Our ignorant newsies – Triple digits

We’re in the middle of a heat weave here in California. Almost every weather reporter has been talking about triple digits. The idiocy that I can’t stand is when they say – and most of them do – that “it’s going to be over triple digits tomorrow.” No, it’s not. Triple digits is the range 100 to 999. To be over triple digits it would have to be at least 1000 degrees. What they mean is it’s going to be over double digits, or it’s going to be in triple digits. They don’t know the difference between over and in. I think the concept is over their heads when it should be in.

by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read Ng’s second book five years ago and found this one to have the same strengths and weaknesses. It begins with a mystery. Lydia, a teenage girl, drowns in a lake one evening, apparently alone. Was it an accident? A murder? A suicide? But for the next 200 or so pages the author leaves that mystery alone and begins an overlong and plodding history of Lydia’s dysfunctional family. The theme is clearly people’s failure to tell others their true feelings and thoughts and how that can cause harm. The mystery is explained at the end and it’s a rather clever twist I didn’t foresee.

Before that, though, the author paints a depressing story of what she seems to be suggesting is racism toward Asians (although she uses the term Orientals in keeping with the custom of the times depicted). I grew up in the fifties and sixties, the time frame in that part of the book, and found it to be an inaccurate portrayal, displaying a rather whiny victim mentality. Just like with the other book, I nearly gave up on it halfway through, and, like the other one, was eventually glad I didn’t. Still, in the end it felt more like a completed school assignment than an enjoyable read.

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Music Playlist update (Ethan Leinwand)

I just updated my music playlists. You know how great it feels to discover a new performer and acquire a bunch of new music? Well, I came across Ethan Leinwand and watched his excellent long video The History of Barrelhouse Blues Piano. I had to have this music, so I found his website and bought two CDs. That inspired me to update the playlists on my phone, so I ripped the CDs, bought some other songs I’d been meaning to add, and went back through my old songs that I’d removed from the playlists because I’d gotten tired of them. I found several I wanted to reinstate. So with this new batch of songs, I deleted some of the old stuff from the playlists (but not from my phone or computer) and added the new stuff.

I thought you might be interested in the changes. I’m listing only the removals and the adds, not the entire list. First the additions.

Gin Mill Blues Billy May
Five Point Blues Bob Crosby & Bobcats
Little Rock Getaway Bob Crosby & Bobcats
Farrish Street Jive Boogie Woogie Rosty
Sun Flower Slow drag Brent Watkins
Early In The Morning Buddy Holly
All That Jazz Chicago Cast
Lucille Chuck Berry
Krazy Kat Boogie Daddy Stovepipe
Sweet Home Chicago Daddy Stovepipe
Blue Railroad Train Doc Watson
44 Vicksburg Blues Ethan Leinwand
Atlanta Rag Ethan Leinwand
Blues For Henry Brown Ethan Leinwand
Cripple Cow Cow Blues Ethan Leinwand
Cuttin’ (And Pastin’) The Blues Ethan Leinwand
Head Rag Hop Ethan Leinwand
Joe Louis Rag Ethan Leinwand
Little Brother Ethan Leinwand
Memphis Blues (Leinwand) Ethan Leinwand
Pratt City Blues Ethan Leinwand
Skippy Whippy Ethan Leinwand
The 31 Blues Ethan Leinwand
The Georgia Grind Ethan Leinwand
The Ma Grinder Ethan Leinwand
Tripitina Ethan Leinwand
West Dallas Drag Ethan Leinwand
Mirandy Eubie Blake
Flip, Flop & Fly Indigo Swing
Pal Of Mine Joan Baez
Rush E Kevin MacLeod
Hollywood Pastime Larry Clinton
Old Joe Clark Lee Moore
Occapella Manhattan Transfer
Black Rat Swing Mary Flower
Hudson River Rag Mary Flower
Ladyfingers Mary Flower
Royal Garden Blues Max Q
Good Luck Charm OC Times
Why Don’t We Just Dance OC Times
The Great Crush Collision March Richard Zimmerman
Old Country Rock Stefan Grossman
Hadacol Boogie Steve James
Puttin’ On The Ritz Taco
Bad Debt Uppity Blues Women


Now the removals (although they may come back when I’m no longer tired of them).

