Monthly Archives: July 2022

Deep Water by Emma Bamford

Deep WaterDeep Water by Emma Bamford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book, but perhaps not for the same reasons as most other reviewers who did. I found the descriptions of life aboard a sailboat to be the best part of the book. The sense of adventure, romance, and self-reliance are evoked very eloquently. The author obviously knew a great deal about boats and sailing and I loved that part of it. I used to devour Horatio Hornblower books, reveling in the minutiae of all that was necessary to know in order to sail and stay safe. She conveyed the danger and uncertainties that go along with that lifestyle just as well. It reminded me of the old saw that the two best days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys it and the day he sells it.

On the other hand, I did not get the sense of foreboding or suspense that the cover blurb and many reviewers mention. It seemed like a pretty nice travelogue for the first two-thirds of the book, a vacation in a tropical paradise. Even when things start to go wrong, you get the sense that they’re fixable. Another detraction was that the two main characters aren’t very likeable, or at least, not very sympathetic. They make some very bad decisions. In fact, none of the characters were particularly likeable. When you don’t care much what happens to the characters, it’s hard to maintain a sense of suspense.

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Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but I also felt it really should have been two books. In a way it was. One book is the saga of Marion Stone, the narrator, the illegitimate son of a nun in Ethiopia. He is raised in a hospital there along with his identical twin brother Shiva. Marion becomes a surgeon. The story of his family, his career, the lives and trials and tribulations of his extended hospital family are engaging and beautifully told. The book is worth it for that alone.

The second book is really a collection of medical stories, many no doubt true, perhaps some experienced by the author, a surgeon, or read about, and others probably imagined. These are fascinating and equally enjoyable, at least for me. My one complaint is that they were crammed into one book instead of two. The book is too long, and the plot of the saga is convoluted too often in order to fit in some unusual medical tidbit or suspenseful life-saving surgery. There’s a limit as to how many times I can suspend my disbelief. Even so, I can recommend the book.

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Cold Snap by Marc Cameron

Cold Snap (Arliss Cutter, #4)Cold Snap by Marc Cameron
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two stars may seem like a put-down, but in the Goodreads systems, that’s labeled as “It was OK.” I don’t have major complaints about the book or its style beyond the fact that I just couldn’t get into it. I got halfway through before I realized I was reading it out of a sense of obligation rather than enjoyment. You know, I’ve checked it out from the library and I chose it, so I should be reading it. I had trouble following all the different characters and plots that didn’t seem to be connected. The opening scene was great, but then that was dropped from the plot. Apparently it was just a hook. So I gave up and stopped halfway through.

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Acquitted Conduct Sentencing

In my last post I mentioned that Holmes could be sentenced more harshly than Balwani because the judge could take into account evidence from all the counts charged, even the ones of which she was acquitted. This practice seems unfair to some and is a recent controversy in legal circles. A recent editorial by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers’ organization urged the Supreme Court to make it illegal in the Osby case. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case and it remains legal in all twelve federal circuits.

The federal sentencing guidelines mandate that all relevant conduct proved at trial shall be considered by the sentencing judge. Proof need only be by a preponderance of the evidence and the sentencing judge is the one who determines that. So even if a jury finds that a crime wasn’t proved beyond a reasonable doubt doesn’t mean that it wasn’t proved by a preponderance of the evidence or that she didn’t do it. The Holmes case is a perfect example. One juror has said the jury acquitted her of the patient-related counts because they felt she didn’t intend to provide them false test results. But that’s not an element of the offense. To be guilty she only needed to have knowingly provided false statements on which the patients relied and which resulted in their harm. If the juror is right, then the jury misunderstood the instructions.

In broader terms, though, holding people responsible for foreseeable harm they cause is a long-held and standard practice in the law, and I believe rightly so. This is true in both criminal law and civil law. The felony murder rule is a good example. If person A conspires with person B to rob a bank and in the course of the robbery B murders someone, A is guilty of the murder too. This is true even though murder requires a mens rea, or guilty mental state, i.e. forming the intent to murder. B’s mens rea is considered adopted by A when they conspire.  In effect, the law is saying once you choose to commit a crime, you take responsibility for everything bad that happens, even if you didn’t intend it or personally do it, at least if a reasonable person could have anticipated the possibility.

On the civil side a good example is the eggshell skull rule. If person A punches person B in the stomach and B falls down and cracks his head open and dies or is rendered a paraplegic, A is civilly liable for the death and the medical expenses. This is true even if B had an unusually fragile skull and even if A was merely negligent in knocking him down. This applies generally to all torts. Even if A did not expect person B to die from a stomach punch, it is foreseeable that severe injury or death could result from being knocked down. In short, if you intentionally do a bad thing, you pay the price at law for the results. You take your chances on how bad it’s going to be. It’s a necessary policy to deter all bad conduct. It also would not be good policy to allow a defendant to escape punishment by claiming he or she “didn’t mean to.”

