Monthly Archives: November 2021

Roe v. Wade revisited

This week the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments on a case that could result in the landmark ruling Roe v. Wade being overturned. I hope it is not overturned. Let me explain why.

First let me make clear that I don’t like abortion. I don’t think anyone does. I don’t think those who believe it is immoral, tantamount to baby-killing, are unreasonable people or fanatics. I used to believe that, too. It wasn’t until I fully understood how insignificant man is in the universe and how we are, like all other living creatures, just following the instincts preprogrammed into us by natural selection to protect our young that drives that view. Our fetuses, like our adult selves, are just bags of molecules.

But you don’t have to approve of abortion to want Roe to remain the law. You can be pro-life. This is because Roe actually creates lives and brings babies into the world that wouldn’t have been born otherwise. How? you ask. Two of my grandchildren were born through the use of surrogates. The surrogates who bore them were not right-to-lifers. In other words, they weren’t willing to die if there was a medical problem with the pregnancy; they demanded the right to save their own lives by having an abortion. Since this is Texas I’m talking about, that would not have been possible had it not been for Roe. Because of Roe, the contracts giving them that right were valid and enforceable. Fortunately, so far as I know, abortion never became necessary and never was considered. No babies, or fetuses, if you prefer, had to die for my grandchildren to be born, but Roe was absolutely necessary. People who can’t give birth themselves should have the joy of parenthood, the joy of their own child with Grandma’s dimples or Grandpa’s oversized feet, of Dad’s innate musical talent, not someone else’s child. The law should remain as it is.

Thanksgiving – Bah, humbug!

Don’t take that title too seriously. I am thankful for all the good things in my life. I have a wonderful family (certain not-so-immediate members excluded), good health other than a bit of arthritis, financial security, and live in a great neighborhood with many cultural advantages and superb weather. My kids and grandkids all seem to have a bright future. I have nothing against gathering with family and friends and celebrating. My humbug refers only to the meal.

The main problem is too many people and too many dishes. First you seat eight or ten people. I’ve been at some where the number is as high as fifteen. Then the dishes: turkey white meat, turkey dark meat, stuffing A, stuffing B, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, jellied cranberry sauce, cranberry relish, green salad, rolls, butter, peas, roast vegetables, fruit salad, wine, water, sparkling cider. Inevitably somebody starts passing things the wrong direction. Some things just get waylaid and don’t make it all the way around. It takes ten minutes (if you’re lucky) to get all the food passed around. Then there’s grace to be said and then a prayer or minute of remembrance – another three to five minutes gone. Some celebrations I’ve been at require each of the dozen or so people to recite what they’re thankful for. So fifteen minutes after the food has landed on your plate, you’re entitled to begin eating it. By then it’s cold. Cold mashed potatoes and coagulated gravy. Yum.

Then there’s the food itself. There’s almost nothing I like until the pies come out. I can’t stand stuffing or the cranberry relish or sauce with the whole berries. Cold turkey white meat makes good sandwiches because you can slather something with flavor on the bread like mayonnaise or peanut butter (both in my case) but the meat itself is tasteless and unappealing, especially when sitting cold on a plate. The dark meat has a detectable flavor, but it’s not particularly good. I dislike sweet potato. If someone brings Brussels sprouts, those won’t hit my plate. The salads are okay and the peas and roast vegetables would be, too, if hot, but not cold. I usually eat a buttered roll, a few bites of the salads and pick at some turkey until it’s time for dessert and that’s it. I’m still hungry at the end of the meal proper. I don’t understand all the jokes about people being stuffed and sleepy with tryptophan. But I make up for it with the pies. I’m shameless about grabbing a big piece of pumpkin and a big mince or berry or apple wedge, whatever’s there. At least two pieces. And lots of whipped cream on the pumpkin pie.

Happy Thanksgiving.

What3Words Literary Game/Contest

For those of you who enjoy tinkering with the location site (W3W) as I do and enjoys solving puzzles, I have a challenge for you. I’m also providing you a chance to win $100.  This is just for fun. There are no strings, no ads, and I’m not promoting anything, although I hope What3Words gets adopted more widely in the United States.