Bumble Boogie B. Bumble
By My Side Barbara Acklin
Sing, Sing, Sing Benny Goodman
Raunchy Bill Justis
Call Me Blondie
Blackberry Blossom Broken Circle Bluegrass Band
Ruebens Train Broken Circle Bluegrass Band
Think It Over Buddy Holly
Buxtehude organ (regal) Buxtehude
Malaguena Chet Atkins
Rainbeau medley Craig Ventresco
Sogno Di Primavera Craig Ventresco
I am a Pilgrim Doc Watson
St Louis Blues Doc Watson
When I was a Lad D’Oyly Carte Opera Co.
Spanish Fandango Etta Baker
The Stars and Stripes Forever Eubie Blake
Swanee George Gershwin
When You Want ‘Em George Gershwin
Chattanooga Choo Choo Glen Miller
Railroad Boy Goldbriers
Old Joe Clark Jim Greer
St. Louis Blues John Fahey
Flight of the Bumble Bee Jose Feliciano
Maple Leaf Rag Joshua Rifkind
Dueling Banjos Keith Billik
Stompin on the Rapahannock Leo Kottke
One Kind Favor Lightnin’ Hopkins
Mind Heist London Music Works
Memphis Lonnie Mack
Granada Maestro Jerard
Sugar Babe Mark Spoelstra
Last Kind Word Blues Mary Flower
Main Street Blues Mary Flower
Last Train to Clarksville The Monkees
Danza Muriel Anderson
Simple Gifts Muriel Anderson
Drivin’ Blues Pat Donohoe
Ragtime Blues Pat Donohoe & Mike Dowling
Siboney Pat Donohoe & Mike Dowling
Non-Stop Boogie pt. 1 Preacher Jack
96 Tears Question Mark & the Mysterions
Dengozo Ragtime Skedaddlers
Dixie Blossoms Ragtime Skedaddlers
Peaches And Cream Ragtime Skedaddlers
Pepper Sauce Ragtime Skedaddlers
The Entertainer Ragtime Skedaddlers
Tobasco Ragtime Skedaddlers
Bach Prelude #1 Ramiro Schiavoni
I Got a Woman Ray Charles
La Vida breve, opera, G 35- Danza Sergi Vicente
59th St. Bridge Song Simon & Garfunkel
Wheels String-A-Longs
Baby Love Supremes
Oculus ex Eterni Symphony X
Pineapple Rag Ton Van Bergeyk
Hudson River Rag Hudson River Rag
Music Hall Stomp unknown
Stackalee unknown
Apache The Ventures

The entire list consists of 438 unique songs at the moment, although I spread them over three playlists and some of the songs are on more than one playlist. The total number of songs I play from beginning to end, including repeats, is 520. If you want to see that for comparison, I posted the previous list earlier, click here.

Magpie by Elizabeth Day

MagpieMagpie by Elizabeth Day
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A young couple living the life in London takes in another woman out of necessity. Will the man’s fidelity be tested? After reading several chapters into the book, I was fully prepared to dismiss it as typical chick lit about a man taking advantage of his female partner, with the woman eventually screwing up her courage and dumping the cad, teaching him a lesson in the process. It had all the female author markings, like constant descriptions of what the women were wearing. I had to look up numerous fashion terms. I now know what a Breton top is (a white sweater with thin, black, horizontal stripes) and boyfriend-style jeans (baggy, oversized, worn looking ones). A male author would have just written, “she wore a striped sweater and baggy jeans.”

But along comes Part 2 and the first big plot twist gave me a jolt. Wow! This is not what it seemed. I realized it could turn dark quickly, and it did. I’m always a bit skeptical of the unreliable narrator trick since it’s so overdone, but this had an original edge to it. You never know whom to trust, all the way to the very end. The suspense builds deliciously. It’s a clever plot and the writing is quite good, too. If you get a little bored at the beginning, stick with it. I’m glad I did. I’d give it 4 1/2 stars if they allowed it in Goodreads.

