Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Interview didn’t kill me

I went to the movies with my family yesterday. No, we didn’t see The Interview. C’mon, it’s a Seth Rogen movie. The North Koreans are going about this all wrong. They should pirate a copy and use it to torture people by making them sit through it repeatedly. Or even once. We saw Big Hero 6.  We didn’t realize until we got there that The Interview was playing in the adjacent theater. Somehow, we survived. The hackers’ threats are empty. Enjoy the holidays.

Rant of the Week – Gym Squatters

I work out at a local gym two days a week. I don’t particularly enjoy the environment or the workout itself. I do it purely for my overall health and fitness. So when I’m there, I’m all business, or at least I try to be. I have a set number of stations I use, the sort of things you’d expect, with names like Chest Press, Rowing station, slant board, etc.

What gets me riled is when people monopolize these stations without even using them. I don’t mind waiting my turn while someone is exercising. I don’t even mind when they do a set, stay on the station while they rest and recover for a few minutes, and then do another set. But when they just sit there doing nothing, or use their smart phones to read email or texts or whatever else, I get peeved. I can’t blame it all on smart phones, although that development has certainly exacerbated the problem. There is one guy who uses one of the most popular stations, and when he finishes his set, there’s a woman friend of his who usually stops by and they start talking while he remains sitting on the station. I’ve seen them do this for over twenty minutes at a time, never using the machine. There’s a woman who likes to go back and forth between two stations, so she puts her water bottle on the seat of one while using the other, then switches them when she moves, so that both stations are “taken” the entire time. There are two middle-aged women who work out in full heavy makeup on the only two full-size mats available, and by “work out” I mean lie out full length, taking up both mats, while they talk about their boyfriends or husbands or daughters’ boyfriends or husbands (in loud, unflattering terms), never moving a muscle, and believe me, they could benefit from quite a bit of muscle moving. There are a bunch of chairs by the front desk, people! If you want to talk or read your email, do it there and leave the exercise stations for the people who actually want to exercise.

Why not go up to them and ask if you can use the station, you say? In fact, I do. And most of the time people are gracious about it and let me use it. But they nearly always stare blankly at first, oblivious to the fact that a bunch of people have been waiting for them to get their [expletives deleted] off the equipment. I have had some people bark at me, though, like I’m the pushy one, which is why no one else ever seems to have the courage to ask someone to use it or move it. (Of course I ask more nicely than that). I’ve even had people come running over from the other side of the gym when I’ve gotten on a piece of equipment that was not in use yelling at me that they’re using it, usually pointing to a towel or water bottle on the floor there to “reserve” it. I have news for those people: no, you’re not using it. I wouldn’t be able to get on it if you were. In those cases I politely get off, apologize, and tell them I’ll wait for them to be done. I stand as close as I can without being arrested for stalking and stare at them while they do a few reps. Sometimes I count the reps sotto voce. They always quit the station quickly and grumble that it’s my turn now. I’ve noticed that as soon as I finish, which is usually within one or two minutes, there is always someone who jumps on immediately, which tells me they were also waiting for the first bozo to finish but didn’t want to face potential confrontation or embarrassment with the remote “reserver”.

That brings up a related gripe. No one talks to each other any more. Certainly not at the gym. I qualify that statement, because people who already know each other talk to each other there all the time, like the women I mentioned above. But if you try to chat with a stranger there, good luck with that. They’re mostly plugged into some device and don’t hear you or they look at you startled like what in the world is this guy doing interrupting me. If they aren’t plugged in, they’ll think you’re hitting on them, male or female. I’ve seen the same people there almost every workout day for years but never exchanged a word with most of them. I tried doing that too with a friendly “Hi”, and only got the cold shoulder versions I’ve described. I gave up doing that.

Hi! Have a nice day. And please, use it or move it.

Our Ignorant Newsies – Margaret Lavin edition

Today in the San Jose Mercury News reporter Margaret Lavin reported that when Facebook gave mini-tablets to some elementary school kids, “the excitement was palatable.” Unlike her writing. She meant palpable. That’s the second time I’ve done an ignorant newsy post involving that word. (See the Chris Jansing edition.) What’s so confusing about it? Doctors palpate for tumors and such, so the root is rather well-known.

Larceny, Burglary, Robbery

News media and others constantly misuse the words larceny, burglary, and robbery. As a word maven and former FBI agent/attorney, this annoys me. Legal definitions vary from state to state and country to country, but these simple definitions should help clear up some confusion.

Larceny is just another word for theft or stealing. It can take many forms, such as shoplifting, fraud, stealing a bike from a rack,  keeping something valuable that you found, and so forth. Typically it is a misdemeanor, although it can be a felony if enough money is involved.

