Red state, Blue state, Yellow state, Gold state

There is so much in the news and pop culture about the political divide in America and the red vs. blue state dichotomy that I thought it would be nice to show how states can determine their color, and their fellow states’ colors, a different way. Every state has a state flower. Here’s how their colors are distributed.

Of course many, perhaps all, flowers have varieties in different colors, so no single color represents all flowers of that species, but for each I chose a shade that I thought best represented that type. All the roses, for example, are red, even though there are different varieties for different states. I lumped together types that aren’t related, but have the same general color, such as the goldenrod and the golden poppy. When you look at the map, we don’t seem so divided along political lines anymore. Perhaps this will allow you to view the common values you share with states on “the other side.”

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

One of Us Is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I added this book to my to-read list when I saw it ranked #2 on a recent Goodreads mystery poll. I’d never heard of McManus and didn’t know she wrote exclusively Young Adult (YA) novels, i.e. books for teens. So I was taken aback when I began reading and was inundated with teens mooning and swooning over cute dimples and short skirts and obsessing over pimples and bad hair. I suppressed my gag reflex long enough to become engaged with the mystery at the heart of the plot. It’s actually rather well done. I did guess who the killer was before the end, but there were enough red herrings to keep it interesting. I can’t really recommend this to to adult readers, but we were all teenagers once, so if you allow yourself to put yourself back in that mindset and just go with it, you can enjoy the book.

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Elizabeth Holmes trial updates

This morning was almost entirely wasted by the judge questioning jurors in private about how they would feel if their juror questionnaires were released to the press. A consortium of press entities has requested that they be made public. I say this time is wasted because the judge eventually (hours later) said that he would have to hear legal arguments and authorities on the question in a hearing, which in view of the crowded court docket, couldn’t take place until at least five weeks from now. He could have ruled that way immediately and saved those hours for trial testimony. The trial may be over by the time he rules on the issue. If not, the jurors could always be questioned about it at that time.

According to my sources the government is expected to rest in early November, but estimates are in constant flux because of non-evidentiary sideline issues like this delaying the trial. I’ll be surprised if the trial ends before January.

When they finally got to trial testimony, Wade Miquelon, a former Walgreens executive, was questioned further by AUSA Jeff Schenk about the representations made by Holmes and her co-defendant Balwani that led to a deal between those two companies. It was rather plodding stuff with most of the focus being on Theranos’s claims that the tests would be using fingerstick blood, not venous blood draws, and that testing would be done by the Theranos Edison, not third party machines. The questions were highly repetitive, showing document after document with such representations. The judge could have limited this as cumulative, but he hasn’t shown any ability to keep things moving.  In the early cross-examination the defense did little damage. They seemed to be helping the prosecution or just trying to bore the jury to death, but I didn’t stay through the questioning after lunch.

One tidbit that surprised me is that the main law enforcement presence, i.e. investigator, at least for this part of the trail, is an FDA agent, not an FBI agent. It makes sense in this case, of course, but it’s unusual in my experience. Another one is that the behemoth law firm Latham and Watkins had done the due diligence investigation of Theranos for Walgreens before the original deal was struck with the two companies. I’ll bet their malpractice insurer received a hefty claim. It’s amazing how many supposedly competent people were bamboozled by Holmes.

Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment by Daniel Kahneman

Noise: A Flaw in Human JudgmentNoise: A Flaw in Human Judgment by Daniel Kahneman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This dry tome is a rigorous academic review of the title issue: noise. Noise is distinguished from bias, and the author describes how both affect decision making and introduce errors in judgment. Examples include how criminal sentences vary greatly for nearly identical offenses, how individuals judge more harshly on the Monday after their hometown team lost than they do if the team won, how insurance claims adjusters evaluate losses differently, and many others. It provides some useful guidance for some decision makers, but for most people it does little more that provide a few counterintuitive curiosities, which can be entertaining. For the academic in this field, it is a well-documented exploration of the topic and worth reading and keeping as a reference.

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The Holmes trial – observations

Judge Davila, the presiding judge over the Elizabeth Holmes trial, is an exceedingly gentlemanly, one might even say courtly (pun intended), judge. However, he is not efficient. I have spent decades in and out of both federal and state courts and I can tell you this with confidence. He repeats himself and waffles on questions that should be handled with a quick ruling. His rulings seemed very reasonable to me, but he is extending this trial unnecessarily. I don’t wish to be mean-spirited but he doesn’t seem that sharp. At one point he referred to witness Rosendorff as Mr. Rosenberg and he repeatedly pronounced the company name thuh-RAH-nose, accent on the second syllable. Everyone else pronounces it THARE-uh-nose.