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The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The Haunted Lady (Hilda Adams 4)The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rinehart truly deserves her epithet as the American Agatha Christie. This story is a classic locked-room mystery. An old woman is found dead in her room that is tightly sealed and guarded by a nurse outside the door. It’s a traditional Victorian style house with many rooms, family members, servants, and regular visitors who may or may not have motives. Nurse Hilda Adams is the protagonist cum detective. The writing is sharp, old-fashioned, and refreshingly free of swearing and gore. The plot is convoluted and far-fetched. I doubt anyone figured it all out until the final reveal but I managed to guess one small piece in advance. It may be too tame and complex for some, but I enjoyed it.

The author does have one original stylistic trait that I found interesting: overt foreshadowing. For example, Hilda would meet someone and the author would write something like “She would later describe the person to the inspector as looking ill and upset,” thus suggesting that this physical state is important to the mystery. Or maybe you’re supposed to wonder if Hilda is mistaken or even intentionally describing the person inaccurately. She could have written that Hilda met the person and he looked ill and upset. Why write that she later told the inspector at that point? She could mention it later when Hilda actually talks to the inspector. The point is to alert the reader that this is a clue (or maybe a red herring!) She’d begin a chapter with “Mrs. Fairbanks was murdered on Saturday night.” At that point in the story, it was still Saturday morning and the author proceeds to write about everything that happened on Saturday, but you’re forewarned that you’d better pay attention to where everyone is at every point because you know the murder is about to happen. These are not spoilers because you are told very early on who is going to die. You lose the surprise element to an extent from the foreshadowing, but instead you get a sort of foreboding suspense which is at least as entertaining.

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The Greatest Invention by Silvia Ferrara

The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious ScriptsThe Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts by Silvia Ferrara
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I am very much interested in the subject matter, or at least I thought I was. But the writing in this book was so atrocious I couldn’t finish it. Halfway through I gave up. The author is a chatterbox and fills the pages with digressions and blather. I expected a serious discussion of the various scripts mentioned in the title along with many illustrations and comparisons of the unique features of each. Instead we get the author’s opinions about almost everything backed up with nothing more than “It’s obvious that …” or “Everyone agrees that …” except it’s not obvious to me and I doubt everyone agrees.

The chatty informal tone is totally inappropriate and her meanderings make it hard to follow her points. She uses metaphors mercilessly and is constantly telling us what she is going to tell us instead of just telling it. Here’s an example from page 42 shortly after she’s told us a few paragraphs earlier that Linear B is of little interest since it’s been deciphered:

Earlier I mentioned Linear B – let’s talk about it, at least for a bit. The truth is Linear B isn’t of all that much interest to us, since it’s been deciphered. For now, we’ll spare it only a few measly lines. Though we’ll come back to it, I promise, since it’ll be of help when we look at the process of deciphering scripts. So then, Linear B.

Not only is it repeating what she’s just told us, but she takes an entire paragraph to tell us that she’s going to start writing about something. Just start writing about it, for Pete’s sake! You’ve already used up those “few measly lines.” This can’t be explained away by a bad translation.

She punctuates the text with pop culture references and compares rocks and clay tablets to iPhones and bedsheets. She’s also dismissive of all opinions that differ from her own. She typically says things like “this is generally referred to as X but really it is Y” without a convincing explanation as to why conventional terminology is wrong. She mentioned some Japanese term and said you could tell what it means just from the sound of it. No, I couldn’t, and I speak some Japanese. You get the idea. She’s a perfect example of Often Wrong But Never in Doubt.

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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.

Guns

Anyone following the news in the U.S. will be aware of two recent horrific mass shootings, one racially motivated one in Buffalo and one slaughter of schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas. Both were committed by disturbed teenage males. Since that time there have been two significant changes in gun laws. First, the U.S. Supreme Court declared New York’s restrictive gun law unconstitutional, effectively wiping it off the books. The other was a federal law adding new restrictions to gun purchases and giving aid to states who pass “red flag laws”.

America is something of a pariah in the developed world for its archaic gun laws, and understandably so. We suffer many times the per capita gun deaths of nearly every other developed country. But there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about our gun laws. The question I hear asked the most often by talking heads on TV is “Why is America so out of step with the rest of the world on guns?” That has an easy answer and it’s the answer to almost every question critics put up: The Second Amendment.

