Monthly Archives: March 2019

When the News Went Live by Bob Huffaker et al.

When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963 by Bob Huffaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The authors were all on-the-scene reporters from television news station KLRD in Dallas who covered the assassination of President Kennedy and its aftermath. Most of the reviewers consider it a book about the assassination and the subsequent killing of Oswald and trial of Jack Ruby. It does give a first-hand, reliable, and professional account of all of those events, but that’s not what the book is about. It’s about journalism.

The events of that day were what really brought the American public to the world of TV news as their primary news source. Before that, people mainly relied on their local newspaper. This book describes in fascinating, sometimes excruciating, detail what it was like to be a television newsman in those days. I was amazed at how versatile they had to be: able to work any of several different cameras, both film and still, then develop, edit and splice the film, write copy timed to match the film, then record it, conduct good interviews, act as sound engineer, hold a boom mike for another reporter, serve as on-air “anchor”, report the weather or sports if needed, develop sources with the police, fire, emergency rooms, city hall and elsewhere. They did all this in a milieu of chaos and bedlam during those days and week in Dallas, 1963.

Another reviewer wrote that the book went “off the rails” near the end by getting bogged down in the overlong details of Ruby’s trial and appeal. I totally agree, but he also accurately pointed out the best part of the book, which is the final commentary by the four authors on how news in general and television news in particular has changed, and not for the better.

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Androgynous names

Saturday Night Live used to have a regular skit involving a character called Androgynous Pat. Pat’s hapless subordinate was constantly trying to figure out whether Pat was male or female, without success. I thought it would be fun to see which names are still androgynous and which new names that weren’t before are now. I compared census baby names data from 1947 and 2016. To be androgynous for my purposes the ratio between the sexes could not exceed 5 to 1. Here are top 30 names from each period ordered by the total number of babies with that name that year.

1947	     2016
Willie	     Avery
Lynn	     Riley
Leslie	     Parker
Lee	     Sawyer
Jackie	     Peyton
Marion	     Quinn
Johnnie	     Blake
Pat	     Hayden
Jessie	     Alexis
Jan	     Rowan
Billie	     Charlie
Dana	     Emerson
Robin	     Finley
Chris	     River
Gale	     Ariel
Frankie      Elliot
Tommie	     Eden
Guadalupe    Elliott
Kerry	     Dakota
Carroll	     Reese
Kim	     Remington
Laverne	     Amari
Mickey	     Phoenix
Sammie	     Harley
Gerry	     Rylan
Merle	     Dallas
Rene	     Skyler
Shelby	     Sage
Lupe	     Ellis
Lauren	     Rory

Most of these were not very balanced in the ratio of male to female. Among the top 30 of 1947, the most balanced were Leslie (almost exactly 1-to-1), Jessie, Jackie and Frankie. In 2016 it was Charlie, Justice (just missed the top 30 at #31), River and Skyler.

Very few of the 1947 top 30 were still androgynous in 2016. The only ones to make the list at all (not necessarily in the top 30) for 2016 were¬† Jackie, Marion, Jessie, and Kerry. That doesn’t mean babies in 2016 were no longer being named with those names, only that the ratio had become greater than 5-to-1. Conversely, the only two names in the top 30 androgynous names of 2016 that made the 1947 list at all were Eden and Rory.

Red Notice by Bill Browder

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for JusticeRed Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This true life thriller hit number one on the New York Times best seller list. It provides a well-written narrative of the story of how the author, Bill Browder, made millions investing in Russian stocks under the Yeltsin regime and when Putin and his thugs took over, managed to pull his investments out just in time before the assets were all stolen by the oligarchs. But the real story is what happened afterward. I don’t want to give spoilers but let’s just say what is revealed from the cover: it’s a tale of murder and one man’s fight for justice.

I knew nothing about this case before reading the book. The closest I’d come was hearing that Donald Trump, Jr. met with a Russian lawyer to get dirt on Hillary Clinton and the cover story had something to do with adopting Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, whatever that was. The 2016 election is not part of this book as all the significant events took place before that, but it is quite political toward the end and drags at times because of that. The first half could be a bit tighter, too, but all in all it was a very interesting and engaging read. It may change your views toward Russia and some Western European countries.

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The news in What3Words

From time to time I’ve used What3Words to gain insight into the news. See my previous post here, for example. It’s time to take another look. You’ll need to zoom out to get a better idea on most of these.

The recent college.exam.scandal took place here in northern California among other places. You wouldn’t expect a soap.opera.star like Lori Loughlin to live just outside Akron, Ohio, but the scandal is nationwide. As you probably know, a Texas tennis coach.took.money to “recruit” a student who didn’t play. He was quite.promptly.fired and exiled to Siberia. Lori’s daughter Olivia Jade, a young.video.star on YouTube should have been in Chicago, but instead was aboard the USC President’s yacht.sailing.throughout the seven seas when the scandal broke on how she got in to that “auspicious” institution.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The MoonstoneThe Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This Victorian classic is generally credited as being the first detective novel. The Moonstone is a large diamond of religious significance to certain Indians. Legend has it that a curse follows the gem. The story begins with a tale of the diamond having been wrested from India by a British military man. Eventually it is given to a lovely young Rachel Verinder as a birthday present. It goes missing that same night. Lurking about outside are some suspicious itinerant Indian jugglers. The occupants of the house include partygoers and family among the gentry and various servants, including one with a criminal background. The police are called and Sergeant Cuff, a renowned detective, is on the case. The book is a long one and many mysteries requiring solving: who took the gem and where is it now, who will win (or lose) Rachel’s affection, what about the paint smear? All of these and more are eventually solved. I did not guess the final solution to the main one of the diamond. The plot is well crafted and it is a fair mystery.