Here’s the challenge: find a series of consecutive words in a work of literature such that every overlapping triplet in the sequence has a valid W3W location associated with that triplet. Post your finds in the comments. If anyone has found a valid sequence that’s longer than mine by New Year’s Day, 2022, the longest such sequence wins the $100. Here’s the longest I’ve found so far:

“…wrong, “that people should never marry until they loved each other better than brothers…”
(from The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper, chapter 28). 14 words

You can try your hand at this just for fun, and I hope you do, but if you are after the prize, here are some rules:

  1. The sequence must be from a piece of recognized literature such as a novel, poem, essay, etc. published before 1960 and verifiable from a public source such as, Google Books, etc. You must cite the source.
  2. The triplets that overlap, e.g. wrong.that.people, that.people.should, etc. in my example, must all be valid locations, Other combinations from the sequence (e.g. people.never.loved) do not need to be valid. There are 12 valid overlapping triplets in my example.
  3. No duplicate or repeated triplets are allowed. I don’t want “never,never,never,never,…”
  4. No hyphenated words allowed unless they form one valid word without the hyphen, and then that’s a single word, not two. E.g. patch-work is the one word patchwork. Contractions that form single words don’t count. E.g. Shed (as in tool shed) is valid but not she’d.
  5. If I find a longer sequence than the one above, I’ll post it in the comments. You still have to beat that.
  6. Payment will be direct through PayPal. If you don’t have a PayPal account, find someone you trust who does to receive it for you. Alternatively, if you’re local (Silicon Valley more or less), I’ll treat us both to lunch, along with a plus one for you if desired, up to a total of $100. Your choice.
  7. In case of tie for longest, the first one to post in the comments wins, but a tie with me doesn’t count.


Holmes trial – a risky defense strategy

The defense team has cross-examined several investors in Theranos. They’ve taken opposite tacks for two of them. At least they’re opposite in one way, although similar in another. The similar part is blame the victim. What I’m more interested in is what they are blaming the victim for.

For some investors the cross-examination has been mostly about the investor’s lack of due diligence. The defense brings out all the things the investor could have done and didn’t before investing, like checking with medical experts, etc. They’re basically setting up the argument that the loss wasn’t due to Holmes but was due to the investors’ failures to take these obvious steps. With a recent witness, Brian Grossman, the prosecutor cleverly brought out a good deal of investigation and due diligence Grossman had done. For example, he had tried to contact people at Walgreen’s and United Health who reportedly had partnered with Theranos. He said that Sunny Balwani had cut him off, telling him that would undermine the reputation or good relationship Theranos had with those companies. He did find some red flags but invested anyway. The defense confronted him with that fact. Grossman’s reply was great: yes, I had to rely solely on the representations by Elizabeth and Sunny. Still the defense may have made some short-term points with the jury by making him and all investors look like greedy rich people who knew the risks.

Where this becomes dangerous for the defense is in final arguments. This leaves an opening for the government to point out that the defense blames the investors whether they try to investigate or don’t. In short, the argument goes, the defense is saying it’s impossible to defraud an investor, no matter what the lies. If the investor is stupid enough to invest in our company, they deserve to lose. It can’t be crime to cheat rich people, in other words. That clearly can’t be the law or common sense. The prosecution can point out that many of these investors were funds with the money of some ordinary people, or were companies whose shares are held in mutual funds invested by pension funds, 401k’s and IRA’s. In other words, the investment victims aren’t all greedy rich people, but ordinary workers.

This idea is important and has been expanded by the prosecution’s next witness: a woman who had no health insurance and used the Theranos test machine at a drug store for her blood test, only to be told, inaccurately, that she was positive for HIV. She’s a victim and definitely not rich. Every juror can sympathize with her.

Holmes trial getting interesting

I spent this morning watching the Elizabeth Holmes trial and it’s the most interesting day yet. The witness on the stand was a feisty Alan Eisenman, who was part of an investor group from Houston that put money into Theranos in 2006. He was in a battle of wits and will with Downey, the defense lawyer. Downey was winning.