The AUSA (Bostic) and the defense counsel (there were several) seemed unusually deferential to the judge (although, of course, all lawyers must defer), and quite competent. This was a much quieter environment than I’m used to in Superior Court, especially on Law and Motion days. It’s one of the reasons I preferred to litigate in federal court. Much of the seeming calmness can be attributed to the Covid-19 restrictions, with limited seating and required masks. Both sides made their points well enough, but there were no bombshells.

It strikes me that there was some unwarranted gamesmanship going on. Both of the jurors who asked to be excused should have been excused before the trial began, removing or at least reducing the risk of a mistrial due to running out of jurors. It’s not clear where the fault for that lies. The jurors were probably less than honest or forthcoming in their initial questioning during voir dire. I suspect they are only now realizing how onerous the burden before them is and are looking for any excuse to get off. It may also be the case that one or both of the lawyers should have questioned these jurors more carefully and challenged them either for cause or by use of a peremptory challenge. However, the judge may not have allowed the attorneys sufficient challenges, discouraging this, and he may not have allowed for a sufficient number of alternate jurors in the first place. Maybe they’re all to blame.

Another example of the gamesmanship is that question Bostic asked that was later struck. The defense could have objected at the time it was asked, but instead let it ride, hoping to create the opportunity as described in my prior post. I’m surprised the judge didn’t mention that in justifying his ruling. Of course, defense may have also not wanted to bring attention to that question (and its likely answer) in front of the jury. Bostic also did not object to the judge’s striking the question and answer because the jurors had already heard both, and an instruction to the jury to disregard it just reemphasizes the point, or as the defnese put it, “you can’t unring the bell.”

Holmes made an impression of sorts, although not the one most news outlets seem to harp on. I did not find her striking, although she has nice hair, i.e. expensive looking and very blonde. The most noticeable thing to me about her was how tall she sits. Sitting at the defense table she was half a head taller than either of the male attorneys on each side. Standing she seemed fairly tall, but nothing like she did sitting. She may have been wearing heels of some sort, but that wouldn’t affect her sitting height. I didn’t see anything different about her chair, so I guess she’s just really long in the waist.

The jurors were a motley crew. There was a chubby young guy looking very blue collar and a slim white-haired fellow looking like a 60-year-old runner. He had an intent look, while several of the jurors rarely looked at the witness. They each had screens in front of them which were continually displaying exhibits, mostly emails. The AUSA must have been trained to get those off the screen fast once he was on the next line of questioning. He was quick to ask for that. He wanted the jurors to be paying attention to the witness, not reading emails. I was a bit surprised that the judge mentioned that jurors are brought in from as far away as Santa Cruz County and even Monterey County. This is a much broader geographic pool than used in county courts.

The Elizabeth Holmes trial

Today I watched the trial in a San Jose federal courthouse of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. This was week five of the trial. Scheduled today was redirect examination of the prosecution witness former Theranos Lab Director Adam Rosendorff.  Instead it began with a surprise: a juror asked to speak with the judge. This had to be done in open court, although out of the presence of the other jurors. The juror, an Asian woman with a strong accent, was a Buddhist. According to her, because of her religion, she felt she must forgive and was in doubt whether she could ever vote to send someone to jail. She commented about Holmes “She’s so young.” The Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) argued for her removal as a juror and that met with no objection from the defense despite the fact that she would presumably be favorable to the defense. The judge removed her.

This was quickly followed by a request from the alternate juror who was called upon to replace the Asian woman. This juror, another immigrant, claimed to have trouble because English was her second language and because she had never been a juror. The judge explained that many jurors have English as a second language and the juror had already been questioned about her English, which she previously had said was good. She sounded fluent to me. The AUSA objected to her removal and the juror was not excused.

I feel certain that the reason the defense did not object to the removal of the first juror is that she would be the second juror to be removed, thus reducing the number of alternates to three from the original five. If granted, at the rate it’s going, there could very well be too few jurors by the end of the trial, which would result in a mistrial and the government would have to start all over or drop the case. That’s also probably why the prosecution did object to the removal of the second juror.