Another way of viewing it is to consider the established roles of judge and jury. Other than the death penalty in some sates, the jury is not a sentencing body; it is only a fact-finding body. The court, i,e. the judge, with help from the supporting staff (like U.S. Marshals in federal cases), decide the sentence and at least in federal cases must consider all relevant conduct. This could even include behavior during trial such as lying, disrupting proceedings, etc. that aren’t necessarily crimes, or at least not charged crimes. Sentencing is a judge’s prerogative and always has been.

Holmes and Balwani verdicts

Some people are having trouble reconciling the verdicts in the cases of Elizabeth Holmes and Sonny Balwani. I don’t see a problem with the verdicts, and this explanation may help you understand them.

Both were charged with twelve counts of federal crimes. Counts one and two were conspiracy counts – one conspiring to defraud investors and the other to defraud doctors and patients. Both were convicted of the first count. Only Balwani was convicted of the second. They acquitted Holmes on the second count. That’s the only inconsistency that’s difficult to explain, since the allegation was that they conspired together, but the explanation given below on the remaining counts sheds light on it.

All the other counts were wire fraud counts. Six of those were for defrauding investors and three were for defrauding doctors or patients. One of the patient counts was thrown out by the court in the Holmes case due to a technical error by the prosecution, so Holmes was not tried on that one. Holmes was acquitted of the other two patient counts. Balwani was later convicted of all three, so I presume the prosecutors corrected their error on that one count. A juror from Holmes’s trial has said that the jury did not think Homes intended to provide patients with bad results, i.e. to defraud them. Knowing there could be problems with the test is not enough. She also did not communicate with the doctors or patients directly, thus the doctors or patients did not rely on her statements, a necessary element of the offense. Apparently the jury in Balwani’s case found he did. This can be explained by evidence showing different levels of involvement by the two defendants, or by different evidence presented in Balwani’s trial. One important witness testified only in Balwani’s trial.

That leaves the six investor counts. Holmes was convicted of three while Balwani was convicted of all six. But Holmes was NOT acquitted on those other three. The jury deadlocked on those. So it is not really a significant difference there. For all we know the deadlock was 11 – 1 for conviction on those remaining three counts. There may have been one or two jurors with a bit more skepticism than others on that jury. In addition, different investors heard different presentations and communicated via phone or email to different extents with the two defendants, so it is really quite normal for one to be found guilty and the other not on any specific charge.

Holmes is scheduled to be sentenced in October, Balwani in Novemer. I believe she may actually get a longer sentence, primarily because she testified. She denied the charges on the stand and did not accept responsibility. To the contrary, she testified falsely, obstructing justice. The same judge heard the evidence in both cases and may very well find her conduct was more egregious than his even though she was guilty on fewer counts. He can even take into account the evidence of harm to patients and doctors despite her acquittal on those counts. Even if he accepts that she did not intend to provide false results, there was plenty of uncontradicted evidence that her actions or negligence caused the harm during the course of her crime. Unintended harm, if it’s reasonably foreseeable, can be used in sentencing. I doubt he will cite that as contributing to his sentencing decisions, but it’s difficult for him to dismiss it entirely in his thinking.

Friends Spoiled Triennially – answers

Here are the answers to the puzzles in my last post. All of these involve words formed by the odd and even letters of each of the examples.

TRIENNIALLY is the longest English word in which all the odd-numbered letters spell a word (TINILY) and the even ones do, too (RENAL). In this case, both spell the words forward, but other examples do not. FURRINESS, BALLOONED, and FLEETNESS are the next longest ones with this property.

FRIENDS has this same trait, but with a twist. The two odd/even words, FINS and RED have letters in alphabetical order. FINS in forward order, RED in reversed.

SPOILED has the same trait except its words SOLD and PIE both have letters in reverse alphabetical order.

SINNING is interesting in that its internal words SNIG and INN have the alphabetical orderings reversed/forward, but it also has the property that SNIG (which is a British slang term) also spells a word backward (GINS).

The longest word I’ve found where the two words are both spelled backward and in alphabetical order is UTOPIA (IOU, APT) if you count IOU as a word. If you don’t care about the alphabetical order, the longest words I’ve found with both odd/even words spelled in reverse order is THICKEST (SKIT, TECH) and GIANTISM (STAG, MINI) although there were dozens of words of this length with one word forward and one backward. I may have overlooked other examples.

Friends Spoiled Triennially

The three words in the title are all odd. They have unique characteristics. Try to guess what they are. I’ll give you some hints and in a few days I’ll post the answers.

Hint 1: Each is the longest English word with a particular trait.

Hint 2:  the latter two words’ traits are each unique at that length, i.e. no other English words of that length has those traits.

Hint 3: Friends has two other words of the same length with its trait:  innings and moonset

Hint 4: Afield and heists, as well as several other words, have a related property.  The word sinning has yet another, if you’re British.

Hint 5: the traits of these words are related but each differs from the others except as indicated in Hints 3 and 4. There are multiple shorter words that share the same traits with all of these.

Go ahead and put your guess in the comments section.