It’s right there in the Constitution that Americans have the right to keep and bear arms. Legislatures can’t overrule the Constitution by passing laws. Laws that restrict that right keep getting struck down by the courts. The only real solution is to amend the Constitution and that’s politically impossible since it is very difficult to do even for very popular policies. Let’s examine for a moment why we have that right in our Constitution. America was born in revolution. It was oppressed by an English king and fought for its freedom by arming itself. Americans wanted to make sure that could never happen again, so they made sure they would always have the right to take up arms against their own government. It’s a stupid, short-sighted provision passed in the heat of passion out of hatred for England. Blame lies at least as much with King George (and for that matter all the European colonial powers) as it does with America’s founders, but there it is. Personally, I believe it was unwise to make the Constitution so difficult to modify, but I also believe it is wrong to expect courts to disregard its plain language because they disagree with it.

People on both sides of “the gun issue” are right and both are wrong. The pro-gun people are right that they have a constitutional right. They’re wrong when they say things like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” or that restrictive gun laws wouldn’t prevent these mass shootings or gun deaths in general. Both are proved false by the death rates in other countries that have enacted such laws and restricted the number of guns. Those on the opposing side are wrong when they say it shouldn’t be legal to own guns, especially assault weapons. The whole point of the Second Amendment was to make sure Americans could take up weapons of war to fight an oppressive government, not for personal protection, hunting, or recreation. However, they are right that the court could interpret the Second Amendment differently. I haven’t yet mentioned its preliminary language: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, …” A progressive court could very well interpret that to mean that the keeping of arms is guaranteed only to the extent it is part of a militia dedicated to protecting a free state, not individuals. So those assault weapons should be part of a well-regulated militia of a state. The Supreme Court has not adopted that view, but it could, and many constitutional scholars do.

The only practical way America will ever be able to change this is to elect Presidents and Senators who will appoint and confirm multiple Supreme Court justices who have this view.

The Perfect Weapon by David E. Sanger

The Perfect Weapon: How the Cyber Arms Race Set the World AfireThe Perfect Weapon: How the Cyber Arms Race Set the World Afire by David E. Sanger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sanger has done an excellent job of reporting, and now accumulating, accounts of cyberwarfare for many years now. History has shown that generals and presidents or rulers the world over have always prepared for the previous war, not the one that confronts them. Today’s war is being fought remotely through networks. Sanger does a good job of explaining how devastating an all-out attack could be. The United States is more vulnerable than any other nation because we are more connected than any other. Just consider what life would be like permanently without electricity or your local water system. Gas stations will have no gas or no way to pump what they have, so even generators won’t work long. The book is not written with an alarmist aim, but it is sobering. It can seem repetitive, but it is informative and readable.

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The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

The Rose CodeThe Rose Code by Kate Quinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This absolutely delightful novel of WWII Bletchley Park is marvelously researched and skillfully plotted. I’m a true nut for codes and ciphers, but you don’t have to be to enjoy it. The plot centers around three very different British women, each of whom served at Bletchley but in different capacities: one, a shy spinster-in-the-making with little education but with a cryptographer’s brilliance, the second a tall Amazon whose main asset was the height to operate the top levels of the bombe machine, and the third, a wealthy debutante/linguist who has a dalliance with Prince Phillip.

The relationships among the women change drastically throughout the book and bring human interest to the forefront of the story. It is about the very human and very British victims of the Nazi bombing and threat to invade, not a technical treatise on the Enigma cipher machine. At the same time, the operations of Bletchley Park and its enormous contribution to the Allied victory are richly detailed. I learned more about the nuts and bolts of how it all worked from this novel than I have from reading several dry non-fiction works about it. Don’t let my enthusiasm for that part dissuade you from reading the book as pure fiction. It’s full of love, suspense, violence, humor, and tragedy. It is every bit a war story worth reading.

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Demonization

Anyone following the news at all is aware of several recent truly awful incidents of mass shooting in America, in particular, one in Uvalde, Texas and one in Buffalo, New York. It’s not clear what motivated the Uvalde shooter, but the Buffalo shooter was quite candid about his motivation. He went to shoot black people because he believed white replacement theory. I’d never heard of it before. It’s clearly racist, false, hateful, and disturbing. But having said that, we should be hesitant to demonize the theory or anyone who believes it. For that matter, the same caution applies in other cases of hate crimes. Let’s look at the causes if we can and remove them.

