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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.)