Monthly Archives: May 2018

San Francisco Bay Blues

Jesse Fuller wrote and performed this song as a honky-tonk ditty. His one man band included a slew of eclectic acoustic instruments, but I don’t like that overly busy sound. The song is too good to clutter up with cymbals, kazoos and harmonicas. However, in order to be true to the honky-tonk nature of the composition, I have played it on my Taro resonator to give it a little funk.

 

 

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

The Monk of MokhaThe Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I struggled to make my way through this audiobook, but the reader’s aggravating breathless awestruck delivery of every sentence thwarted my attempts. It’s a mundane non-fiction report about coffee history and commodity pricing, at least at the beginning, so why the jaw-dropping amazement at every line? The author suggests that any decent human being should “step up” and pay eight dollars for a cup of arabica coffee – its “real price” – so than Yemeni farmers can get paid fairly for coffee and stop growing khat. Maybe I’m morally bereft, but I’m quite happy with my daily two cups of Taster’s Choice instant for 15 cents a cup or whatever it costs. No, I don’t care about the fate of Yemeni farmers; if they prefer to grow khat, that’s fine with me. This is the same reader for this author’s earlier book The Circle and I couldn’t make it through that one for the same reason.

View all my reviews

Our Ignorant Newsies – Good Morning America edition

Today GMA reported that the NTSB had recommended school buses install “automatic breaking.” This text on the screen next to a picture of a bus that had badly broken in a fatal crash. No! No! No! It’s braking, not breaking. Then their reporter said removing 100 pounds of weight from your car will decrease fuel efficiency by 1%. No again. It will increase fuel efficiency. It decreases fuel usage. Is it any wonder our youth today can’t spell or do math when these are the kinds of examples they see. ABC is not some podunk 5000-watt radio station in Fresno (Ted Baxter’s line from the Mary Tyler Moore show if you don’t recognize it). They’re big enough and rich enough to hire people who can spell and understand simple concepts like increasing versus decreasing.

Edit 5/26/18: NBC Nightly News had a caption on some story saying something about a “laywer” (sic). Really, can’t they just buy a spellchecker?

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

The Last Mrs. ParrishThe Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I can barely squeeze out two stars for this ham-fisted “psychological thriller.” The cast of characters:

Amber – a conniving young woman lusting after the good life with a fabulously rich, gorgeous, alpha male.
Jackson – a fabulously rich, gorgeous, alpha male.
Daphne – Jackson’s wife – a gorgeous, pampered, society matron.

Amber sets her plan in action by insinuating herself into Daphne’s life by becoming co-chair of Daphne’s charitable foundation. The author spends a few hundred pages describing lavish opulence, designer clothes, yachts, jewels, etc. and how Amber lusts after them while Daphne takes them all for granted without a hint of appreciation for what she has. If you can stay interested long enough, the big reveal comes about halfway through with Part 2 when the story is told from another perspective. When that comes, you can pretty much write the rest of the book yourself. All except the ending, that is. The author lays it on so thick in the last couple of chapters you’ll get seasick from all the eye-rolling you’ll be doing. There are no twists there, just horrible writing and an editor with a 12-year-old’s sophistication. I managed to read the whole thing, though, so I can’t quite give it one star. It killed a few hours.

View all my reviews

Going Dark – FBI Director Wray’s statement

Here is an excerpt from the statement supporting the Budget Request that FBI Director Wray made to Congress last week. A link to the full statement is below.

The rapid pace of advances in mobile and other communication technologies continue to present a significant challenge to conducting court-ordered electronic surveillance of criminals and terrorists. There is a real and growing gap between law enforcement’s legal authority to access digital information and its technical ability to do so. The FBI refers to this growing challenge as “Going Dark,” and it affects the spectrum of our work.

The benefits of our increasingly digital lives have been accompanied by new dangers, and we have seen how criminals and terrorists use advances in technology to their advantage. In the counterterrorism context, for instance, our agents and analysts are increasingly finding that communications and contacts between groups like ISIS and potential recruits occur in encrypted private messaging platforms. The use of encrypted platforms also presents serious challenges to law enforcement’s ability to identify, investigate, and disrupt threats that range from counterterrorism to child exploitation, gangs, drug traffickers and white-collar crimes. In addition, we are seeing more and more cases where we believe significant evidence resides on a phone, a tablet, or a laptop—evidence that may be the difference between an offender being convicted or acquitted. If we cannot access this evidence, it will have ongoing, significant effects on our ability to identify, stop, and prosecute these offenders.