Burglary is the entering of a dwelling for the purpose of committing a crime therein. In common law it was limited to a dwelling, i.e. somewhere people live, but modern statutes typically include businesses, government offices, or any building to which the burglar does not have legal access. Usually there are several classes or degrees of burglary, such as of a dwelling, an occupied building, or while armed. Note that it does not require theft. The intent to commit any crime inside, such as rape or vandalism, is all that is required. It doesn’t even require that the crime be committed, only that the person intends to do so at the time he or she entered. This is a felony and is generally categorized as a violent crime, more serious than mere theft. This is because the entering creates a dangerous situation, the potential for violence. A homeowner or store owner or even a sales clerk may confront the burglar or vice versa. A shootout, fistfight, or other violent encounter may very well ensue. Mike Wallace once confronted a prosecutor as to why he sent a third strike burglar to prison for life by charging it as a felony when “all he did was steal a bicycle.” No, that’s not all he did, moron. He entered a closed garage to steal it. What if the homeowner had walked into the garage just then? Would the burglar have grabbed a crowbar or screwdriver and killed him? Stealing the bike was by itself nonviolent, but the burglar had a violent crime as one of his first two strikes, so he was prone to violence and this lethal scenario is all too possible. Stealing a bicycle from an outdoor rack in a public place is bad, but not nearly as likely to cause violence. Shoplifting can also be burglary, although it is also possible to steal from an outdoor display, which would be larceny. That’s why the term shoplifting isn’t generally used in criminal codes.

Robbery is the unlawful taking from another by force or threat of force. This is the most serious of the three crimes because of the force used and the fact that another person, a victim, is present. The chance of escalation to a deadly situation is the highest and most obvious here. Michael Brown, for example, committed robbery. The now-famous store video showed him clearly shoving the clerk (store owner?) who was trying to stop him from leaving without paying for the cigars. When the clerk tried a second time, 6’8″ Brown turned and started back at the man in a threatening manner. I don’t know what Missouri’s statutes say, but at common law this would be a robbery, a felony, for which the penalty would probably be death by hanging.

The Last Coyote by Michael Connelly

The Last Coyote (Harry Bosch, #4)The Last Coyote by Michael Connelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a big fan of the Harry Bosch series, so I decided to go back and read some of the early ones I had missed. This is number four. I really liked this one, but I don’t recommend it for others who are not already familiar with the character. There are two reasons for that. First, it starts off pretty slow, with Harry undergoing psychological counseling and evaluation while on suspension from the LAPD due an incident where he put his Lieutenant’s head through the glass of his office. The first murder case isn’t really introduced until some way in. Second, Harry is on his worst behavior, and generally is the least likeable he has been in any of the Bosch novels I’ve read so far. All his smoking in non-smoking areas would be enough to turn me against him if I wasn’t already a fan and suffice it to say he does a lot worse than that.

I do recommend it for those who already like Harry and the series. The best thing about them, for me at least, is the detailed descriptions of the procedures and quirks of the LAPD and its officers. You really feel like you’re right there, like you’re an insider. The author’s research is always impeccable. This particular book is important because it provides a lot of detail about Harry’s past and explains why he is how he is. The murders turn out to be mysterious enough to keep me guessing, too, so it is decent just as a mystery novel. The killings are all resolved at the end, although I thought the ending was just a bit too convenient. I listened to this one on audiobook format and the actor was excellent, as usual.

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Rant of the Week: Size 6-1/2 Shoes

I try to stay away from controversial topics, but sometimes I just have to vent. Today I may offend a significant portion of my readers, but someone has to do something about the size 6-1/2 shoe crisis, and if not me, then who?

Okay, I’ll admit I’m a freak of nature. I’m barely under six feet tall and have size six and a half shoes. Yes, that’s USA men’s size 6.5. I’ve never met another man or boy my height, or even close, who has feet anywhere near that small. The only guy of more or less normal size (at least two inches shorter than me, though) who had smaller feet that I ever met had a birth defect and was missing his toes and some fingers. So I’m going to be hard to fit, but unlike that guy, my feet are more or less normal in shape.

Think about it. Every man who has feet larger than my size at one point in his life had the same size feet I have. (A mathematician can prove that to you using terms like continuous curve and derivative.) That’s pretty much everybody, at least in jumbo-size America. So that must mean that there is a huge market for shoes that size and stores everywhere carry them, right?

Wrong! Stores never carry them. I can shop for shoes for months or even years without finding any I can wear. Suppose I’m looking for a pair of dress shoes. I wore a lot of those when I was in the FBI and when I was a lawyer. My encounter at a high-end shoe store would typically go like this:

