This memoir by an African-raised white British ex-pat, now living in America, details an extraordinary upbringing in various African countries. The stories are often wild, hard to believe, or simply depressing. The author’s style can be described as in your face. It is certainly unconventional. Her family seems to have done nothing but drink beer, smoke, farm tobacco, and survive the most horrid conditions imaginable. Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi – they lived in all of them. They seemed to be always on the brink of insolvency, yet they always had money and position superior to the Africans, many of whom were their servants. I get the impressions that they both loved Africa and Africans yet were staunch racist white supremacists, if that is possible. I certainly didn’t admire their lifestyle or life choices as depicted in the book, but it’s difficult to know how much was hyperbole. In the end I can only say I found it a relatively original and entertaining read.
I bought a new car yesterday, a Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge. Actually I bought it over a year ago, or at least reserved one with a deposit, but it was delivered yesterday. It’s Volvo’s first foray into all-electric vehicles (EV’s). The XC40 refers to body size and shape and is consistent with the regular gas XC40, their smallest SUV. The P8 refers to it being all-electric and distinguishes it from the T5 which is a plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV). Both share the Recharge name.
I drove it to the gym and back today, the first time I drove it, although I’d taken a demo model on a test drive a few weeks ago. I’m not ready to give it a real review, but I’ll give some first impressions. Since I’ve been driving a 2011 Nissan Leaf (another EV) for the last 10 years, I’ll do a few comparisons.
The Volvo is small for an SUV but still has a heftier, bigger feel than the Leaf, a hatchback. The suspension feels firmer. I sit higher in the Volvo, and I like that better visibility. The interior is much more luxurious than the Leaf as you would expect at its hefty price tag. The Volvo’s seats are 1: electrically 3-way adjustable, 2. leather, and 3: heated. The Leaf’s are none of the above. The Leaf has a lousy heater, so when I’d go to the gym in my shorts and T-shirt on a cold winter morning I’d shiver all the way there, which is why I always wore sweats and stripped those off once at the gym. Today in the Volvo I needed no sweats. It wasn’t too cold, but chilly enough that I turned on the seat heater. Within a minute, probably less, I was very comfortable. In fact, I had to turn it off after a few minutes.
Driving on local streets, I decided to turn off the one-pedal driving mode, which is Volvo’s version of regenerative braking. I didn’t like it on the test drive with the demo. I’ll discuss that more in another post later after I’ve driven more. One thing I didn’t like is how I had trouble seeing all the controls and indicators. The interior is mostly black. The controls on the door, black buttons on black background, are invisible to me when I’m wearing my sunglasses, which is 98% of the time. I had to park in the sun, take off my sunglasses and put on my regular bifocals in order to adjust the side mirrors. The button for the seat heating is easy to see, but there is a small red light next to it that indicates whether it is on or off. It’s very dim, though, and I couldn’t see that either until I took my sunglasses off. When I pushed it to turn it off, it felt like heat was still on, and, in fact, I had only turned it down. Fortunately, since Volvo’s infotainment system is integrated with Google, I just told Google assistant to turn off the heat seating and it did. Yes, that’s right, the car is an Android device and many function will respond to voice commands. Neat.
When I pulled into the parking spot at the gym the car’s parking assist feature warned me as I got almost up to the tire stop. I really like the 360º camera view feature which makes parking in a tight spot a breeze, even backing up. The Volvo is a much superior car to the Leaf and I’m learning more about it every day. There will be a learning curve. These are my first impressions, and I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ll post more about it from time to time after I’ve driven it more.
I went for my bi-weekly six-mile run at Rancho San Antonio (RSA) today. It’s the hottest day this year for running and I was thirsty by mile 5. Finally I could drink and douse myself with cool water. RSA has drinking fountains at strategic locations, but those have been turned off for months. First for COVID safety they bagged and taped them, but people just ripped through the bags and drank anyway, so then they turned off the water completely. The bags and tape are long gone. It’s been like that for months. I’ve checked them a few times and none of them worked until today.
