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Bewilderment by Richard Powers

BewildermentBewilderment by Richard Powers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is hard to classify. The author’s skill as a wordsmith is indisputable but the plot is an odd mishmash. It’s not quite science fiction, not quite political commentary, and, I suppose, mostly character development, although all those elements appear only sporadically. The main characters are Robin and his father, an astrobiologist who is researching life on other planets. Robin, however, is the main focus. He’s an implausible mix of idiot savant, nerd, ADHD, and spoiled but charming brat. He’s obsessed with environmental issues and animals, especially endangered species. Robin ends up as a subject in an experiment involving controlling thoughts and moods through biofeedback. Meanwhile, in the background an anti-science far right president and his cronies are killing scientific research funding at all levels threatening both Robin’s treatment and his father’s research program.

Stylistically the book is unconventional, as well. It follows the new fashion I first encountered in News of the World of not using quotation marks, substituting italics to indicate the child’s dialogue. The change of speakers also doesn’t cause a new paragraph. There may be a point to this, but I don’t know what it is. The larger style difference, though, is that every two or three pages Robin and his father are on some imagined exoplanet which is described in luscious detail. The scientific content on both terrestrial and extraterrestrial biology was quite high. The book was educational; the research deserves praise. Presumably these are stories the father tells to Robin, or they both conjure together, but they are not presented quite that way. The breadth of imagination is staggering and interesting in a way, but contributes nothing to the plot. I found them quite distracting after a while. There was a twist at the end which took place entirely on the final page but it seemed a bit cheesy to me. I can squeeze out four stars for the wordsmithing and the imagination, but the plot left me cold.

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Justice is served

It’s easy these days to become depressed about the state of our criminal justice system when you see no action taken against a former president who incited an insurrection or acquittal of a vigilante teen who gunned down protesters he disagreed with. But we’ve seen a lot of justice meted out in recent months and it’s worth a look to restore some perspective.

Derek Chauvin and Kim Potter, both officers who killed unarmed men, were convicted. Chauvin received a stiff sentence and Potter may, too, although her case is much less serious. The three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery were just sentenced to life in prison. The victims were all  men of color, the killers all white.

The FBI has made over 700 arrests of rioters in the Capitol insurrection of Jan. 6. Convictions and sentencings are coming down almost every day now, although most have been fairly light sentences so far.

In the white collar arena, Elizabeth Holmes was just convicted of wire fraud in connection with Theranos. Over forty defendants have pled guilty in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal and several more have agreed to do so. Some very wealthy individuals like Felicity Huffman have already served prison sentences. Dozens more await trial.

Jeffrey Epstein took care of his own death sentence and Ghislaine Maxwell just got convicted in connection with their child sex trafficking activities. Harvey Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years. Andrew Cuomo is not being prosecuted, but he is out as governor of New York.

While this is not a perfect record, it is heartening to see that even the rich and powerful and the police are being held accountable in larger numbers than ever before.

What makes comics funny?

I’ve always enjoyed reading the funny papers. Only now, they are read almost entirely online, not on paper, so I’ll call them comics. I mostly read ones that are intended to be funny and avoid the soapy ones like Mary Worth or the adventure type like Prince Valiant or political ones. I just like a good chuckle. All comics are hit and miss; it’s hard to come up with good material every day. So I decided to do a little analysis of some of the strips I follow to see if I could determine a common theme or technique that made some days funnier, or at least better liked, than others. The site I used for this is GoComics.com although I also read on other sites.

I chose four relatively popular strips that are humor oriented and recorded how many likes each got from readers over a three month period (July through September 2021). The four strips are Pickles, Frank and Ernest, The Argyle Sweater, and Brewster Rockit. Here’s a chart of the raw data:

The peaks show the days which got the most likes and the valleys the fewest. I examined the five highest peaks and the five lowest for each strip here’s what I found:

Pickles: The most popular strip, Pickles, dating to 1990, features an older couple, Earl and Opal, and sometimes other characters. It’s mostly good-natured. One noticeable difference between the most- and least-liked strips was that both main characters appeared in all the most-liked, but Opal did not appear in any of the least-liked. The best-liked in general were more upbeat and less cynical. The least liked ones had Earl pranking his grandson by telling him false “facts.”

