How to Blow Up a Pipeline by Andreas Malm

How to Blow Up a PipelineHow to Blow Up a Pipeline by Andreas Malm
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Malm is a Swedish climate activist. This book may be fairly characterized as his manifesto. It is an advocacy piece, but it’s not an actual directive. It’s not written in the imperative mood. It’s mostly a history of climate activism and a fatalistic assertion that we’re nearly doomed and the only logical thing left to do is destruction of the carbon-based fuel infrastructure. It does NOT give actual instructions on how to blow up a pipeline, although it does describe the various successful pipeline attacks that have occurred in the third world, mostly due to regional conflicts, not motivated by eco-terrorism.

For the record, I do not support blowing up pipelines or any sort of property destruction or any lawbreaking in any form for that matter. I drive an electric car and have for the last 12 years and have flown only twice in that time. That’s my contribution. Even so, I see value in a work like this in highlighting how bad the global warming situation has gotten and how our inaction has radicalized people. Perhaps governments will take further action. That said, the writing is rather pedantic, preachy, and obnoxious.

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The Twyford Code by Janice Hallet

The Twyford CodeThe Twyford Code by Janice Hallett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This very original novel is clever but also a difficult read. The story is presented through a series of transcripts of audio recordings made by “Little Smithy,” a semi-literate old school London gang member. The recordings describe his quest to find out what happened to his old high school Remedial English teacher after she disappeared during a field trip. The transcripts are phonetic and the imprecise patois is often transcribed inaccurately, e.g. “must have” becomes “mustard” and so on. There are numerous typographic symbols representing pauses, breath sounds, etc. The story is chopped up piecemeal. That’s much of what makes it a hard read.

What makes it a fun read is that there is a mystery to solve, several in fact, with elaborate clues set forth in various ways. Purportedly Edith Twyford, a British children’s author, left coded clues in the text and illustrations in her WWII-era books. It was one of her books Smithy had once found and given to his teacher that had led to the field trip where she disappeared. What were those coded clues for? Was Twyford a Nazi collaborator? A British spy working undercover? There are numerous references to the real-life Operation Fish where the UK transported is gold bullion Canada for safekeeping during the war. What happened to Miss Isles, the teacher? At the same time, the recordings described Smithy’s early life in a London gang and a big theft of gold and jewels that remains unsolved to this day. But there are inconsistencies throughout the transcripts. The ending is fanciful, but satisfying, as it does resolve what needs to be resolved.

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If It Sounds Like a Quack by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

If It Sounds Like a Quack...: A Journey to the Fringes of American MedicineIf It Sounds Like a Quack…: A Journey to the Fringes of American Medicine by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sarcastic survey of the fringes of alternative medicine is often funny and sometimes frightening. The author explores how wacko, unscientific medical theories have gained widespread acceptance in the United States. These include zombie cures, prayer healing, leeches and much more. The snake oil salesmen and women cooperated fully with the author in many cases, sharing stories of how they came to be such great healers (e.g. one guy came from the Andromeda galaxy), and even their failures (e.g. multiple criminal convictions and court orders that didn’t stop them from pushing their wares or their miracle cure sessions at luxury spas and luxury prices). The FDA fights these quacks valiantly, but the book explores how certain political elements (e.g. an unnamed “former game show host” who became president as the book phrases it) have fought to keep them on the market. I was surprised to find out how invested that political element is in the “alternative medicine” (i.e. alternative TO medicine) industry. Certain senators I won’t name sell their mailing lists to the snake oil salesmen according to the book. They also receive hefty campaign contributions from them. I can’t verify that, so I presume such details come from financial disclosure forms. The whole industry has merged with antivax and conspiracy believers in general.

Personally I don’t have a beef against the antivax and alternative medicine folks. I see it as natural selection in action. If they’re right, they’ll survive at higher rates than those of us who believe in actual medicine. If they’re wrong, they’ll be the ones dying off at higher rates. In either case, the gene pool is improved by definition. So far the statistics suggest by about 9 to 1 that they’re doing most of the dying. I have a healthy skepticism about medical doctors, too, since too many are clearly focused more on making money than healing or helping patients. So, choose your poison and drink up. Back to the book: the writing is too snide to be all that enjoyable, but the content is too delicious not to give it a high rating.