For the full statement, Click here: https://www.fbi.gov/news/testimony/fbi-budget-request-for-fiscal-year-2019

Secret Warriors by Taylor Downing

Secret Warriors: The Spies, Scientists and Code Breakers of World War ISecret Warriors: The Spies, Scientists and Code Breakers of World War I by Taylor Downing
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a history of the technological advances in Britain during World War I. As such the title is misleading. Although there is a chapter on code-breaking (a brief and unsophisticated treatment), virtually all of the rest of the book is about scientific and engineering advances. There’s nothing about spies other than a few anecdotes about successful disinformation.

The book is not badly written, but the author makes the typical historian’s mistake of spending way too much time and space on the biographies of the inventors and not enough on the technology, i.e. the actual subject matter. Since I am more interested in the spycraft and cryptology, I was quite disappointed in this book.

View all my reviews

Nantucket

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
His daughter named Nan
Ran off with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nan tuck it.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the WindowThe Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anna is suffering from agoraphobia, stemming from a traumatic incident in her recent past. She sits staring out her window, watching the neighbors and drinking, mixing alcohol with powerful drugs. She knows better since she is a psychologist; still she self-medicates with a dangerous alcohol and drug cocktail. She is also a huge movie fan, especially the classic black and white mystery films like Hitchcock’s Rear Window. There are many film quotes scattered throughout the text, popping spontaneously from Anna’s muddled brain. For those of you too young to know that film, the protagonist, played by Jimmy Stewart, is wheelchair bound and stares out his window. He sees what he thinks is a murder. Of course, we find that Anna, too, sees what she thinks is a murder but the police don’t believe her. This homage to Rear Window is both intentional and, in my opinion, an intriguing start.

The book goes downhill from there. Still, before I say why, I should say that this book is a worthwhile summer beach read if you like mysteries. I can give it a solid three and a half stars despite its rather obvious and severe problems. So what makes me object? Three things primarily: first, its lack of originality (and I am not referring to Rear Window); second, it’s draggy and overwritten, that is, stretched and manipulative in order to fit the publisher’s cookie cutter hit mystery formula; and third, the voice actress on the audiobook overacts terribly.

The lack of originality I refer to is the current fad of using the first person and an unreliable narrator. Anna is drunk and taking psychoactive drugs that can cause delusions as she tells the story. Can we believe her? This trend, a short-lived one, I hope, although not entirely new, recently became immensely popular with publishers after the commercial success of Gone Girl, and especially The Girl on the Train. Since then we’ve had The Woman in Cabin 10 and Before I Go to Sleep that I’ve read, and who knows how many other copycats. Even the name is a rip-off of these “The Girl/Woman” titles. I listened to the author interview at the end and he even admits to deciding to write this book only after the success of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. The plot is all too predictable as well. The first big dope slap moment for Anna comes about three-quarters of the way through the book, although most readers will have figured that out a hundred pages earlier. Suspension of disbelief moments abound, especially with the police, and the ending is ludicrously overwritten, although satisfying in a perverse sort of way. Put another way, it’s formulaic, but the formula it follows is entertaining enough.

View all my reviews

Serial killer/rapist caught with DNA

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last week, you’ve no doubt heard that the Golden State Killer, aka East Area Rapist, guilty of at least twelve murders and fifty-one rapes in the 1970s and 80s, was recently captured using a DNA match found through a genealogy site. That site is GEDMatch.com. My DNA sequence has been uploaded to that site. Since that time I’ve seen several news story about people having, or needing, increased awareness/concern about their privacy on DNA sites. Spokespeople for other sites like 23andMe and Ancestry.com have appeared on news shows to emphasize that they do not share DNA information with law enforcement without compulsory legal process, i.e. subpoena or court order.