I parked in the Horse Trailer Lot. I didn’t check the fountain by the rest room since I was at the other end by the trailhead. There is one drinking fountain right at the trailhead where the stretch bars are, but that one had no water pressure. It just dribbled. The one at the beginning to the Permanente Creek Trail coming out of the main parking lot, however, had plenty of good, cool water. There is also one at the west end of the farm, but I didn’t check that one, either. I’m not sure when the change happened, but at least there is water available on the trail.
A few days ago I posted an update on the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal. The data I saw confused me. Four defendants were sentenced to forfeiture in addition to their fines. Combined they totaled over $700,000.
Only one of the four defendants was a parent trying to get her child into school. The rest were bribe takers or otherwise involved in the scheme. That makes sense. They profited and were required to give up their ill-gotten gains. My question is, what was the parent forfeiting and why? The Department of Justice (DOJ) press release says in her case it was forfeiture of the $400,000 she paid to get her child in. Why not do that for all the other parents? Perhaps her case was unique in that the government was able to seize her money before it was received or before the check was cashed. It still seems odd.
Despite the recommendations by the DOJ for restitution in every case, no judge has imposed restitution as part of a sentence in the case. The reason seems obvious: to whom would they make restitution? The universities weren’t hurt, and in some cases benefited financially. The real victims were the kids who didn’t get admitted because the slots were given to undeserving kids. But there’s no way to know who they were. You’re likely to see some inaccurate reporting on this issue. Typically, the parent agrees to plead guilty and the U.S. Attorney recommends restitution, then the newspeople report that the defendant has agreed to X days in jail, a fine of such and such amount, and restitution, all of which is true. Sometimes they even say the defendant received this sentence. But the judges have disregarded that part of the plea bargain and declined to include restitution. Check the DOJ website if you want to know the true sentence.
Susan Ryeland (randy, sensual?) is a book editor for a small London publisher. She receives a manuscript of a murder mystery from her star author. Only it’s missing the last chapters. A mystery without the ending is worthless. We are then given the manuscript to read ourselves. In it Atticus Pund is a German refugee turned private eye who takes on a last case before the inevitable end he knows he is facing based on bad news from his doctor. He travels to a small town in England and we find out about more than one death. But we are left hanging because of the missing chapters. When Susan seeks the missing pages, she is shocked to learn that the author himself has just died under suspicious circumstances. When she travels to his home town, a village much like the one in the book, she finds striking similarities between the book and real life. We are left to try to solve the book mysteries and the “real life” ones. That’s all I can say about the plot without spoilers.
If you haven’t figured it out already, that “randy, sensual” remark is an anagram of Susan Ryeland. Wordplay is sprinkled liberally throughout the manuscript, although that’s not obvious at first. I really enjoyed that part. The book as a whole was very fun even if the ending(s) wasn’t all that I had hoped. The author has produced too many suspects on both levels and could have picked any at random to be the guilty party, so it’s not a fair mystery for the reader to solve. That dropped it a star for me. Still, he writes very well and I was thoroughly entertained through most of the book. It has a real wit to it at times, too.
If you haven’t yet watched the new Netflix show on the Varsity Blues college admission scandal, you should. It’s excellent. Here’s a short update on the status of the defendants. Forty-two of them have pled guilty. Here’s the list. All are parents trying to boost their kids’ chances unless otherwise noted.
Augustin Huneeus, Jr.
Rick Singer (ringleader)
John Vandemoer (Stan. Coach)
Michael Center (Texas Coach)
Igor Dvorskiy (test admin)
Rudy Meredith (soccer coach)
Mark Riddell (test tutor)
Martin Fox (middleman)
Laura Janke (soccer vcoach)
Ali Khosroshahin (soccer coach)
Steven Masera (Accountant)
Jorge Salcedo (soccer coach)
Mikaela Sanford (Singer aide)
Niki Williams (exam admin)
Most of the above have been sentenced, but for some, like Singer, the sentencing will wait until their cooperation is secured in any pending trials.
15 others have been charged but not yet tried. They are:
Gordon Ernst (tennis coach)
William Ferguson (volleyball coach)
Donna Heinel (athl. Dir.)
Jovan Vavic (water polo coach)
Here’s a game you can have fun with: What3words (W3W) dominoes. It works like this.
- Pick a famous or historical site and enter it into the what3words.com website.
