Monthly Archives: January 2020

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect PredatorsCatch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had a hard time rating this five stars because it’s not a fun read – or in my case, fun to listen to, since I heard the audiobook read by the author. The subject matter is awful stuff. But the story is so important it must be read and heeded. The book in excruciating detail lays out the cases of woman after woman being raped and sexually molested by serial rapists in powerful positions. The guilty men are on the political right and left – Harvey Weinstein (big Hillary contributor) and Matt Lauer (“liberal press”), AMI (the National Enquirer) and Donald Trump on the right. Perhaps more frightening is that people around them knew full well what was going on and were in a position to stop it, but turned a blind eye to protect their careers or company profits. If it were only one or two cases I might be somewhat skeptical, but the book recounts interview after interview, totaling over a hundred, and even includes the recording of Weinstein’s voice admitting to his repeated molestation of women made by one of his victims. The companies engaged in the massive witness intimidation and cover up effort include NBC, AMI, the David Boies law firm, and, of course The Weinstein Company and Miramax. Les Moonves of CBS also took a hit, although that wasn’t something Farrow uncovered, but it shows the problem is industry-wide and probably exists almost everywhere. The women who resisted the predators or reported the assaults were blackballed from the industry and usually slut-shamed with all sorts of false rumors and accusations. Don’t view this merely as sleazy tabloid stuff. This is a book about organized crime by powerful people. You may be sitting on a jury someday. You need to know that this stuff really does happen and how awful it is.

The author reads very well. There is no doubt he is a bit of a prima donna, but he not only reads with excellent dramatic technique, he also does foreign accents very well, giving life to some colorful characters like the Israeli security guys who tailed him. The book would be a better book without his repeated interjection of his love life with his boyfriend. That really did make it seem like tabloid fare and detracted from the serious journalism in it.

View all my reviews

Secondhand by Adam Minter

Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage SaleSecondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This very readable non-fiction exploration of the world of reuse, repurpose and sharing is both meaningful and enjoyable. Want to know where that old iPhone you donated to Goodwill ended up? Find out here. Learn why importers in Ghana or India like Canadian fashion clothes better than American ones. See why well-intentioned laws pushed by Greenpeace actually harm the environment and are arguably racist. Discover the complexities of the rag business. I found it all fascinating. Minter writes well. He brings to life a number of colorful characters and reveals how some unlikely spots around the globe are important to the secondhand business, places like Missisauga, Ontario; Petaling Jaya, Malaysia; Newark, New Jersey; Lebanon, Tennessee; and Agbogbloshie, Ghana. Here you can learn the difference between an antique, a collectible, and junk. Find out the devious tricks manufacturers use to make it difficult or impossible to fix their products, thus forcing people to buy new ones, and how enterprising entrepreneurs are defeating those techniques.

Minter’s first book, Junkyard Planet, dealt with recycling and waste disposal. This does not, except a bit tangentially. It is all about how things after a first use can be, and often are, acquired and put to a second use, or even third and fourth and fifth. This book will appeal to those who are environmentally conscious and those who just like to learn new stuff not written about elsewhere.

View all my reviews

Baby Names: Democratic Hopefuls

I haven’t done a baby name analysis for a while, so I thought I’d check to see if any of the Democratic hopefuls have inspired a naming trend. Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration data sets only go through 2018, so it is unsurprising that the answer is no. The charts below illustrate the point. I only checked the five leading candidates. I checked Joseph, Peter, and Bernard in addition to the more popular names shown in the charts, but the trends were mostly the same. Oddly, both Joe and Pete had a resurgence around 1960 and then a steady downward trend, while Joseph and Peter peaked again in 1980, but then also fell off in steady decline. For what it’s worth, Donald, Hillary, and Nancy all have failed to show any significant increase during 2014 – 2018. However, Hillary and Melania both showed spikes in popularity when those women became first lady. The same did not happen with Michelle, although her name was always much more popular than either of the other two.