The Argyle Sweater: A relatively new strip, resembling The Far Side, has no regular characters, but often features anthropomorphic animals, furniture, etc. It has a sharper edge than the other three strips. The five most liked contained three with clever wordplay and two with no words at all. Only two had humans in them. They all had that delayed humor quality where you have to think about it (or take a second look) before you suddenly get the joke. My favorite was one where the guard at an art museum is telling Vincent Van Gogh he can’t come in unless he’s wearing a mask. At first that seems kind of funny that the famous artist can’t enter an art museum, but then you notice Van Gogh is wearing a mask but it’s dangling from just one ear since, of course, he’s cut off the other one. Three of the five had to do with art. The least popular ones tended to be grosser or more tasteless than most. Two had bad puns.

Frank and Ernest: Most of the strips feature the two named characters, two goody guys. Puns and other wordplay are common in this strip. Of the five most liked, most had good wordplay. Only one featured both characters and one featured neither of them. Of the least liked, some had Frank and/or Ernest, and some didn’t. The main difference was simply the strip had no good wordplay or punch line. For most I just didn’t “get it.”

Brewster Rockit: Brewster is the captain of a spaceship and, being an idiot, is the butt of many jokes. There are many peripheral characters. By far the most popular strip during this stretch was on the Fourth of July with a patriotic theme (the only one of these four who chose to reference the holiday). Four of the five most liked also had a pro-mask, pro-vaccination theme although one was subtle. A crewman objected to a mandate requiring him to wear “one” on his face and refused – then went out into space without a helmet. The mandate wasn’t to wear a mask. The strip isn’t political in general but it does have some educational and public service type strips, mostly about space science, which some may consider political. The low-scoring ones didn’t have anything in common I could tell. Two involved anthropomorphic insects, which I happen to think were clever strips. One was a cicada emerging and wanting to check his Blockbuster stock and the other a mayfly checking his retirement account a few hours after starting it. Perhaps some readers don’t know that cicadas hibernate for 17 years and mayflies live only a day.

After all the analysis, the best I can come up with is that the funniest strips generally got the most likes, patriotism plays well, and some readers develop a fondness for particular characters and are disappointed if they don’t appear. Ones that had that surprise factor – the delayed “oh, now I get it” – seemed to score best. Overall, the least liked ones were simply not as good as usual. I thought perhaps weekend days would score differently than weekdays, but that seemed to have had no effect. Older, longer-established strips got more likes than the newer ones.

Why was Holmes found not guilty on four counts?

Elizabeth Holmes was acquitted on all the counts involving patients. In each case the patients got bad results from Theranos. They suffered some harm, although the exact amount is in question. Perhaps there was some anxiety and certainly there was additional expenses to get retested at another place. The problem with the government’s case is that they did not prove causation.

There was insufficient proof that the patients relied on specific statements made by Holmes. They mostly chose to use Theranos because their doctors recommended it or because of general media coverage of this new company with cheaper tests. The tests were cheaper, so that part is true. Even if some of the patients did hear and rely on some of the company’s own false promotion, which I don’t recall being in evidence, there was no proof that Holmes herself made the specific statements that were relied on.

Elizabeth Holmes was found guilty of wire fraud

The jury in the Elizabeth Holmes Theranos trial found her guilty on four of the eleven counts. They acquitted her of the four counts involving paying patients. There are three more counts in the indictment on which they could not reach agreement. It is to be expected that the judge will declare a mistrial on those three counts.

The guilty counts were on investor-related charges. The deadlocked counts were, too. The government has the option of retrying Holmes on those counts if a mistrial is declared, but in my experience, that is unlikely to happen. The counts on which she was guilty involved almost $150,000,000. That is high enough to hit the max for sentencing purposes so there is little to gain. However, those charges could be bargaining chips to use with the defense. For example, the government could offer to not retry those if there is no appeal. The defense is unlikely to accept that bargain, but may be receptive to an offer on sentencing, considering the fact she has rolled the dice and gone to trial,

She is not being remanded to custody.  I’m guessing she’s going to go for the appeal the whole way and hope to avoid prison altogether. In that case, we’re looking at another year before she sees any prison time unless she violates some condition of release. The strategy could work against her. She is already risking a longer sentence by her choice to testify and claim she did nothing wrong. The acceptance of responsibility is a key factor in sentencing length. Right now white collar criminals often get home detention due to Covid, but a year from now, that may not be the case. She might be better off taking a deal now if the government will agree to home detention for a time instead of prison. She has a husband and baby at home. In my opinion, she belongs in the slammer.