I didn’t hear the direct examination testimony, but it was clear that the gist of it was that the Houston group invested based on representations by Holmes and Balwani that were later shown to be untrue. Under cross, Eisenman did well at first, resisting Downey’s attempts to put words in his mouth. For example, Eisenman had repeatedly asked for financial information from Holmes over a period of months or even years without getting what he wanted. Holmes would keep emailing back that she could not provide the information he requested and she was getting frustrated at his continued requests. Downey showed him an email that said as much and asked if he understood that Holmes was frustrated. He replied, “I understood that she was hiding something.” So far so good.

But as the cross dragged on, Eisenman became more and more belligerent and refused to acknowledge even the most obvious things, things in print right in front of him in emails he’d received. For example, there was one email from 2015 in which Balwani tells Eisenman that investing in a biotech startup is inherently risky and that Eisenman had acknowledged that. Downey asked him if he remembers receiving that. Eisenman kept refusing to answer directly and instead just kept saying “It’s a lie. That contradicts everything he’d told me before that,” or words to that effect. Downey then showed him a form Eisenman had signed at the time of his initial investment where he acknowledges that risk. Eisenman’s response was that it was boilerplate that all startup offerings say, but that that is not what Holmes and Balwani told them. It took five or ten minutes of verbal wrangling before he finally acknowledged that he did receive that email and did sign that form. His credibility was badly damaged, and, surprise, surprise, the wrangling caused yet more unexpected delays.

During the break the lawyers argued about Eisenman’s notes from the time he first met Holmes. The defense had subpoenaed them, but they hadn’t yet been made an exhibit or entered into evidence. The witness turned the forty pages over to the court clerk when ordered by the judge and the lawyers examined them during the break, When they came back the defense wanted to cross-examine the witness about why there were two colors of ink on one page. The prosecutor argued that that line of questioning should be out because the defense was trying to imply that the witness had altered the notes later when there was no basis in fact for that. The judge seemed to feel it didn’t make much difference because the notes weren’t in evidence and all that matters is what the witness testified to, even if he did use the notes to refresh his recollection. As usual, the judge didn’t seem able to make a quick ruling and deferred the issue. After break the cross-examination resumed and it was more sparring. The witness looked even worse when the defense brought out another document showing that even after Eisenman had been complaining about being shut out by Holmes, he still invested more money in 2013.

Redshirts by John Scalzi

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This spoof of Star Trek is premised on the idea that the characters in the show somehow become real people in the future and their fates are controlled by the narrative of the original TV series from centuries earlier. The extras who normally are the ones whose minor characters often get killed in the TV show become real people dying horrendous deaths in the future. In the show, those characters usually wear red shirts, a well-known TV trope, hence the title. The central group of four or five characters in the future begin to realize that they are being controlled by the TV narrative and decide to do something about it.

Of course it’s a silly plot with nothing making scientific or common sense, but I knew that going in. The writing is fairly witty and the plot moves along rapidly enough. If you’re looking for serious sci-fi, or serious anything, stay away from this one, but if you’re open to passing some time for just a chuckle now and then, this will work. It really is just a one-joke act, though, so don’t expect too much.

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Elizabeth Holmes trial – more comments

I’m still not attending the trial in person, but I’ve read some detailed reports of the last few days. They spur me to comment on the prosecution’s strategy; in short, it’s risky. The government chose to indict both Holmes and Balwani on eleven counts. Two are conspiracy counts and the rest are wire fraud.

This means they have to introduce evidence on each of those counts more or less like a minitrial. For example, If Holmes held a meeting with investors A, B, and C the government must bring in A, B, and C, or their financial advisers, to testify what each heard her say and what documents or slides were presented and that they relied on those statements or documents. This means the jurors have to hear three different people, maybe more, verify the same twenty slides, emails or oral statements. This becomes repetitive.