- Pick any square on that site and record or remember the three word address given.
- Search the adjacent squares by clicking on them to find a neighbor that begins with the same first letter as the last letter of the original three words. A common side or corner counts, so there are 8 neighbors.
- Keep going until you can’t find any further adjacent squares meeting rule 3. You can’t reuse any previous square.
- Start over to see if you can find a longer chain, but the starting point must be on the same site. As long as the starting square is on the site, it’s okay for the chain to go off the site.
As an example I chose the Golden Gate Bridge across San Francisco Bay. The longest chain I could find in about 15 minutes of searching was five squares:
See if you can beat that. Post your best result in the comments below. I’ll put this on Facebook, too, so you can post there if you prefer. Here’s a hint: S seems to be a good letter to look for both at the end and beginning.
Yesterday I heard one of the nation’s top health experts on national television say the pandemic has wrecked havoc on the economy, etc. That’s wrong and I hear it often, but you’d think a top doctor would be better educated. It has wreaked havoc. The havoc isn’t wrecked at all; it’s the normalcy (not normality!) that’s been wrecked. The havoc is doing just fine.
Wreak sounds just like reek, but one can’t reek havoc since reek just means stink. I suppose you could say it stinks to have all the havoc wreaked, so in a way it reeks, but reek is an intransitive verb. I’ll throw in that grammar lesson for free: intransitive means it doesn’t take an object.
Our narrator and main character, Will, whose name is first mentioned about 100 pages into the book, is an art forger. He considers himself a master, but the police and the art world consider him a convicted felon. He doesn’t forge paintings or checks. His specialty is calligraphy. He buys legitimate first editions of rare books and adds forged inscriptions to enhance their value. He’s in love with Meghan, a bookshop owner but her brother Adam disapproves. Will swears off forgery after his conviction and vows to be true to honest Meghan. Then Adam turns up dead one day and Will suspects another forger named Slader, a rather nasty character. But there’s no proof.
Morrow writes with a literary elegance, although he can at times lay it on too thick. He used cerulean twice, once describing the sky as a cerulean dome and the other referring to Meghan’s eyes. Cerulean is a word to be used only once in a book. There are other words for blue. He used hynagogic and hynopompic in the same sentence. Another long word, pretentiousness, comes to mind while reading this. Even so, it’s an enjoyable read, with lots of goodies for those enamored of all things literary and outdated – calligraphy, inks, manual printing presses with gothic print slugs and fine bond paper, and, of course, Irish poets and the like.
About halfway through the book a jarring turn of the plot had me scratching my head and turning a sour eye on the author’s abilities. It just didn’t make sense … unless …. well, I hoped he wouldn’t go there, but he did. It may have resolved the strange turn, but it didn’t make the overall reading experience better. In the end, I can say it was a worthy read even if the author took a lazy route in a couple of ways.
Here’s another word usage bugaboo of mine. I saw a television show recently where a character said he had a pit in his stomach. What he meant was that he had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. I’ve heard this mistake before and it grates.
The stomach is mostly empty space, like a hole in the ground. The deepest part of it is the pit. Strong apprehension can cause a tension or uneasy feeling of tightness in the pit of the stomach. One cannot suddenly develop a pit in the stomach since it is always there already. Saying you had a pit in your stomach is like saying you had strands in your hair or a hole in your nostril. Your hair is strands and your nostril is a hole. Unless you meant you just swallowed a peach pit or something like that, stick with a feeling in the pit of your stomach.
The New York Times daily newsletter has a feature they call a Pangram. They provide a honeycomb arrangement of seven unique letters (six around a central one). The reader must find a pangram, that is, a standard English word that uses all the letters shown in the puzzle, and not containing any other letters. However, you may use letters in the puzzle as many times as you want. For example, if the letters were VELD you would solve it with DELVE, DELVED, LEVELED, and LEVELLED. Not acceptable are words with too few or extra letters such as LEVEL (no D) or DRIVEL (I not in puzzle letters). I’m not going to limit the length to seven letters. There may be more than one correct answer.
Here are a few examples for you to try your hand at. Scroll down for the answers, which will be written backwards so they are not immediate spoilers. Letters are shown in alphabetical order.
