Monthly Archives: July 2020

The Rule of Five by Richard J. Lazarus

The Rule of Five: Making Climate History at the Supreme CourtThe Rule of Five: Making Climate History at the Supreme Court by Richard J Lazarus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the best book I’ve read this year, but then I’m a lawyer who even had a case go to the U.S. Supreme Court. (I won). The tiniest details from big strategy to word-by-word drafting of briefs and petitions are all set forth here. It’s fascinating to anyone who cares about the role of the Supreme Court, the internal politics of any large public interest group (in this case the “Carbon Dioxide Warriors”), presidential betrayal (by both parties), the personalities of the best and most influential lawyers in the country.

The book chronicles how those environmentalists seeking EPA regulation of greenhouse gases met and overcame obstacles at every step, winning a stunning Supreme Court victory. The environmentalists (“petitioners” in legal jargon) consisted of dozens of interest groups including various states, environmental groups like the Sierra Club, and some green industry companies. Their opponents were the EPA itself (forced by presidential or vice-presidential pressure), automotive and oil industry interest groups and others.

The book is well-written and easily understood by laymen. It’s not about climate science. That’s well-settled, despite interest groups or individuals who don’t want to admit it. It’s about what it takes to win a case in the Supreme Court. There’s also just the right amount of biography about the many lawyers who are a part of the story. Make no mistake: the skill and experience of a lawyer is critical to winning a major case and there are many top notch lawyers in this one. Unfortunately, they didn’t always see eye-to-eye and some friendships were broken by the disagreements.

You might not think the verbiage of a legal brief is likely to be interesting reading, but you’d be wrong. One small example that delighted me was when the final draft of the petitioners’ brief was circulated to the dozens of interested parties, a last minute change was made to a quote from The Three Musketeers. The original sentence in the brief quoted Cardinal Richelieu speaking in an arrogant and clearly unlawful fashion as a comparison to the EPA’s conduct. One of the reviewers allowed that the quote could remain, but insisted it needed to be attributed to Dumas, the author of the book, rather than Richelieu, the character, so as to avoid offending the Supreme Court justices who were Catholic. Six of the current justices are now Catholic, by the way, and the other three are Jewish. Whatever happened to WASPs being in power? Anyway, a single word change could make a difference. I remember how I agonized over every sentence when I wrote my appellate brief. For me, this was a fascinating read.

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Do women voluntarily submit to male dominance?

I hear misogynistic lyrics in songs sometimes and I wonder if the women singers themselves promote a submissive attitude among women and girls, especially toward domineering or even cruel men.  I don’t listen to modern pop music. My idea of rock music ended about 1968. I do know that many rap songs refer to women in demeaning or even obscene ways and even suggest violence, but I believe this theme existed long before rap, although in a milder form.

Take for example:
Johnny Get Angry by Joanie Sommers.  Sample lyrics:
Give me the biggest lecture I ever had
I want a brave man, I want a cave man
Let me know that you’re the boss

A Fool in Love by Tina Turner
You know you love him, you can’t understand
Why he treats you like he do when he’s such a good man

(Walk) Back to Your Arms – Tami Neilson
No matter what you say or do or
What kinda hell you gonna put me through
I’m gonna walk … Back to Your Arms

Chain of Fools – Aretha Franklin
You got me where you want me
I ain’t nothin’ but your fool
Ya treated me mean
Oh you treated me cruel

These are but a sample. Why do women promote this attitude? The first one was written by men, but the female singers were authors of the latter two. I believe it’s unfair for women to put all the blame on men for this mindset. Of course, men are guilty of it, too. For example:

Under My Thumb by the Rolling Stones
That’ll be the Day by Buddy Holly
I Got a Woman by Ray Charles

You can look up the lyrics to these yourself, or just listen to the songs to see what I mean. Except for Johnny Get Angry they’re all on my playlist. I can enjoy them as music without subscribing to the lyrics.


Gone by Midnight by Candice Fox

Gone by Midnight (Crimson Lake, #3)Gone by Midnight by Candice Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ted is a disgraced ex-cop once accused wrongfully of pedophilia, now working as a private eye in a tough, out-of-the-way town in Australia’s northeast coast. When a boy goes missing at a hotel, he is hired by the boy’s mother to find him. His assistant Amanda is a bizarre, near clairvoyant pistol of an ex-con who despises children. Of course she ends up having to babysit Ted’s li’l darling who is visiting while his ex-wife goes on a lark.

The mystery is well-done and kept me guessing. Ted sounds like every other ex-cop private eye populating mystery novels, but sometimes formulas just work. There is a subplot involving Amanda and a vindictive female cop to add some tension. The overall plot and characters are somewhat too cookie cutter (“derivative” if you’re an artsy-fartsy reviewer) but the writing is rather better than the story line, full of those things you studied in English but never quite remembered like metaphors, similes, and the like. Quite clever ones, too.