What many liberals don’t want to recognize are the natural human instincts and demographic reality of a changing America, that are behind such beliefs. Fear of change is a natural instinct. Violent response to change, especially sudden change, has been with us for millennia. The Luddites are a prime example. The haters are correct about one thing: America is becoming more diverse, and that means less white. They’re ridiculous in thinking it’s a Jewish plot and incapable of grasping the reality that migration is a constant throughout history. It’s inevitable, and therefore not a bad thing. We should try to educate people to that fact. Everyone in the world, with the possible exception of a soul in Olduvai Gorge, is descended from immigrants.

Take my block, for example. We live in what is now known as Silicon Valley. When my wife and I moved in in 1981 there were twenty houses and twenty white families, ten on each side. So far as I know, all were born and raised in America. I don’t remember anyone having an accent. On the Fourth of July, one of the neighbors would rent barricades and get a license and we would all come out and barbecue, visit, and get to know each other. American flags would fly. All of them, I think, owned their homes and many were long-time residents. The neighborhood kids would play in our pool. The first change was a German man, an engineer. Then he married a Chinese woman. No one thought a thing about it. Both are still our good friends today. But over the years, things inevitably changed, driven largely by the tech boom. Most of the houses were extensively remodeled or leveled to be replaced by bigger, fancier ones. Next to us now is an Indian family with a nanny. Next to them: an Irishman with an Indian wife. Then two more Indian families, then the German man and on the corner, a Russian. On our left we’ve had a slew of renters from various countries including China and Israel. There’s a Russian family on that end, too. Across the street we have two Chinese families, a Japanese-American, two more Indian families, and a Pakistani family. We’re the only house that flies the flag on any national holiday. The street parties are no longer, although one of the Indian families has attempted to resuscitate them. I believe they are the only ones I called Indian who were born and raised in America. The house directly across from us is owned by an Indian family but is about to be rented to a Mexican family. Many of the immigrant families come and stay for two or three years at a tech firm and move on. Many are renters, not homeowners.

I can understand how people bemoan the loss of cherished traditions they were comfortable with. People feel safe with sameness and distressed at feeling like an outsider.  Some people react with fear and loathing. I miss the shared traditions we used to have, but I also enjoy the diversity of my “new” block. When the house across from us went up for rent, I chatted with two Japanese fellows who were interested. I was hoping they’d rent it so I could practice my poor Japanese. They were able to understand it. Instead, my wife, who speaks Spanish, will be the one to practice her language skills when the Mexicans move in. She regularly walks with a French neighbor and speaks French with her. My wife is the linguist in the family. My neighbors are all good people. I feel fortunate to live in such a wonderful neighborhood. I’m able to accept and welcome change even while missing the old. Not everyone can. I don’t condone any sort of hate crime or racism, and certainly not these awful murders, but demonizing the instinct to make American white again is unproductive. We should be educating, not vilifying.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)All Systems Red by Martha Wells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SecUnit is a rebuilt murderbot rented out as security to an NGO survey team exploring a new planet. It was designed as a ruthless killing machine, but prefers to sit in its cubicle and watch the entertainment feed, especially Sanctuary Moon, which appears to be some sort of sci-fi telenovela. SecUnit (he? she? it?) tells the story of the survey in the first person as all hell breaks loose. The new planet is not uninhabited and dangers await. We find SecUnit to be painfully shy about showing any emotion and almost apologetic that it feels an obligation to actually protect its clients. A murderbot, it seems, is mostly robotic but also has “organic” (never “human”, god forbid) parts, although without its armor and inorganic parts showing, it can pass for one. Its worst nightmare is having to converse with humans, make eye contact, and answer their questions about whether it is okay and especially how it is feeling. Entering into mortal combat with man-eating fauna or other murderbots is all in a day’s work, but showing emotion? … no way. Despite all its denials, SecUnit’s soft heart peeks through.

The book is ridiculously short and all fluff, but I really enjoyed it. All the artificial techspeak about feeds and hubs and governor modules and beacons is very well done and somehow plausible if you let yourself suspend disbelief and enter into the story. It’s the first in a series (The Murderbot Diaries) but I doubt I’ll read more of them. Any future ones are bound to be a disappointment after this charming introduction.

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