Monthly Archives: June 2023

The Doomsters by Ross MacDonald

The Doomsters (Lew Archer, #7)The Doomsters by Ross Macdonald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoy the Lew Archer character. MacDonald has a gritty noir style you don’t see anymore. The plot involves two brothers from a wealthy family. Both their parents died under suspicious circumstances and the brothers seem at each other’s throat. One of them had just escaped from a mental treatment facility when the book starts. There’s a too-slick doctor, a lecherous sheriff, and a couple of shapely wives in the mix, both of whom hate the other. Some people get shot or stabbed. That’s enough of a start to get the feel. Archer remains as the sole level head and cool customer.

I’d give it a higher rating if the ending weren’t such an unholy mess. Everything is tied up in a flurry of confessions by just about everybody concerning a whole bunch of sins in the distant past. None of it is predictable from the preceding 200 odd pages, which is another reason not to rate it high, but it was fun enough to fill in a few leisure hours.

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Our Ignorant Newsies – mixed metaphors

On today’s local news there was a crawler stating that California public transit had received $3.1 billion “to ward off the approaching fiscal cliff.” I’m trying to picture how a cliff might approach. Erosion? Maybe, if we’re below it. And how does one ward off a cliff that is approaching? With a shield? A gun? If a cliff were to approach me, I think I’d start running the opposite direction, not try to ward it off. Cliffs are pretty big.

Google Trends: Wembanyama vs. Wagner Group

I found this interesting:

For those not familiar with both, Wembanyama is the 7’4″ French basketball phenom just drafted into the NBA by the San Antonio Spurs. The Wagner Group is the mercenary army led by Sergey Prigozhin that revolted briefly against the Russian military and marched toward Moscow. Priorities differ in different places. Texas I can understand, but the other blue states make me scratch my head.


Night Angels by Weina Dai Randel

Night AngelsNight Angels by Weina Dai Randel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a case of the story being better than the writing. The real story of Ho Feng-shan, a Chinese (Nationalist government pre-WWII) diplomat, is inspiring. He saved thousands of Austrian Jews from the holocaust by issuing them visas to Shanghai so that they could get exit permits from the Nazis. The gist of that story comes through, but even though it purports to be based on that true story, a scathing review by Ho’s daughter says it is a totally fictionalized melodrama that minimizes Ho’s intellect and bravery, making him at best a sort of slow-witted reluctant hero.

Whatever the factual details, Ho is much to be admired and the story is worth reading for that reason. Little about the writing or the (totally fictitious) story of Ho’s wife Grace is worth much more than that. The writing is clumsy, with misplaced modifiers and similar awkward constructions. The imagined parts of the plot are implausible and inconsistent. None of the characters is very likeable. It’s hard to care much about fictional characters when you know what happened to the real ones. It dragged in the first half, partly because it’s historical in nature, so we already know basically how it ends. It does pick up in tension through the second half and I read it to the end with interest.

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Nine Black Robes by Joan Biskupic

Nine Black Robes: Inside the Supreme Court's Drive to the Right and Its Historic ConsequencesNine Black Robes: Inside the Supreme Court’s Drive to the Right and Its Historic Consequences by Joan Biskupic
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a thoroughly researched and very informative work. I learned a great deal about the Supreme Court and the justices even though I’m an attorney and a member of the Supreme Court bar. I’m the target audience for this book, I suppose, but even so I found it difficult to read and hold my interest. It is very dense and technical, all too much like law school, or like my research on the one case I had that went to the Supreme Court. The book is almost written like a textbook, with detailed descriptions of the procedural history of the many cases it discusses. I found it dry, but I also found myself getting deeply distracted, arguing to myself about the theories, approaches and questions raised in the book on many issues. I kept skipping ahead to avoid getting bogged down.