The setting is on the rough side, and so is the voice and accent of the reader for the audiobook, yet he was an excellent voice actor and perfect for the story. The roughness camouflaged the sophistication of the style, if not the plot. The ending was all too predictable and unsatisfying in my view, at least once the mystery was solved, but all in all I enjoyed the book. It is #3 in a series, so you might want to start with one of the earlier books.

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Cliff Knowles Mysteries – free

Most of you know by now that I write the Cliff Knowles Mysteries and that they can be downloaded free from my Cliff Knowles website. I recently checked the logs and found that they have been downloaded more than 13,000 times since last April when I first made them free. Here’s a graph of how many downloads there have been. The books are in chronological order.


I think the reason Cold Case doesn’t have so many is because it was published only six months ago, well after I first publicized the fact all the Cliff Knowles books are freely available. I think a lot of people downloaded them all at that time. So if you didn’t get the word, feel free to add Cold Case to your collection now. I hope to have another one out before the end of the year.

The graph does not include sales or free promotional downloads from Amazon. Also, The Cryptic Crossword Caper is a cozy mystery and not part of the Cliff Knowles series.

Firestorm at Peshtigo by Denise Gess and William Lutz

Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American HistoryFirestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History by Denise Gess
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This serious, scholarly, non-fiction book recounts the story of the deadliest forest fire in recorded human history. The first two-thirds of the books describes the significant community members and their lifestyle in the late 1800s. The Wisconsin town thrived on lumbering and a huge woodenware factory which provided jobs and brought income to the area. At the same time, immigrants from northern Europe were arriving in droves and clearing land by burning. This set of factors, combined with a long drought, created the perfect conditions for the fire. This early part of the book holds some historical interest, but the meat of the book lies in the detail of the fire and its aftermath. The authors chronicle the destruction and death in brutally vivid prose, rather more than is necessary. After reading a few accounts of people exploding while running from the flames, of children smothered under their dead mothers’ bodies, and so forth, I skipped to the aftermath portion. Although it was historical in size and scope, the story is little different from what we hear on the news every year here in Northern California. While there is nothing really wrong with the writing or scholarship, unless you are a student of fires, this book is not particularly entertaining or engaging.

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Oscar winners by age

It seems hard to find upbeat things to post about these days, so I decided to focus on the movies. Today’s graph combines my love of movies with my interest in playing with data and a tad of social awareness about ageism and sexism in Hollywood. The graph show the ages of the winners of the Best Actress and Best Actor throughout Oscar history. The disparity between men and women is obvious. I’ve added labels identifying some of the notable highs and lows. Click on the image to enlarge.

Best Actor/Actress age at time of winning

The average age difference is just over seven years, if you want a number.

Best Friends Forever by Margot Hunt

Best Friends ForeverBest Friends Forever by Margot Hunt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story centers around Alice, a somewhat meek math-teacher-cum-stay-at-home-mom, and her best friend (hence the title) Kat, a fabulously wealthy, hard-drinking, outrageous socialite. The first two-thirds of the book are almost entirely anecdotes of Kat convincing or browbeating Alice into drinking bouts, luxurious holidays, etc. There are some stretches of exposition here and there giving some background on other characters, especially the husbands of both and a few other relatives, but after the first four or five chapters you can pretty much skip liberally and not miss much, although there is a murder and an investigation begins somewhere around Chapter 18. At Chapter 23, one of the two gets arrested for murder. My inner self exclaimed “Finally! Something actually happened”). In other words, it was boring up to that point.

I can squeeze out a three star rating primarily because the prose was readable and kept me interested enough to finish it, but my final reaction was one of disappointment largely because the author’s earlier work For Better and Worse was excellent, so I expected more. The ending of this one wasn’t something I foresaw, but it wasn’t something that surprised me, either. Since none of the characters was likeable, it seemed quite possible the author could pick anyone to be the murderer. The gratuitous information at the end about other deaths besides the central one in the story left a sour taste in my mouth, too. TMI.

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Covid deaths per county (per capita) 6/30/2020

Back in April I posted a pair of maps showing the increase in California Covid-19 cases over a one-week period on a county-by-county basis. I chose to use death statistics rather than case statistics because of the confusion and politics surrounding raw numbers and testing. Today I’m again using deaths, not cases, for the same reason, but this current map is of deaths per county on a per capita basis since I believe that is more useful than total deaths. The data is from the New York Times, which is updated daily, as of June 30, 2020. Click on the map to enlarge.