Me: Hi. I'm looking for a pair of dress shoes.
Salesman: Here, let me show you our styles. They're all on display right over here.
Me: Yes, I've looked at them. Almost any of these (pointing) would be fine, but I have hard-to-fit feet. Why don't you just tell me what you have in size six and a half.
Salesman: (Awkward pause) Hmm, certainly. Let me just go take a look in back. (Ten minutes pass) I'm sorry, but we don't seem to have anything in stock right now. Here's the smallest ones we have of these models. (Displays two pair, both size seven and a half).
Me: No, I'm sorry, those are too big. I might try a size seven if you had a pair, but a full size too big won't work. Some sevens work, some don't.
Salesman: Maybe your feet have grown. As people age, their feet flatten out. Let me measure your feet. (Measures my feet). Hmm, six and half. Well, if you can wear a size seven, I'm sure I can special order some for you.
Me: Will I have to pay for them even if they don't fit? And how long will it take to get them?
Salesman: Yes you will. We can't return them. Maybe six weeks.
Me: Then I won't do that. Do you have catalogs? Can you look to see if there are any shoe models in men's six and a half?
Salesman: (takes fifteen minutes hauling out and looking through huge, hernia-inducing printed catalogs). Okay, here, I've found a pair. It's by Nunn-Bush and looks very professional. You'll like them.
Me: Okay, I'll special order them in size six and a half. (I give my name and number and he writes this up and promises to call me in a few weeks when they come in. After three months I call the store and ask if my order came in. That salesman no longer works there. I explain the situation to the guy on the phone and he tells me that order was put in but the company said they don't make shoes that small any longer. The smallest they makes now is seven and a half. He says they were going to call me but the guy who had my number quit.)

I’ve been through that scenario several times with different stores and different shoe manufacturers. None of them have the small sizes they show in their catalogs and websites, and almost none of them even pretend to make anything below seven and a half. I’ve even tried ordering size sevens and the same thing happened. It still happens when I order online directly from manufacturers. Now suppose I try a department store next. That always goes like this.

Me: Hi. I'm looking for some dress shoes in size six and a half.
Clerk: We don't carry anything under a seven and a half. Try the Boys' department.
Me: They never have anything over six.
Clerk: (shrugs). Can't help you then.
Me: (I go to the Boy's department anyway, hope triumphing over experience). Hi, I'm looking for a dress shoe in size six and a half.
Clerk: We don't carry anything over size six. Try the Men's Department.
Me: I just did. They don' t have anything that small.
Clerk: (shrugs) Hmm, well all we have are these Buster Browns in size six. You can try them on.
Me: (I try on cheapie shoes intended to be outgrown in six months). Ouch! No chance.
Clerk: (shrugs again). Can't help you then.

Somehow I managed to stay shod in professional-enough-looking shoes throughout my FBI and legal career. One pair I remember, size sevens, Sears actually had on the shelf. One big and tall and extra small store had one pair of size six and a half dress shoes in stock. They were brown (I was looking for black), had pointy Italian toes, were ugly as sin, and wouldn’t fit because they were too tight on my instep. I have a very high instep. Remember, I said I have more or less normal shaped feet, not completely normal. Most of the dress shoes I had I bought back in the 1960s or 70s when people weren’t so huge. There were enough small guys that some stores would carry size six and half. Sometimes I would find something, usually a casual shoe like desert boots, in my size. I could get away with those if I wore a sport coat instead of a suit. Whatever I found I would get resoled forever.

Now that I’m retired I wear casual shoes almost exclusively. I can’t find men’s running shoes or hiking boots in my size either, but I can buy women’s size eight and a half for those. You can’t tell the difference as long as I don’t choose the pink ones. There are even a few men’s shoes in my size: Converse All-Stars (Chuck Taylors), Clark’s Desert Boots, and Merrell suedes. I keep one pair of black dress shoes, the old Sears ones, I think, for the day one of my kids gets married.

I think the federal government should begin an investigation into the shoe-manufacturers’ conspiracy to deprive the pedically challenged of proper footwear. And don’t get me started about socks. You know what sizes those come in? Only two: 6 – 10 or 7 – 12, depending on the manufacturer. You’ve got to be kidding me! That’s like a bra manufacturer offering one size that fits everyone from 30A to 42DD.

If you ever see someone limping along in a charcoal gray suit and tiny brown Italian pointy-toed shoes with sock heels hanging out over the backs, that’s probably me on my way to a job interview.

Do you have the same problem? Feedback welcome here. Any other guy with my size feet, I’d love to hear your story. Contact me through this form.

Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman

Dry Bones in the ValleyDry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is all about atmosphere, an atmosphere that is somewhere between ambiance and stench. The meticulous detail in depicting life in rural Pennsylvania is what makes this story special. The unholy mix of hillbilly, Smalltown, USA, and elite summer camps and riding academies is thoroughly engaging. It’s really the story. The book purports to be a mystery, and there are a couple murders early on, which Henry, our hero, begins valiantly to solve. But, really, this isn’t a murder mystery per se. The murders are resolved at the end, but no Sherlockian analysis of the evidence will lead the astute reader to the solution. In the meantime, the author manages to keep the action going. Henry pinballs from shootout to standoff to being clonked over the head, all the time walking a tightrope between trying to do his duty and being a nice guy. Good luck with that, Henry. The actual plot is unimaginative, so just enjoy the brushwork and forget the landscape.

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