The cast of characters is large and the story is narrated by several of them in turns. I listened to it as an audiobook from Naxos. There are several versions now since the book is in the public domain; I can recommend this one. It is a long book, 17 disks, which is all the better if you are looking for something to keep you interested for a long drive or set of commutes. You may be taken aback by the blatant male chauvinism and class prejudice, but it merely reflects the views of its day. If you enjoy Downton Abbey or Upstairs, Downstairs, this won’t bother you. If you don’t, then you might want to rethink this choice, but I can tell you I’m no fan of Downton and still enjoyed this classic mystery.

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College admission cheating scandal

I read the FBI affidavit in the Boston part of the case and can correct some bad reporting out there. Most of the students did not know their parents were cheating for them. One poor slob did so much better on the SAT the second time (with the bribed proctor) he thought he’d gotten smarter and wanted to take it again. How must he feel now that he knows he is as dumb as he first thought? Many of the kids did know. Some were coached on answers during the exam. One didn’t even show up for the exam. Another showed up for only one day of the 2-day exam.

Some, maybe most, of the coaches did not take the bribes for their own personal enrichment. They had the checks made out to the school account for their athletic program. The money was then used for scholarships, equipment, expenses, etc. of the program. I’m not justifying it, but it’s not a whole lot different from a rich alumni donating a building and getting his child in that way, the so-called “legacy” students. In both cases, a deserving student is denied admission because of the clunker, but the school benefits in a way. I was surprised at how often the child ended up not attending, or not even applying to the college that was bribed. In one case the parent got Singer (the ringleader) to consider the half a million bucks a deposit on a future child.

Most of the publicity is about the two actresses, the celebrity effect, but the vast majority of the cheating parents weren’t famous. Many were real estate developers (sound familiar?) or entrepreneurs. Quite a few were here in the Bay Area: Palo Alto, Atherton, San Francisco.

Ruminations on earbuds and college admission cheating

I haven’t posted anything for a while, so I decided to share a random thought or two. I have a smart phone now, although it still seems like a foreign object to me. I don’t have earbuds. I tried earbuds back when the Sony Walkman and similar devices arose, but they were supremely uncomfortable, wouldn’t stay in my ears, and the sound quality was too poor for music, although adequate for audiobooks. So I am always mystified and a bit disappointed when I see people walking around or sitting in various places listening to something on their phones or iPods using earbuds instead of interacting with the world around them. However, I recently realized that earbuds are truly a boon to society. I’m now a big fan of earbuds. Why? Because they spelled the end of boom boxes. Yay!

I just watched the evening news where the top story was about the college entrance cheating scandal. It’s reprehensible what these people did, of course, but I can tell you what their defense is going to be: “We love our children and wanted the best for them. Is that so bad?” They will of course not mention anything about the children who earned a spot in those elite schools legitimately but were denied admission because of the scheme. The relative placement of these two subjects is not representative of their importance.

The Stranger in My Genes by Bill Griffeth

The Stranger in My Genes: A MemoirThe Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir by Bill Griffeth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author was talked into getting a DNA test by his cousin as they were both genealogy buffs looking to explore family history. The results came back showing his father, the man who raised him, was not his biological father, or so it seemed. His first reaction was denial. Then as he studied more about inheritance and DNA he understood that it might be true and there could be several explanations for it. I know of at least three.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. The least important one is that the author has the same name as my favorite uncle. I’m also a genealogy buff and have had my DNA done, with a surprise in store for me there. The author takes a long time getting to the meat of the story, but the book is generally well-written. The aspect that I found most compelling, if somewhat difficult for me to grasp, is how emotionally he took this revelation. It consumed him for years and tore him apart. Whom should he tell? Was it a lab error? Should he ask his 95-year-old mother about it? It seemed to me that it should not have been so surprising. If you don’t want to know that kind of information, don’t take a DNA test. There are multiple bold face warnings about this kind of thing on the testing company websites and instructions.

The other aspect that truly surprised me was how little he and his other relatives understood about DNA. The father gives a boy his Y Chromosome. Why is that so hard to understand? The author’s oversimplification of much of the DNA science was a disservice, too. This is really junior high science class stuff, but apparently it baffles and frightens a lot of people. The book gave me a sense of how deeply some people feel about their identity, or at least what they think of as their identity.

I have one warning. I listened to the audiobook that was produced by Silicon Valley Reads. It was an odd, rather amateurish production and the reader, while not bad, exactly, had an odd cadence that I found disconcerting, almost like he was reading to very small children. I suggest reading this one.

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