After those developments the redirect of Mr. Rosendorff resumed. The prosecution used that occasion to paint Theranos in general and Holmes in particular as using faulty Theranos devices, called Edisons, for patient blood tests even though they knew the results weren’t accurate, thus endangering patients. The defense then questioned him again on re-cross. In between, though, there was an argument about the AUSA’s final question on redirect. He had asked the witness how Theranos compared to other labs he had directed when it came to problems and questions from physicians who distrusted the results. The answer had been that Theranos was much worse than any other. The defense wanted to use this to open up questioning about a host of other labs and their problems. The judge waffled on this and eventually agreed to give a curative instruction to the jurors, striking that question and answer, but denying him the right to question about other labs.

That’s the basic newsy stuff prior to lunch. I didn’t stay for the afternoon session. In my next post I’ll give you some of my own impressions of the people, the court, and the process.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Lady Astronaut of MarsThe Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although listed as a “novelette,” this book is really just a short story. It should be considered nothing more than a snack, not that snacks are bad. The protagonist is/was the first woman to Mars and is now, at age 63, living on that planet with her dying husband. The story is all about the conflict between her yearning to return to space and her desire to stay with her husband to the bitter end. It’s nicely written but with one very odd anomaly: all computer programming is done using punch cards and magnetic tape. Huh? And maybe abacuses? No matter when this is supposed to be taking place, Mars colonization and computer punch cards are not contemporaneous.

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The Cover Wife by Dan Fesperman

The Cover WifeThe Cover Wife by Dan Fesperman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This top-notch thriller was a bit of a surprise to me. I knew it was a CIA-related story and not current day and had high reviews. I thought it was going to be yet another Cold War Soviet vs. The West story, a genre that I think is past its prime. Instead it turned out to be set in 1999 in Germany involving the West vs. Al Qaeda, not the Soviets.

The story had its share of exaggerations and dramatizations that render it inaccurate, but it has captured the look and feel of real operations against high-profile targets. As a retired FBI agent who worked counterintelligence for most of my career, I can attest to this. I was pleased to see the CIA and FBI agents working together, at least at the street level. The author resorted to the stale trope of inter-agency rivalry at the higher levels, which makes for drama but is totally unrealistic. Still, the story never lost the patina of credibility. The protagonist, Claire, is a bit too much of a TV version heroine – very good-looking, capable of taking down men in hand-to-hand combat, and so on, but there was very little of that. It was largely an accurate portrayal of what surveillance is like and all the things that can go wrong when the lines of communications are not good. It also tells the story from the viewpoint of a member of the Al Qaeda group being monitored. The suspense builds throughout on both sides of the line.

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The Incomplete Book of Running by Peter Sagal

The Incomplete Book of RunningThe Incomplete Book of Running by Peter Sagal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This very short, easy-to-read book has several amusing anecdotes and displays the author’s usual wit. So it’s entertaining enough to earn its three stars. But I felt cheated with this one. I was expecting a book primarily about running, although I knew that the author, the host of a radio show I like, would put a sardonic spin on it. Instead I found the author wrote an ego-driven combination of self-flagellation about his failure as a husband and father and a humblebrag about his running prowess and volunteer work, such as it is. If you’re a huge Peter Sagal fan and are interested in his quasi-memoir, then you’ll probably enjoy this.

The cover is a near clone of Jim Fixx’s iconic work including a photo of a man’s legs wearing running shorts and shoes, so I think it’s fair to assume the average reader, like me, is a runner and most interested in that. I have news for you, Peter; we’re not interested in your marital failure or how fast you run. Nor are we interested in how fat you were and certainly not in your toilet habits. The author is an obsessive runner, a habit (hobby?) that probably contributed to his troubles, and he does not set a good example for other runners to follow. I found his running advice almost entirely wrong. If you want to stay healthy and enjoy running into old age, you should avoid running on pavement as much as possible, rarely if ever enter races, avoid running clubs, and don’t run to the point of exhaustion unless truly necessary, e.g. qualifying for a job-related fitness test. Keeping track of your times, weight, and so on, is fine, and running with a buddy is fine, too, if you can find someone who runs exactly the same pace and distance you do. Otherwise avoid it. And, for Pete’s sake, take care of the “egress” problem he obsesses about before you run.