See answers below:
| Answers are spelled backwards
- SROTARTIBRA, (S)TSAORBIR, (S)TSIROBRA
I found this non-fiction account of the development and history of the Chinese typewriter to be fascinating and well-researched, but I cannot recommend it to most people (more on that later). The title itself is both a simple statement of the subject of the book, yet is also misleading. There is no such thing as the Chinese typewriter, just as there is no such thing as the American automobile.
There have been dozens of different devices made or at least proposed to serve as Chinese typewriters, at first by Americans and Europeans, but later by the Chinese and then Japanese. They have taken many forms: with and without keys; using slugs or discs or cylindrical rack trays; with ~10,000 characters of less than half that many; with or without Japanese or Roman alphabets, and so on. All of these are explored in depth and generously illustrated with photos, charts, and other graphics. I enjoyed the book greatly.
My hesitation to recommend lies primarily in the author’s inexcusably pedantic, pretentious, and comically convoluted writing style. He never uses a two-syllable word if he can find a four- or five-syllable one to take its place. Some of the words and phrases you should prepare yourself for include: orthopraxy, referential paratechnologies, technosomatic ensemble, machinic, and semiotic substrate. His sentences are often so long it is obvious the publisher made no effort to use an editor. Here’s an example:
To the contrary, once China and Chinese characters had been reconceptualized as a communicative problem — a puzzle in need of a solution rather than a medium of communicative possibility — this opened up a new, exciting, and lucrative possibility for Japanese and Korean inventors, one in which Japan and Korea could be transformed from the beneficiaries of Chinese cultural inheritance to sites where the puzzle of East Asian technolinguistic modernity might itself be solved.
Your assignment, class, is to diagram that sentence. When I read that to my wife, who used to be the Assistant Director for a Stanford PhD. program and who proofread doctoral theses, she asked if it was a parody because she couldn’t believe anyone could seriously write a general market book that way. When I told her the author was a Stanford professor, she snorted and said she could believe it after all. Despite this, the writing is content-rich and relatively concise compared to other academic works I’ve read lately.
Another warning: I may be the ideal reader for this book. I’ve spent a year each studying Japanese and Chinese (Mandarin). Although I can’t actually read either, I know a few hundred characters and I am already very familiar with the concepts of radicals, kana, and reduced character sets (e.g. toyo kanji). I’m also a long-time cipher and cryptology nerd with extensive experience with issues such as alternative methods of ordering letters and words, CTC encoding, and so forth. If these are all foreign concepts to you, the book is likely to be a tough slog for you. The author does a good job of explaining these things, but there’s a lot to take in. There is a great deal of Chinese political and social history mixed in with the central topic as well. It would be helpful if you had some knowledge along those lines.
We can all agree that the Covid pandemic is devastating in many ways both in terms of loss of life and health and the economic hardship on so many. Even so, it will eventually be over. Even before that happens, various interest groups will analyze what about it is good or bad in the long term based on their own criteria and agendas.
Let’s start with economics. It will certainly have effects on the insurance and related segments like Social Security and pension systems. Pension systems including Social Security will benefit since the lifespan of a significant number will have been shortened and they will stop paying out sooner than projected. Similarly, contributors to those systems, both corporate and governmental, will be able to reduce their contributions to those systems for a while. Once the economy is back on track, this could help balance the national budget as fewer subsidies will be needed. Similarly, the life insurance industry will suffer somewhat in the near term because the death rate has increased significantly. The premiums have stopped coming in and they need to make payouts in greater number. However, the stock market, where so many assets of the pension systems and the life insurance industry are invested, has done great during the pandemic despite the faltering economy. The gains from these assets will probably offset the short-term losses for the insurance companies.