Another problem I had with it was the clear liberal bias displayed by the author. This is not unexpected since she reports for CNN, but I still expected a more balanced approach. One small example is how she refers to a woman’s right an abortion as a right granted by the Supreme court a half century ago. The problem is that she assumes the Supreme Court has the power to grant rights, constitutional ones at that. The conservatives clearly disagree. Their view, a reasonable one, is that rights either already existed in the constitution when written (or when the Amendment was written) or is granted by legislatures through the democratic process. Is it a right at all? Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for a woman’s right to an abortion. I wish all the states were as enlightened as California where I live. Two of my grandchildren would not exist had Roe v. Wade not been the law at the time. They were conceived in test tubes in Texas and carried by surrogates. Surrogates do not sign up for suicide missions. They require certain knowledge that they can have an abortion if needed for their own health, a certainty that does not now exist in Texas. No abortions had to take place, but the right to an abortion had to have existed in order for those surrogates to have volunteered and hence my grandchildren to be born. The right to lifers are actually preventing wanted, healthy babies from being born in exchange for more unwanted, often drug or alcohol damaged, babies being born. But I digress. The fact is that the conservatives, at least some of them sincerely, say that life begins at conception and any abortion is baby murder. It is a widely help belief throughout the world and the author treats that as a piffling straw argument. She treats virtually every conservative position as obviously wrong. She also focuses too much on Donald Trump rather than the court, although she gives fair warning in the subtitle.

At bottom, the book is a worthy piece of scholarship and reporting with a considerable amount of inside court scoop not available elsewhere. It deserves its four stars.

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The Mar-a-Lago documents

The news of Donald Trump’s retention and display to unauthorized persons of classified documents has raised serious questions about national security. It has also further polarized an already polarized nation. I have personal experience in this area I’ll share so that people have actual facts. Those who don’t want to believe them probably won’t, but as a retired FBI agent and attorney I feel it’s my responsibility to educate those willing to be educated.

In my FBI career, the case closest to the Trump case about which I have direct knowledge is the Allen John Davies case. I executed the search warrant at his house and I also saw the one document he attempted to provide to a Soviet (Russian) diplomat. Read the linked article for more detail. The information he provided orally was years out of date with no tactical or strategic value at the time he tried to pass it. The drawing he made was crude, not marked classified and, in my opinion, useless to anyone. I’m quite sure the Soviets already knew the basics of what he had to say anyway. He plead guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison. If he had gone to trial and been convicted, he probably would have gotten ten years.

The material the FBI found at Mar-a-Lago by the FBI is thousands of times more damaging to the U.S. national security. I can tell this by looking at the covers of the documents shown in the released photos and by the transcripts of the recordings Trump made and which are revealed in the indictment. If Trump knowingly stored the documents as shown and described, or directed his “body man” Walt Nauta to move them after the subpoena was served on him, then that is an additional crime of obstruction of justice. Most troubling, though, is that if the indictment is true, Trump showed classified material to a publisher or agent who had no clearance. In short, the conduct alleged in the indictment is extremely serious and threatens the security of the nation. Anyone engaging in that conduct should do no less than ten years in prison if the law is to be applied fairly.


WACO by Jeff Guinn

Waco: David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and A Legacy of RageWaco: David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and A Legacy of Rage by Jeff Guinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I learned a lot from this book. Most surprising to me was that David Koresh and his followers really believed that he was the literal messiah anointed by God to bring about the End Times in a holy confrontation with the forces of Babylon (which meant everyone who wasn’t them). Further they believed they would be transformed upon death into some sort of angels shepherding 144000 chosen to populate the sin-free heaven on Earth. Before this, I thought it was just a scam by Koresh to bilk a bunch of idiots and have sex with lots of young girls and women. He did those things, but apparently truly believed he was The One. This being so, the eventual destruction of the Waco compound and death of his flock was inevitable and brought about by him. Natural selection in action.

Sure, the author likes to play gotcha with the government and points out the many egregious planning and decision errors made by ATF, but it’s clear to me from this that by the time the FBI was brought in to clean up the mess, it was irretrievable. Koresh and his followers were given weeks to leave peacefully and safely and chose not to. Koresh repeatedly promised to come out once his demands were met and lied every time. He and his remaining members were bound and determined to make it to their heavenly reward and they got their wish. I don’t know whether Koresh ordered the fires to be set or it was accidental, but he got what he wanted and the FBI ended the siege. It was a win-win. The government bashing in the book is just an opportunist’s way of profiting off the deaths of others. He’s done the same repeatedly with other cults.

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