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Google Trends – NFL teams

I haven’t posted about recent Google search trends lately, so I decided to check out what’s hot there. It seems that all the most frequent searches these days are National Football League (NFL) teams, I picked five teams that usually have a good national following, including the most recent Super Bowl teams, to see who’s garnering the most interest. This chart represents how these five fare nationally compared to each other. Obviously there’s some regionality. This map represents searches over the past year. I’m sure it changes week by week depending on who won or lost or who got injured or otherwise made the news.

Guilt at the Garage by Simon Brett

Guilt at the Garage (A Fethering Mystery, 20)Guilt at the Garage by Simon Brett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This piece of fluff might easily have been imagined as an outline for a one-episode TV mystery. There’s not much to it. I’m learning more about what publishers do to make a book marketable, and it isn’t pretty. A couple of posts ago I mentioned a 500-page that was squeezed down to 350 pages by use of small font and narrow margins. This book, at a scant 185 pages, is stretched to feel larger by use of extra-thick paper and some pointless digressions in the story.

The heroines are two single ladies in a small English town who double as amateur sleuths. They look into the mysterious death of an elderly garage owner who dies from a gearbox falling on him in the service pit. It’s all quite implausible, but the book is populated with a collection of zany characters and village life in rural England is skewered good-naturedly. It’s a quick and inoffensive read.

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Just Get Home by Bridget Foley

Just Get HomeJust Get Home by Bridget Foley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I liked the premise of the book, so I took a chance. It sounded sort of post-apocalyptic without the apocalypse (just a big earthquake) or the pseudo-science. It’s your basic disaster movie/earthquake thriller. I only got a third of the way through before giving up. The entire storyline was nothing but nastiness- child abuse, rape, looters, bullying, sadism. I can only give it two stars because it was readable if you can stand the content.

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A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

A Short History of Tractors in UkrainianA Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author has presented us with a heartwarming, at times outrageous, and thoroughly entertaining story of a semi-functional family of Ukrainian refugees who settled in post-war England. When a 36-year-old gold digger from the Ukraine latches on to the widowed 84-year-old father of two feuding sisters, they form a united front to fight back. If this were a television show or movie, it would be called a dramedy. The father works on his seminal work about tractor history while lusting after the voluptuous bosom of his new love. The book sold a million copies and was nominated for the Man Booker Prize (British equivalent of a Pulitzer).

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Baby name trends – downward

My last post showed those baby names that gained the most in popularity from 2017 to 2020. Today I show those that plummeted the farthest.

Boys’ names that lost the most in popularity from 2017 to 2020

Name

2017
rank

2020
rank

Gavin

96

141

Brayden

72

111

Bryson

86

115

Chase

94

123

Jason

92

119

Ayden

99

122

Connor

56

78

Sawyer

95

116

Evan

85

105

Nicholas

68

87

Girls’ names that lost the most in that period

Alexa

65

230

Aubree

86

156

Samantha

54

90

Adeline

64

100

Arianna

87

123

Kaylee

84

117

Savannah

38

67

Isabelle

92

121

Aubrey

31

56

Sarah

62

87

I notice a few things of interest here. First, the boys’ names that dropped the most tended to be ones not in the most popular group to start with, at least compared to the girls’ names. In other words, boys’ names don’t follow trends quite as much. The popular ones stay popular longer. Another thing I noticed is that the biggest drops appear to be related to current events. I can’t help but feel the drop for Gavin is related to California Gavin Newsom (although there are some very popular YouTubers named Gavin). As for Alexa, I’m compelled to conclude that it’s related to the Amazon device of that name. It may be as simple as parents who have one not wanting the device to respond every time they call their daughter by name. One other oddity that caught my attention is how many of these girls’ names begin with A. If you look at the last post, not a single one of the big gainers started with A, yet four began with E. Curious.

 

Baby naming trends – upward

A couple of years ago I posted about what baby names were trending upward or downward. At that time the most recent Social Security data was from 2017. Now the 2020 baby name data is out, so I thought I’d update that post. After all, trends tend to be very … trendy. If you just want to know what baby names are the most popular, there are plenty of sites online for that, include the Social Security site here. What I’m more interested in are the names that are rapidly gaining or falling in favor. So here goes.

Boys’ names that gained the most in popularity from 2017 to 2020

Name

2017
rank

2020
rank

Theodore

61

23

Maverick

84

49

Asher

59

32

Leo

62

36

Ezra

69

44

Elias

78

53

Mateo

42

20

Hudson

64

42

Santiago

93

71

Jameson

100

79

Girls’ names that gained the most in that period

Gianna

91

12

Nova

94

38

Everly

82

43

Emilia

77

40

Eliana

88

53

Willow

81

48

Luna

37

14

Valentina

95

73

Naomi

69

52

Ellie

44

29

 In my next post, I’ll show you the biggest losers.