On a larger scale, there will be a sudden generational shift in wealth. The disease mostly kills old people. Their assets are rapidly being transferred to their children and others. In fact, it would not surprise me if this was a major motivating factor to a few of those who refuse to wear a mask or practice social distancing. No one will admit it, but I think it is possible that some of those anti-maskers are actually trying to infect their parents or grandparents in order to inherit. Perhaps I’m too cynical. The same effect will apply in the workplace, with a number of older executives or small business owners will have died or forced to retire due to bankruptcies or other business failures. This will open up many opportunities for younger workers and entrepreneurs. The new businesses will not be tied so much to old paradigms like large office buildings and personal meetings. They will be more adaptable to work-from-home, hybrid, gig, and other modes of working. From a national and world economic perspective this is good (if we can set aside the personal tragedy). The most efficient economic system is one in which each person works until he or she is no longer productive and then dies, no longer consuming food or other resources. I’m not suggesting any government should strive for this; quite the opposite. But I do think the economy will eventually emerge in a revitalized state.
We can’t pass over the political fallout. It is unclear how the pandemic and its handling will affect voters in the sense of assigning blame. Our American political landscape is split and so poisoned with false information that I won’t venture a guess on that score. On the demographic side it is also unclear. The death toll struck the elderly, a very conservative group, the hardest, suggesting the Democrats would benefit. Yet minorities, a mostly left-leaning group, were hit the hardest when examined on a racial, not age basis. However, minorities tend to be more concentrated than the elderly. In other words, even if the minority population, mostly in the cities, is reduced by, say, 5% more than whites, that is unlikely to change the Democratic dominance. The local Congressmen, mayors, city councils, etc. will probably remain heavily Democrat in most places with large minority populations. The elderly, though, being more scattered, could affect those districts where there is a closer balance such as suburbs. A 5% shift there could tip the scales to the left. I’m sure political analysts are already cranking the numbers.
For small brick-and-mortar businesses, I’m afraid things will be bleak or at least very different. Consumers have adjusted to staying at home. Movie theaters, restaurants, hotels, barbers, nail salons, etc. will all see reduced demand even after the pandemic is long gone. I bought hair clippers and will probably never go to a barber shop again. People are learning or re-learning the joys of cooking and DIY home repair and maintenance. The pandemic will usher in a new era in personal lifestyle, not just economics. The problem of uneven wealth distribution will be exacerbated. We will have to find a way to redistribute it or see skeletal citizens living and dying in the streets. We are living through history.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis
The map below shows you which dog breeds are popular in which states. But unlike other such maps it does NOT show the most popular breeds in each state. This is because in all but six states that would be Labrador Retrievers. Also, almost every state has German Shepherds as among the top three, usually in second position. So I have shown the most popular breed in each state other than Labs and German Shepherds. Beagles are especially popular in states with a lot of hunting. The data is taken from published reports of the American Kennel Club (AKC) as of 2017, the most recent I found online. There are other sources with very different results based on other sources such as the American Veterinary Association, queries in dog breeder forums, and so on. Of course the vast majority of dogs are mixed breeds or “mutts.”
The legend font is a bit small so here is what it says:
[Green] Beagle [Gray] Bulldog [Orange] French Bulldog [Blue] Golden Retriever
Colleen Hayes is an unlicensed private eye in San Francisco in 1978. She’s also on parole after serving nine years for killing her husband, who was molesting their daughter. She’s contacted by Steve Cook, a former rock star who fell on bad times and now works construction, a man she happened to be gaga over back in the day. Cook’s daughter has been kidnapped and he doesn’t want police on the case. Hence the call to Colleen.
The plot is solid and the action just about right – not too little, not too much. Much of what Colleen does is very much believable and what a real P.I. would do based on my experience in law enforcement. I say much, not all, because that statement rings less true as the case develops. I’m giving it a solid four stars because the book did its job in keeping me entertained. Having lived through the 60s and much of the 70s in the Bay Area, the retro nostalgic touch was fun for a while, too.