Note: different graphs are not to scale. Use Maximum popularity numbers to assess actual popularity. In case you’ve been living in a cave, the names represent Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar. The order is not indicative of anything.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark MatterDark Matter by Blake Crouch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The plot of Dark Matter explores familiar territory for any Sci-fi fan: the doppelganger or evil twin trope. The idea of two identical or nearly identical appearing people co-inhabiting the same world and interfering with the life of the other by impersonating them or unintentionally being mistaken for them goes back centuries. Twelth Night by Shakespeare is the earliest one I remember. I did a search online and immediately got a website that lists the 30 best films with twins or doppelgangers. That means there are even more than 30, although not all are science fiction. I can think of Twilight Zone and Star Trek episodes that did it too, not to mention many sci-fi books. So Crouch gets zero points for originality.

The beginning is well-written and exciting as Jason is attacked and kidnapped, not understanding what is going on. [mild spoiler warning – but this is early stuff you’ll learn soon if you read it]. He wakes up in a strange lab where everyone knows him, but he knows none of them. He’s a physicist who in this new world has supposedly won a prestigious prize, but he knows that instead he is merely a physics professor at a mediocre Midwest college. Crouch then leads us to understand that Jason has been subjected to quantum superposition, in effect inhabiting another world, one of the infinite number of possible worlds that exist simultaneously. It seems he, or the alternate version of him, invented a machine that can put objects or people in such a multiverse state. The rest of the book involves Jason trying to figure out what happened to him, why, and how to get back to his old life. The book became more tedious and implausible as it went on. I listened to the audiobook, which had a good reader, but all in all I found it unsatisfying. As I said at first – it’s well-explored territory and there are no new ideas here. Recursion, a later work by this author, has a very similar plot, only in that one, it’s time travel, not quantum superposition. This one is somewhat better written than that one, but that’s the best I can say for it.

View all my reviews

Beat to Quarters by C.S. Forester

Beat to QuartersBeat to Quarters by C.S. Forester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this and loved it in the 1970s and it was just as good this time around. This is the first Horatio Hornblower novel, although later novels were set earlier in his life as a Midshipman and Lieutenant. Here Hornblower is the captain of an English frigate circa 1803. He is sent around Cape Horn to Central America on the Pacific side to assist El Supremo, a local despot who is trying to free his natives from Spanish rule since England and Spain are at war. The idea is to stop the flow of gold and other riches from the New World and Asia that is funding the Spanish war effort. A Spanish ship of the line is patrolling the waters and Hornblower’s tiny Lydia must take on the larger Natividad.

The book is not for the squeamish. There’s plenty of grisly naval warfare, not to mention descriptions of shockingly harsh living conditions and discipline aboard the ship, but the attention to detail is amazing, and very convincing. It’s astounding to think what men went through to amass and protect the British Empire. I found it refreshingly free of political correctness. The author writes in terms appropriate for the day – terms like Dago and Negress abound, and women are treated as incompetent children needing a man’s protection, or at least that’s the mindset of all the men at first. I especially like the ongoing theme of intelligence and good moral character prevailing over evil and brutality. Everything a captain needed to consider and plan for in those days is mind-blowing.

View all my reviews

TH1RT3EN by Steve Cavanagh

TH1RT3ENTH1RT3EN by Steve Cavanagh
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I only read 53 pages of this before I couldn’t take it any longer. I’d give it 1 star based on what I read, but it might have gotten better later on, so I’ll give it another for the benefit of the doubt. Every character in the book is a fantasy supernatural being. The main character is a defense lawyer who refuses to represent guilty clients. There is no such creature. That would be like an emergency room physician who refuses to treat sick or injured people. When I was in law school a criminal defense lawyer – a true believer in civil liberties, etc. – told our class that 98% of his clients “told me a guilty story and most of the other 2% were lying to me.” Another major character is a serial killer who is also a master actor, mimic, skilled makeup artist, accomplished hacker, and all-around genius. He is also willing to change his body weight and break his nose and his arm in order to accomplish his murders. I was in the FBI for 25 years and found that every serial killer was pretty much just a thug. Most of them were stupid although a few were skilled con men and some were good at avoiding detection by operating at night with masks, gloves, etc. In addition to that, the lawyer character was unethical as the opening scene proved, so I couldn’t get behind him from the beginning.

View all my reviews