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How to Avoid Mixing Your Metaphors

It’s not rocket surgery.
First, get all your ducks on the same page.
After all, you can’t make an omelette
without breaking stride.

Be sure to watch what you write
with a fine-tuned comb.
Check and re-check until the cows turn blue.
It’s easy as falling off a piece of cake.

Don’t worry about opening up
a whole hill of beans:
you can burn that bridge when you come to it,
if you follow where I’m coming from.

Concentrate! Keep your door closed
and your enemies closer.
Finally, don’t take the moral high horse:
if the metaphor fits, walk a mile in it.

Brian Bilston

Writers’ Strike vs. Debt Ceiling

Interesting search trend in Google. As one might expect, the debt ceiling is searched more in the D.C. area and the screen writers’ strike is searched more in California and New York. But outside those areas, it seems that the topics are of similar importance, but there is still some regionality shown.

This chart represents the one day Google search results as of May 8, 2023.

Suspect by Scott Turow

Suspect (Kindle County Legal Thriller, #12)Suspect by Scott Turow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story is told in the first person by Pinky, a bisexual private investigator with a nail through her nose. She works for a local attorney who is defending the female police chief against allegations of sexually harassing male members of her force. As usual with Turow, the courtroom scenes are top-notch. The investigative stuff is more in the fantasy range, but generally fun overall. The author’s usual obsession with sex is apparent here, but somehow not as distasteful as usual. Pinky gets hung up on her neighbor, a mysterious fellow who is obviously up to no good, but his sexual prowess does not seem to be in doubt. Turow seems committed to diversity since we have black, white, Hmong, Chinese, Hispanic, and the whole rainbow flag of personnel here. Of course Pinky seems to be the only one who figures things out and is a rule-breaker, which gets her in hot spots, but, hey, this is a detective thriller, so you gotta expect that. The ending is too gadgety and implausible for my taste but overall I enjoyed the book.

One small cavil is the author’s misstatements of the law at times, which is surprising since he’s a Harvard Law School graduate. He even got something as basic as the Miranda rule wrong … twice. Near the beginning he says that if a cop rushes a suspect into a squad car and drives off without giving him Miranda warnings, anything the suspect says in the car can’t be used in court. Wrong. That’s only true if the officer questions him. Miranda is triggered by the combination of custody and questioning. Officers often wait until they get to the station and let the detectives do the questioning. Anything the suspect blurts out in the car is admissible. The second time, a suspect was being questioned by police and FBI without the warnings. He was told that he wasn’t under arrest “at this time”, but it was stated that it was obvious to everyone that if he tried to leave he would be arrested. That’s custody and that requires the warnings. There’s a lot of FBI procedure he gets wrong (I’m a retired FBI agent and legal advisor, so I know this stuff), like sending an expert out from the FBI lab, but I was happy to see that the FBI is portrayed as the good guys in this one.

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A solution to the mifeprestone issue

Those following the news know that a federal judge in Texas recently ruled that the abortion drug mifeprestone, currently in wide use in the U.S., was not properly approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and therefore is banned from the market nationwide. At the same time a federal judge in Washington state ruled that mifeprestone must remain available. These conflicting ruling caused the Texas case to go up on emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. There the court ruled that the drug can remain available for now without restrictions until the Court of Appeals in Texas considers the U.S. Government’s appeal of the lower court ruling.

This case really isn’t about the FDA or its approval process. As we all know, it’s a power play by the anti-abortion crowd, which includes the Texas judge, a Trump appointee who has been outspoken on the issue before being appointed. To be fair, they see any and all abortions to be baby murder and feel morally justified in any actions that stop it, even if that involves breaking the law, or ignoring democratic fairness. Polls show about 70% of Americans want mifeprestone to remain available. Abortion is legal in most states, but many so-called “red” states have been passing laws banning it altogether or with severe restrictions. These legislatures are comprised largely of older white men.