Having said that, there are problems. The author overdoes the retro stuff by a long way. The first time he mentions Colleen’s Princess phone and flared pants, it’s a bit of fun. Buts it wears thin with constant repetition. Wide belts, wide lapels, tie dye T-shirts, ad nauseam. Okay, we get it. It’s 1978. It’s your shtick. You don’t have to call the answering machine a “one of those fancy new answering machines” or mention putting a dime in the pay phone a dozen times or explain how Colleen calls the operator and asks to be connected to the police instead of dialing 9-1-1 or every time she crosses legs mention the flared jeans. It’s clunky and distracting. More important than that, though, is that all the characters, Colleen and the kidnap victim included, are not very likeable. They mostly seem to be heavy boozers who smoke constantly and dump their butts all over the ground among other unpleasant traits. I’d have been happy if they all died in a plane crash at the end. There’s also a plethora of plot problems, like how does Colleen, a convicted homicide felon on parole, on one day’s notice hop on a plane to England on what is said to be her first international flight? How is it she has a valid passport and visa coming out of prison and never having traveled abroad, and isn’t she violating parole? How is she even listed as a private eye without a license? I could pick at it some more, but don’t lose sight of the fact that it did keep me reading and keep me guessing. I can recommend it mildly.
Dear FBI Family,
It’s with a very heavy heart that I’m writing to tell you that this morning, Special Agent Daniel Alfin and Special Agent Laura Schwartzenberger of the Miami Division were shot and killed in the line of duty. They were executing a federal court-ordered search warrant in a violent crimes against children investigation in Sunrise, Florida. Three other agents were shot and wounded, two of whom suffered injuries requiring hospital care, but both are now in stable condition. The third injured agent did not require hospitalization. The shooter is deceased.
Days like this are among the darkest days we face in the FBI. We’ve lost two of our very own. We’re all heartbroken – particularly our colleagues in Miami who are reeling from this unthinkable loss. All of us across the FBI, in offices and divisions who worked with the special agents, and colleagues who have never had the chance to meet them, are all trying to also come to terms with this tragic loss. And yet, our grief cannot compare to that of the families of these two special agents. Today, they’ve lost the people who meant the very most to them.
As many of you have heard me say, it takes an incredibly special person to answer the call and do the heroic work of an FBI special agent.To sacrifice self for service. This morning, Special Agent Alfin and Special Agent Schwartzenberger left home to carry out the mission they signed up for – to keep the American people safe. It will take us a long time to process the grief that we all feel for the loss of our own. But we’ll be forever grateful for their commitment and their dedication – for their last full measure of devotion to the people they served and defended. We will always honor their ultimate sacrifice. And we’ll continue to stand by our FBI Family, and the families of these special agents, in the days to come, bringing every resource we can to get through this together.
We’ll continue to share more as we’re able to.
A mistake people often make both in speech and writing is using Calvary when they mean cavalry. This is one I find surprising, since to me the words sound quite different. After all, people don’t mistakenly say calvarier for cavalier. Here are the definitions.
Calvary: a site near Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. It is also known as Golgotha.
Cavalry: soldiers who fight mounted on horseback. In modern armies it refers to those fighting in tanks or similar fast-moving land vehicles. A cavalier is such a cavalry soldier.
I noticed something interesting about Americans’ Google search trends recently. These two Google search trends cover the last seven days.
For those who are out of touch, Amanda Gorman is the Youth Poet Laureate for America and recited a poem at Biden’s inaugural. She is black. Lady Gaga is a white singer and certainly better known than Gorman prior to January 20th. As for the second map, it seems almost reversed from the electoral map, with blue states colored red and vice versa, although of course there are exceptions. It seems Democrat-dominated states are more concerned with the insurrection while the Republican ones are more concerned with Trump’s impeachment.
Molly is a mischievous and adorable cocker spaniel trained to be a scent detection dog, specifically, to search for cats. Her owner, the author, runs a private detection business but specializes in finding missing pets. He bills himself as a pet detective. This book tells the story of how Molly was discovered, trained and her many adventures and misadventures finding pets. I can’t say the book is very well written. The editor needed a sharper blue pencil. It is crammed with treacle and puffery, but ultimately, its merit falls on the heart-warming stories of frantic owners being reunited with missing pets. No, not all the stories have a happy ending. I was most impressed with the amount of work that went into acquiring and training Molly and Butcher and the degree of difficulty required in many of these lost pet cases. Experience and knowledge of cat and human behavior were essential in many of the cases. Molly and Butcher are located in England, and there is a lot of British slang and local knowledge, such as London geography and familiarity with British TV shows, which can be charming to some, but at times is a challenge for the American reader. I think any dog or cat lover would enjoy the book if you can overlook a few stylistic peccadilloes.