certain concentrations it was highly explosive and raised the possibility of a cataclysm within the ship’s hull. Cunard barred crew members from bringing their own matches on board and provided them instead with safety matches, which ignited only when scraped against a chemically treated surface on the outside of the box. Anyone caught bringing his own matches aboard was to be reported to Captain Turner.”

Captain Turner did not fit the usual Cunard captain mold. He would sooner “bathe in bilge” than interact with passengers whom he described as “a load of bloody monkeys who are constantly chattering.” He preferred dining in his quarters to holding court at the captain’s table in the first-class dining room.

The sinking of the Titanic had had a profound effect on the shipping industry resulting in “boat fever.” More than enough lifeboats were available and Cunard was anxious to protect its sterling reputation of never having lost a passenger due to its own negligence. First- and second-class passengers were issued a new kind of life jacket; third-class continued to be issued the older, cork-filled type. They were to need them.

The United States was still neutral in 1915 but the Germans warned passengers in newspaper ads that they suspected the British ships were carrying munitions and that the passengers were putting themselves in harm’s way by sailing on British ships. (Documents discovered many years later showed it to be true that the Lusitania was carrying munitions.)

That the submarine U-20 was even in the vicinity was accidental. The ship was traveling slower than usual to save coal, running on only three boilers instead of four, Captain Turner was also trying to adjust his speed to arrive at the bar outside Liverpool at high tide to facilitate entry into the harbor, port holes being left open because of the nice weather, the fog lifted leaving a glassy sea and perfect visibility for the Lusitania to be spotted. Everything seemed to be conspiring against her. And we were deprived of some Thackeray drawings. (Readers of the book will learn about that.)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Review: Burglar on the Prowl by Lawrence Block

The “Burglar” series books are always charming and this one is no exception. Bernie is on the prowl for a score but is soon (as usual) enmeshed in a murder that brings new meaning to the word “complicated.” The plot is intricate and the “long arm of coincidence” sets off his internal alarms and you might think it overreaches, but these books are read for the style and dialogues. In classic style, Bernie gets everyone together for the final denouement.

Lots of fun.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Review: B-Shifter by Nick Brunacini

Brunacini begins this book with a description of the 1960’s fire that almost killed his father, a captain at the time, working a diner fire. They were making an interior attack and making good progress. The roof had been ventilated, the windows smashed to move the heat out, when the Battalion commander arrived. He loved to direct traffic so after ordering the arriving ladder trucks to pour water (8 tons a minute) on the fire from above, and without waiting to find out where the truck and engine companies were he went off to direct traffic.

As we all know, heat rises and all that water forced the heat and smoke back down into the building and on to the firemen working below. In those days, breathing apparatus consisted of filters over the nose and mouth that would routinely get clogged with soot and debris which would then get wiped off and a modicum of breath could then be taken in. His partner pulled him out technically dead, no pulse. Fortunately an ambulance was on scene (this was one of the changes the almost dead fire captain made when he became chief -- have the fire department take on EMS responsibilities.) They stuck in an airway and got him revived on the way to the hospital. Nick’s father, Alan, became one of the best respected fire chiefs in the country making many changes. He was one of the first to study fire science and brought about numerous safety changes, this in a profession that was resistant to any kind of change. (Giving up horses to pull the wagons was a battle and for years captains insisted on washing the fire engines’ wheel before backing into the station as they formerly had been covered in manure.)

Firefighters have always been deeply conservative and resistant to change. In fact, the old saying goes that George Washington was head of a fire company and when he left to go somewhere told his deputy not to change anything. George then died before he returned and they refused to change anything since. There’s real competition to be the first on the nozzle since putting water on a fire is a real rush. Most calls are medical ones, often to the same lonely people with morphing ailments, so the firefighters often long for a good structure fire. “Firefighters will search out and fight over a nozzle much like Bulls sniff out and fight over cows in heat. Bulls do it because their biology programs it into them ; firefighters exhibit these behaviors because at the very core, we are self-destructive adolescents”

It’s an often humorous book but he often writes beautifully about the job. Each fire has its own personality. Most structure fires are hot and smoky with little to no visibility. You generally don't see much flame. If the immediate fire area is vertically ventilated before you actually find and extinguish the blaze, the smoke and heat rise up and away. This makes for a very beautiful fire. Sometimes you can see all the solid fuel vaporize into gas. Sofas, chairs, wallpaper, children's toys and everything else in the fire area retain their basic shapes, but their surfaces radiate an aura of transparent energy finished with a blue shy blush of flame. Nature is one serious bitch. Especially when the water pressure from the hose disintegrates a burned body.

Very enjoyable read.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Obama as Conservative

The labels conservative and liberal have lost all meaning as a way to define the current crop of politicians. Obama, in particular, resists those labels. His signature achievement, the so-called ObamaCare, is a virtual copy of the plan developed by the Heritage Foundation in 1991 and then submitted to the Senate in 1993 as the Health Equity and Access Reform Act by the Republican leadership as an alternative the abortive health reform proposals of the Clintons. The proposal included the following features: An individual mandate; Creation of purchasing pools; Standardized benefits; Vouchers for the poor to buy insurance; A ban on denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition. Sound familiar? That bill was copied by Romney in Massachusetts for his own state health care plan, and then Obama copied it in large part from what Romney had created in Massachusetts. Which probably explains why it hasn’t worked that well, but doesn't explain the thoughtless opposition from the Republicans. They were essentially dissing their own plan. Ironically, the Clinton plan contained a mandate, but it was an employer mandate; the Republican/Heritage Foundation alternative proposed an “individual” mandate. Obama himself has said the health exchange idea came directly from the Heritage Foundation’s proposals of 1991.

In foreign policy, Obama’s root are equally conservative. Jeffrey Goldberg in his recent article in The Atlantic noted that Obama is a foreign policy pragmatist who admired Brent Scowcroft (“I love that guy,”) who was President H.W. Bush’s National Security Advisor. His general philosophy, in opposition to his advisor and UN Ambassador, Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell, is that American soldiers should not be placed in harm’s way unless the United States is directly threatened, and that it is not our role to solve humanitarian crises or to attack foreign sovereigns who may be slaughtering their own citizens. She the interventionist; he the non-interventionist. Ironically, he is proud of not having enforced the “red line” while most of the European diplomats (at least according to John Dickerson) suggest that was a terrible strategy showing weakness. You can’t say you will do something and then not do it. “Presidents’ words have to mean something.” Goldberg also quotes Obama as saying that you have to have something in place after destroying a country (speaking of Libya which has now descended into chaos), a lesson he should have learned from Bush’s mistakes in Iraq, mistakes Obama campaigned against in 2008.

The current debates on both the Republican and Democratic stages have been ramping up of the rhetoric to unsustainable levels, all subtlety having been lost. Robert Gates has noted that in the debates (Gates, for my money, would have been an outstanding Republican candidate for president, having read his memoir Duty in which he displays a serious understanding of foreign policy but also the difficulties of the “shadow government.”) Gates has little respect for Obama’s foreign policy (he served as Defense Secretary under Obama) but even less for the Republican crop of candidates: ““People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they’re saying or they’re cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it’s the latter, because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they’re saying.”