My wife has come up with a solution. She has suggested that some “blue” state should sue the FDA to ban Viagra and other erectile dysfunction pills. The same approval process was used by the FDA in both cases. When Viagra is thus banned, the courts can and should lump the cases together on appeal to decide the FDA’s powers and the court’s authority to overrule them. I believe that as soon as that happens, all those red states will drop their objections to mifeprestone.


The Listeners by Brian Hochman

The Listeners: A History of Wiretapping in the United StatesThe Listeners: A History of Wiretapping in the United States by Brian Hochman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hochman writes well and provides a mostly well-researched history of wiretapping in the U.S. He explains the fine points of the many Supreme Court rulings and other significant cases spanning the years. It took me back to law school and I learned a great deal. Many of the cases discussed were interesting in themselves, rather entertaining, in fact. Overall I enjoyed the book.

However, as a former FBI agent and Legal Adviser I found the book had two significant flaws. One is his assertion that federal courts “rubber-stamp most any wiretap application.” P.204. He cites statistics of a high rate of approval by judges as evidence. This overlooks the fact that such applications are scrutinized very thoroughly within the FBI itself. If a lawyer within the FBI and DOJ were to approve an application that was later denied, it would be a severe black mark, possibly career-ending. For this reason the internal controls are much more strict than the law requires. If an application makes it as far as a federal judge it is almost certainly a valid application with no justification for denial. Imagine how the author and media in general would react if such applications were regularly denied. The FBI would be excoriated for having a cavalier attitude to requirements of the law. For people like Hochman, if judges approve warrant applications, it’s a sign of lax judicial oversight, not of the FBI and police carefully doing their job properly. This demonstrates an anti-wiretap and anti-law enforcement bias on the author’s part.

The second flaw is the total lack of coverage of the largest category of wiretapping in law enforcement: consensual monitoring (CM). In the introduction, the author precisely defines wiretapping as “the act of intercepting or recording messages or voice conversations transmitted over electronic communications networks.” Perhaps he meant “and” rather than “or,” but that would be ironic since he ridicules lawmakers for that exact ambiguity in early laws on the subject. Assuming he meant what he wrote, the vast majority of wiretapping as he defines it, at least in my post-Hoover experience (1970s, 80s and 90s), consisted of recording with the consent of a party to the conversation. CM may or may not be considered intercepting, but it is certainly recording. This is legal without a warrant under federal law for anyone, and I think in all states when it is by, or in cooperation with, law enforcement. It is most often done by informants, co-conspirators cooperating to get lenient treatment, crime victims (e.g. kidnapping and extortion), witnesses, undercover agents, and even, as in Richard Nixon’s case, by the criminals themselves. One of my last CM cases was ordering the warrantless installation of a recorder on the telephone of the spouse of a kidnapped executive being held for ransom (with her consent, of course). The “wiretap” as Hochman calls it, was instrumental in leading to the rescue of the victim unharmed, capturing of the kidnappers, and recovering the ransom money. Hochman’s anti-wiretap diatribe seems to consider this an unconscionable violation of privacy. Oh, those poor kidnappers whose privacy was so badly violated; they didn’t get much privacy for the next twenty years doing hard time. By the way, they were planning to kill the victim once they got the money. I’d put a conservative estimate of the frequency of CM as upward of 20 times compared to that of Title III (court-ordered) recordings, perhaps ten times that. Wiretaps of both kinds are a necessary tool for protecting the public. In my 25+ years in the FBI I never saw any abuse of it. Hochman’s omission of CM is both indicative of bias, looking only for instances supporting his view of wiretapping as evil, and sloppy research by overlooking the vast majority of data in the field he purports to cover. Nevertheless, the book is a good read and makes intelligible to the lay reader what are some very technical points.