I don’t get it. Why the concern for privacy and why this policy? Are there really people out there who don’t want serial killers and rapists caught? The serial rapist/killers themselves, I suppose. But are you really concerned that police might catch your fourth cousin twice removed that you’ve never heard of because they linked a killer’s DNA to yours? I’d be thrilled if my DNA led to catching another Golden State Killer even if it turned out to be a close relative. Some people may think they could wrongly be suspected based on a DNA “hit” but that’s simply wrong. A DNA test can positively confirm or eliminate a match. At the very least, the users of such sites should have the option of checking a box that allows law enforcement access to their DNA without legal process. What kind of person (expletive deleted) wouldn’t opt in to that? I think this case could lead to a huge increase in clearing such cold cases, or even some quite hot cases. Lives could be saved. Rapes could be prevented.

Some people might say, well, then, all the cops have to do is get a subpoena or court order. That shows a woeful ignorance of the law. To get either you need one of two things: a grand jury convened for your case (only available for a major active case) or a search warrant, which requires probable cause. Probable cause requires that you have good reason to believe the DNA in a company’s data base contains useful evidence in a specific case. That’s almost never the case; that is, you can’t prove to a judge in advance that it’s likely a DNA match will be found. The simple fact is that in most criminal cases, especially cold cases, subpoenas and warrants or other forms of court order are simply not available to investigators. I’ve had a few people challenge me on this and find it hard to believe, but, unlike me, they weren’t lawyers or experienced criminal investigators. Take my word for it. It’s true.

What the police did here, though, doesn’t require probable cause or any legal process. No one’s rights have been violated. The DNA matching came from two sources: the victims (either given voluntarily in rape cases or taken from the deceased’s body in the murders) and the accused’s used paper cup that he threw away. There is no privacy right in trash you throw away in a public place like a mall. The way the police identified him, i.e. by using GEDMatch, is irrelevant legally. The whole point of that website is for people to put their DNA out for public comparison. Even if their rights were violated, which they weren’t, the defendant wouldn’t have standing to contest that. If the police conduct an illegal search of your house and find evidence incriminating me, I can’t object. They can use it against me; they just can’t use it against you. This is another concept the general public often doesn’t understand.

Anne Wojcicki (CEO of 23andMe), your pro-rapist, anti-police policy is reprehensible. Not only are you protecting rapists and killers, but you are hindering the freeing of wrongly convicted prisoners by your policy. Shame on you!

Following is the recent notice on the home page of GEDMatch.com:

April 27, 2018 We understand that the GEDmatch database was used to help identify the Golden State Killer. Although we were not approached by law enforcement or anyone else about this case or about the DNA, it has always been GEDmatch’s policy to inform users that the database could be used for other uses, as set forth in the Site Policy ( linked to the login page and https://www.gedmatch.com/policy.php). While the database was created for genealogical research, it is important that GEDmatch participants understand the possible uses of their DNA, including identification of relatives that have committed crimes or were victims of crimes. If you are concerned about non-genealogical uses of your DNA, you should not upload your DNA to the database and/or you should remove DNA that has already been uploaded.

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

Two Kinds of Truth (Harry Bosch, #20; Harry Bosch Universe, #30)Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Followers of my blog or reviews know I’m a big Connelly fan, especially the Bosch books, so perhaps it is not very useful to see that I like this one, too. However, I can’t rate it quite as high as most of his earlier Bosch books. Harry has always been something of a rule-breaker who answers only to his own sense of right and wrong, but for the most part he adheres to the law and respects the legal process. In this one he verges closer to a Dirty Harry sort of attitude, a somewhat disappointing twist for those of us who respected his “purity”, such as it is.

Harry is now in his seventies and working for San Fernando P.D. The plot involves multiple crimes, some of them related. The primary thread is a gang of drug pushers who use elderly addicts as shills, shipping them from one corrupt pharmacy to another to fill phony prescriptions for opiods, keeping half the take to sell on the street. I liked the fact Jerry Edgar, his old partner, makes an appearance. Personal loyalties and trust are tested in this one. He paints a very sordid picture of the drug crisis which can be hard to stomach at times. As always, the detail of police procedure is spot on and usually fascinating.

View all my reviews