A&W’s Third Pound burger

I recently heard  a disturbing true story that is all too believable. It’s an old story you may have heard, so forgive me if it’s a repeat for you.

In the 1980’s A&W attempted to compete with McDonald’s new Quarter Pounder by coming out with a One-Third Pounder at the same price. It didn’t sell. When consultants were hired and put the question to a focus group the answer was clear: most of the panel thought 1/3 was smaller than 1/4 because 3 is smaller than 4. They thought they were getting less for their money when of course they were getting more with the Third Pounder.

This is not just about marketing or food. It shows how stupid people are and explains a lot of politics today, If people don’t know which is bigger, 1/3 or 1/4, why would we expect them to be able to distinguish lies from truth? It’s a sad commentary on humanity. It makes me wonder whether it’s even worth the effort to try to educate most people.  The idea that everyone should be able to go to college is ludicrous. We should be directing more people to skilled trades.

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Crosby

Blacktop WastelandBlacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Admittedly, I did not give this book a fair chance. I quit after about 30 pages. The dialogue was nearly all Ebonics and the characters, with whom we were supposed to sympathize, were mostly low-life. Sure they were trying to make a legitimate go of it, but the main character was, in plain terms, a getaway driver who collects debts by breaking bones with a wrench. That’s not a set of characters I can get behind.

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Embassy Wife by Katie Crouch

Embassy WifeEmbassy Wife by Katie Crouch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author seems unfamiliar with the concepts of logic, plot, and consistency but is a master (mistress?) of description. She vividly brings to life some wacky characters and a fascinating country she obviously deeply loves: Namibia. She provides similes and metaphors up the wazoo, most of them quite amusing, which is appropriate for an instructor of creative writing. The book skirts the line between a comedy and a soap opera as it relates the story of two “embassy wives” trailing their husbands to southern Africa. The ending was confusing and downright ridiculous, but by that point, I’d had days of entertainment from the book and really didn’t mind. I’d long since ceased to expect sharp plot development or believability. What I enjoyed the most was experiencing the unique mix of modernity and age-old African lifestyle that the author knows first hand from having lived there. It didn’t give me a desire to travel there, but I thank the author for providing a taste of that exotic cultural blend.

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Our Biggest Experiment by Alice Bell

Our Biggest Experiment: An Epic History of the Climate CrisisOur Biggest Experiment: An Epic History of the Climate Crisis by Alice Bell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this book, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for. The author delivers what the title promises – a history of the climate crisis. I like science and I’m very interested in the climate crisis and what we can do to prevent it getting worse or deal with what can’t be changed. But I’m not a fan of history. The book sets forth when, why, and how the climate crisis began and when and how it came to be recognized for the crisis it is. Scientists and amateurs alike are named and credited. That much I expected and was willing to plow through, but I expected it to be brought right up to the current day and to discuss what is being done to deal with it. Unfortunately, near the very end the author comes out and says that as a historian she shouldn’t be writing about anything within the last ten years because there’s no perspective, so she stops there. What!? She does end with a chapter of her own views and speculations, but it tends to be more along the lines of assigning blame and discussing policies and politics, not cures or hopeful avenues being explored. In other words, it’s all history, not science.

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The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories: Fifth Annual Collection by Ed Gorman

The World's Finest Mystery and Crime Stories: Fifth Annual CollectionThe World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories: Fifth Annual Collection by Ed Gorman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found this book disappointing. I read the first five or six stories and not one of them caught my interest. They weren’t mysteries. They were crime stories, I’ll grant that, but if you’re looking for detectives (police or amateurs) sleuthing and putting together clues and solving the crimes, you won’t find that here. At least not in the first several stories. They all consisted of someone committing a crime and either getting away with it or getting his comeuppance.