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The Arms Maker of Berlin by Dan Fesperman

The Arms Maker of BerlinThe Arms Maker of Berlin by Dan Fesperman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the best book I’ve read all year. The suspense starts from page one and doesn’t let up all the way through. Nat, a historian, is shanghaied by the FBI and put on the trail of some missing documents from World War II about the White Rose, his academic specialty. His mentor, an old wartime OSS hand, dies suddenly and suspiciously and leaves him clues. But entering the mix is a dodgy blond woman researcher from Germany and a middle eastern man of dubious intentions. The scene shifts back to the wartime and we see Kurt Bauer, the teenage scion of a major industrialist, trying to survive the war while retaining the affections of his lady love. The time frame shifts back and forth throughout the book. There is double dealing and betrayal everywhere, both then and now.

The research that went into this novel is incredibly rich and the plot is nearly believable because of it. There is plenty of death and spycraft to satisfy the hardcore thriller buff and more than enough detail of Germany and Switzerland for those more inclined to appreciate ambience and history. Keeping track of all the players and trying to discern their true motivations is a challenge in itself. The sexual tension is muted but palpable in places. In short, the book has everything. Read it.

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Fubo TV versus YouTube TV

We recently tried Fubo TV, a streaming service. They offered a free 7-day trail. We were interested because we have been having troubles with YouTube TV, the streaming service we use in lieu of cable TV. Both carry a full set of channels (ABC/NBC/CBS and the usual cable channels). In the end, we decided to remain with YouTube TV for now.

Our biggest complaint against YouTube TV (YTTV) is that it often freezes and locks up the TV. This happens when we rewind and then try to start again, such as when we missed something and want to review it. Sometimes we can turn it off and back on with the remote and it will be okay, but other times the TV is so frozen that it won’t even respond to the on off button. When that happens my wife or I have to get up and unplug the TV, wait a full minute for the capacitors to drain, and then replug it. This is obviously a serious annoyance.  Occasionaly YTTV won’t even play at all. I’ve complained repeatedly to YTTV support but got no help. So that’s why we tried Fubo.

I’m happy to say that Fubo did not have that problem. We could rewind and then play without a problem. The interface is also more intuitive and easier to navigate than YTTV. But there were a few difficulties with Fubo not present with YTTV. The biggest one – in fact the deal killer – was that it doesn’t support in-show closed captioning. In order to get closed captioning with Fubo you have to go to the TV’s settings and navigate to the Accommodations page and then to the captioning option and select on or off. If we always wanted captions on or always off, this wouldn’t be a problem, but there are shows we must have the on for, and others where they must be off, so we need to do this repeatedly. On my Samsung TV it takes 24 button pushes to make this change and then return to the show. 24! This not only is a big interruption, but for me it’s painful. I work the remote while my wife crochets, and I have arthritis in my thumbs. It literally hurts to do this. YTTV has captioning embedded in the app, so it’s only two clicks to turn it on or off.

Other significant differences include picture quality and ease of fast forwarding. Fubo’s picture was sometimes (not often) fuzzy, while YTTV did not have this problem. With YTTV when you fast forward the screen dims and there’s a progress bar at the bottom. As you move along the bar, a snapshot picture shows above the cursor so you know where you are and when to stop or go back. Fubo has a similar feature, but it only pops up on some shows and even then, only every few clicks, not every time. It’s much harder to find the exact spot you want with Fubo. Fubo also buffers for several seconds every time you fast forward or reverse. Things move faster with YTTV, With YTTV each click goes forward 15 seconds; with Fubo it’s 10 seconds. That means more painful pushes for my thumb on Fubo to go the same distance.

We’re still not entirely happy with YTTV and are looking for an alternative. I looked into Sling TV, but its only real advantage is a lower price. That comes with the absence of CBS, a channel we watch regularly. It also requires a special digital antenna. We live in a hilly area and don’t get good reception over the air (OTA) so I’m not going to take a chance on untested hardware that may or may not work, especially since one of our favorite channels is not included. The only other option out there that I know of is cable TV, but that had its problems, too, the biggest being twice the monthly cost or more for an equivalent package and a long-term contract. It also had a finicky DVR taking up counter space in our kitchen and not always working. YTTV and Fubo don’t require contracts and their recordings are done in the cloud. No hardware is required for them beyond normal household wi-fi.


Emily is one of the most popular names for girls in the United States, but its popularity is waning. See the chart below.