Worse, the AUSA doesn’t just hand the document to the witness (while the jurors see a copy on a screen) and ask them if this is a display at that meeting. They have chosen to introduce every such document or statement by reading it into the record slowly. For example,

"Mr. Jones, you've already testified that this document was presented by Ms. Holmes."
"That's right"
"Do you see the highlighted line in the middle of the page that says [blah, blah]"

The prosecutors apparently do not trust the jurors to actually read the thousands of documents, so they feel they have to force them to get every word by reading them out loud, including the same ones over and over. This is overkill. It is necessary to a point because the judge could dismiss counts if evidence is not represented on each element of each count. But the jurors are going bat shit crazy bored. That last dismissed juror was playing Sudoku during testimony. I’m sure many of the others have tuned out. They may resent the prosecutors for putting them through this, although the defense is just as wordy. The only bright note I see is that Judge Davila has finally decided to go five days a week. It’s about time. I’ll venture a guess that he’s going to have to sequester them before the evidence portion is over.

There is good reason to bring multiple counts; several reasons, in fact. For one thing, sentencing in white collar cases is very strongly determined by dollar loss (or ill-gotten gains). More victims means more money shown to have been lost. But once the scale of the largest three or four victims’ losses are known, the rest really doesn’t matter for sentencing. A more important reason is to give jurors a way to compromise. If there are jurors who think she’s guilty but harbor sympathies for her and are dragging their feet, the majority can persuade them by agreeing to convict her of only two or three counts to let her off easy, even though the judge has instructed them they cannot take into account sentencing. Jurors don’t realize that such a compromise doesn’t have the effect they think. The judge can take into account the total dollar loss or other factors (e.g. mental anguish to a victim) during sentencing for counts that did not result in a conviction as long as there was sufficient evidence introduced. In other words, the conviction may be for counts 1 and 2, but the sentence could be for all eleven counts. Yet another reason for the multiple counts is to make it clear that the misstatements weren’t just an occasional mistake but constituted a persistent pattern of lies. Even so, the prosecution should have culled its evidence more strictly as they realized this judge was going to drag things out. They’ve risked losing the jury both in the sense of loss of attention and loss of alternates that could result from more extensions. Every day that passes increases the chance that some emergency or misconduct could cause the loss of another juror.

Anagrams on the News

I used to post anagrams on the news here pretty regularly, but since I was recruited to be a regular reporter for The Anagram Times, I usually just post them there. It has higher circulation. Here are a few I’ve submitted there in recent months. Links to the original published news story can be found on the Anagram Times pages. Those are worth visiting for the graphics. Anu Garg finds some quite funny or illustrative ones.

No toilet, SpaceX crew using diapers = XO: “We use nice rectal disposing trap”

The racists next door: Odinshof = So ex-Nordic host finds hate. Rot!

Astronauts made space tacos = Man cuts aerospace tostadas

Kyle Rittenhouse trial opens = a protest, intense hour likely

Trump’s TRUTH Social = Trump’s lost haircut

Human remains found in Laundrie case = Maniac louse finished? A man run under?

Colin Powell: Remembering the man and his love for America = Gentleman, firmer commander, inviolable hero. How special!

California mom hosted teen sex parties = Pederast minx, i.e. “social” mother, not safe

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversStiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This exploration of what happens to human cadavers is both grisly and entertaining. At least at times it is interesting and educational, although it is not for the weak of constitution. Roach approaches the subject by visiting a wide variety of institutions including morgues, hospitals, medical schools, mortuaries, research facilities, and military bases. She’s interviewed people at all of those and well beyond including transplant surgeons and highway patrolmen. She also explored much of the literature on the subject going back as far as the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The scientific and medical part wasn’t hard to take; neither was the mortuary and funeral business end. But when it got to accounts of medical experimentation in centuries past that could only be described as torture, it got to be time to skip a chapter or two. Roach is often witty with a dark sense of humor, though mostly respectful on the subject, but some, especially those of a religious bent, will find it offensive at times. It’s not all on human cadavers, either. Animal experimentation is included and is among the most stomach-turning. Be warned.

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