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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 What3words.com (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 gutenberg.org, 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]"
"Yes."

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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Elizabeth Holmes trial – week 7

I have not attended the trial for the last two weeks. Instead I have been following primarily through the excellent coverage by Adam Lashinsky of businessinsider.com and Erin Woo and Erin Griffith of the New York Times as well as local television news reports. I have concluded that attending the trial is largely an exercise in self-punishment, primarily due to the very poor trial management by Judge Davila. More on that in a minute. So my reporting is second-hand, but I have my own perspective on it.

The last ten days or so was the best yet for the prosecution. This is because it brought out evidence that is more relatable to the jurors. It introduced a recording of Holmes so the jurors could hear her in her own words for the first time. Even better, after a legal skirmish over admissibility, it introduced a television interview of Holmes so the jurors could see her “up close” and without a mask as she made false claims. In particular she claimed that the Theranos machines could perform over 100 blood tests. Previous testimony by others made clear the devices could not. She also asserted confidently that she was the CEO and fully responsible for everything at Theranos.

Great. So what’s in store for this week: nothing! Why? Because of Judge Davila’s incompetence. I do not use that word lightly as I respect the judge and feel he is a reasonably bright fellow. But he is obviously cowed by the spotlight on this trial and so afraid of reversal, or possibly even bad press, that he is being overly cautious. He has made bad decisions that force the trial to be much longer than necessary, e.g. holding the trial only three days a week and dismissing at 2:00PM or 3:00PM. He has reversed both those decisions, realizing that he is risking losing more jurors to boredom or simply attrition, resulting in a mistrial. The latest bad decision happened yesterday when he dismissed the jurors for the rest of the week because the water was off in the courtroom due to a water main break. Soon after he did so, the break was repaired and water restored. Why send them home for the entire week? Did he even send someone down to check with the nearby workmen to get an estimate of how long it would take to repair? See my previous posts for how he mishandled the juror dismissals. By the way, yet another one was dismissed for playing Sudoku.

Even more troubling is his handling of the testimony portion. The prosecution has been extremely repetitive, asking the same question in a dozen different ways, or even the same way of the same witness. Recapping testimony from an earlier part can be useful and valid, but too much will bore and alienate the jury, and in this case, risk losing too many jurors and causing the mistrial. The judge could have, outside the jury’s hearing,  instructed the AUSA to “move along.” A good judge does. There’s no risk of reversal because the prosecution can’t appeal an acquittal. I served as a judge pro tem, running criminal trials (okay, they were only traffic cases, but trials nonetheless), and I’ve litigated enough to be confident this can be done. Of course, the prosecutors should have been more disciplined and bear much of the responsibility.

My next comments may be more controversial if anyone bothers to read them. I think Davila just isn’t qualified to be a federal judge. I’m an unabashed elitist. Somehow it has become politically incorrect to say out loud that some people aren’t smart enough to do a job or that  people who attended top schools are better in some way. Judge Davila graduated from Hastings College of the Law, a decent, but second tier, law school. It’s a school in the University of California system, but it ranks behind the one at UCLA and way behind Boalt Hall (now called Berkeley Law) in the grades and test scores required to get in. Full disclosure: I attended Boalt. I was accepted at Hastings, but it was my “safety school.” I believe federal judges should be trained at top law schools, not because the training is better, but because they are more selective and more demanding of their students.

It boils down to intelligence and industry. All those politically incorrect IQ test and SAT scores (recently abandoned by the UC system) actually mean something. Going from UCSB (where I started college) to UC Berkeley (where I finished) to Boalt Hall was like going from high school junior varsity to college Division I to the NFL. The superior level of ability of my classmates at each step was patently obvious. I feel federal judges should be top intellects. Sadly, politics is the more predominant reason for most judicial appointments. The fact is, the job of a trial court judge is not a pleasant one, and not all that well paid compared to what top lawyers can get. You seldom get top intellects wanting the position. Still, I will also admit that some of the best judges I’ve appeared before have gone to second-tier schools. Judge Davila just isn’t one of them.