 

A bit of kindness

A nice thing happened this morning. It was a very small thing, but sometimes that means a lot even so. We had two toters out at the curb for the garbage trucks to collect. One toter was for garbage, the other for recycling. The garbage one was picked up first. The truck that does the job has extension claws that reach out, grab the toter, lift it to dump the contents into the truck and put it back down. All that happened normally, except the toter was put down wrong and it ended up a long way out from the curb into the street.

Later, as I was passing by the front window, I noticed this and went out to retrieve it and put it back by the side of the house. As I got there, I saw the next truck coming by for the other toter. It was only one house away. I realized that the first toter was in the way of the truck and the driver would have had to drive around it awkwardly, or get out and move that toter to reach the second. So I hurried over and hauled that toter back beside the house. As I turned around to go back out for the second toter, I noticed the truck backing up with the empty recycling toter in its claws. The driver deposited it at the foot of my driveway instead of where it had been. This saved me about 50 feet of walking (25 extra each way). He had appreciated that I moved the first toter out of his way and was reciprocating by saving me a few steps. I waved and he drove on.

We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen

We Have Always Been HereWe Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was trying to find a good sci-fi book, but ended up instead with this poorly-written overlong fantasy story. The best that can be said about it is that could possibly be a script for the worst ever episode of Star Trek. The author clearly has no knowledge of science and made no attempt to provide even remotely plausible physical events. The story could have been told using zombies or fairies instead of androids. It takes place in a spaceship on a mysterious uncharted planet, but that’s about as close to science fiction as it gets. The rest is junior high school level squabbles among the crew and a sort of half-assed mind melding. To top it off, the font was too small, with too little white space (i.e. little dialogue and narrow margins) and at 351 pages was obviously a 500-page book crammed down to fit commercially viable size. At least 400 of those pages could easily have been done away with. After the first 100 pages or so I skimmed very liberally, but I did finish it. Why, I don’t know.

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What3Words is coming to America

I learned recently that the British location system, What3Words, has been adopted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to assist in dispatching. I have posted about W3W in this blog several times before. Check out here and here to learn more about it and have some fun.

This time I thought it would be fun to try to find the location of some ordinary products using W3W. I’ve discovered that:

Foster.Grant.glasses can be found just off Highway 50 near Dodge City Kansas.

To get a Chase.Bank.Visa you should visit the Nature Center at Crawley, England. For that you’d first need a United.Airlines.ticket and for that you’ll need to cross a few miles into Saskatchewan.

For a Home.Depot.hammer or General.Motors.vehicle, on the other hand, you’ll need to go all the way to Australia.

Quite a few Fortune 100 companies have valid W3W names. Check these out:

  • United Health Group
  • International Business Machines
  • Express Scripts Holding
  • United Parcel Service
  • Marathon Petroleum Corporation

 

What Unites Us by Dan Rather

What Unites Us: Reflections on PatriotismWhat Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this humblebrag Rather relates the lessons he has learned from his upbringing in rural Texas through his lengthy career as a network news reporter and anchor. Much, nearly all, in fact, is stuff on which virtually everyone can agree: we should work together as a nation and as fellow citizens (“Why can’t we all just get along”), war is hell, there are many people in this country and everywhere who are very poor, very sick, or otherwise have been dealt a bad hand in life, etc.

I don’t take issue with these self-evident truths, but I find Rather’s delivery of them to be grating and unnecessary. If he had the cult following of Donald Trump or some fundamentalist preacher, say, perhaps it would do some good for him to put out a book with these sentiments. He might actually persuade some people. Instead, he just comes across as preachy and self-promoting. This is particularly futile because he also comes across as not that bright. He talks with pride about having attended an obscure Texas teachers’ college and being bad at science. He may find these traits endearing to the public but it serves only to undermine one’s confidence in what he has to say. I listened to the audiobook, which he narrates, and he often mispronounces words, just as he used to do as the CBS anchor. At least we are spared the cutesie Texas homilies he used to scatter in those broadcasts. In the end, though, it’s a quick read or listen and the content is probably worth being reminded of from time to time even if there’s nothing profound in it.

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