Why is this so? The New York Times has an article on this today (but it’s paywall blocked so I haven’t read it). But I did read a good article about it here Carnegie Mellon article. Emma grew more popular over time. What the article says, in brief is that there is a push-pull between parents’ desire to have a child fit in and the desire for them to feel unique or special. When Emily became too popular, parents switched to Emma which sounds enough like Emily to be seen as mainstream, but with a personal twist. It’s difficult to know exactly what appeals to each individual parent. This may be pure speculation, but it fits in with my own experience. My granddaughter’s name is Ember. Close enough to seem normal, not weird, but definitely unique.

Music file updates –

I just updated my music playlists again. I moved out some things I was tired of, but, of course, didn’t delete them from my files. I may put them back in. Some the new ones I list below were in my playlists before, but got stale. Now they feel fresh again. Others I just discovered recently. Here are the additions:

  • Hoodle Addle – Carl Sonny Leyland (but I edited out the vocals)
  • I got a Gal – Leyland – vocals edited out
  • Nordeast Rag – Pat Donohoe
  • Many a Mile – Patrick Sky
  • Vitality Rag – Ross MacLachlan
  • Alton Blues [Take 2] – Barrelhouse Buck
  • Hickory Smoke Rag – Trebor Tichenor
  • Memories of You – Eubie Blake
  • Do I Ever Cross Your Mind – Chet Atkins & Dollie Parton
  • Island Style – Randy Lorenzo
  • Scandal Walk – George Gershwin
  • Butch Thompson – Recorded from Prairie Home Companion
  • Chevy Chase – Eubie Blake

I hope you have fun checking these out.

The Dark Flood by Deon Meyer

The Dark Flood (Benny Griessel #7)The Dark Flood by Deon Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first 300 pages of this “thriller” is a snoozefest, but right about page 300 it turns into a real page turner. The plot is good if you have the patience to wait for it to develop.

Vaughn and Benny are two South African detectives with problems – one with weight and one with alcohol. The book begins with a wild gunfight that is totally irrelevant to the rest of the book. The two detectives are demoted over something that happened in a previous book and which is shamelessly promoted. They end up with lower rank in a sleepy, wealthy suburb working a missing person case. ZZZ. Meanwhile we meet Sandra, a young and comely realtor who is married to a professor on sabbatical. They’re in financial trouble, and since hubby is writing a novel, i.e. not bringing in any dough, she needs to make some money as they can’t meet the mortgage payment. A lecherous millionaire wants her to sell a wine estate he controls, but he tells her lasciviously, the commission “doesn’t come for free.” Thus starts the story of the real estate deal from hell. What does this have to do with Vaughn and Benny? Nothing until the last quarter of the book, but it does all come together in quite an entertaining way.

The text is peppered with Afrikaans words and slang expressions. This gives it an interesting flavor, but can be somewhat distracting. There is a glossary at the end, which I didn’t discover until I was almost at the end. I kept getting off on tangents when looking up the terms on my phone. For us Yanks with no familiarity with South African geography or anything else it’s a bit challenging to follow at times, but it also carries with it a slight exotic flavor. In the end, I enjoyed it. I don’t know where the title comes from since there is no flood, dark or otherwise. This is the seventh book in the series.

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What3Words triangle challenge

I have a new game for you. I’ve written about the location app/website What3Words before. If you don’t already know what it is, click on the link or download the app. It’s a way to identify any spot on Earth using only three words.

The challenge is as follows: Find three distinct points using What3Words (W3W) that produce a triangle of minimum perimeter length and that follow these rules:

  1. If point 1 is in the W3W form of A.B.C, point 2 must be in the form B.C.D, i.e. the W3W address must start with the second and third words of the original W3W.
  2. Point 3 must have W3W address C.D.E.
  3. The total distance you re trying to minimize is the straight line distance from Point 1 to Point2 + the distance from Point 2 to Point 3 + the distance from Point 3 to Point 1.
  4. Points may not be duplicated, i.e. all three points are separate.

I chose a random point not too far from my house that had three short words I knew were used by W3W and tried to find the best triangle I could starting with that seed. I found one of 37.327078 miles total. The points are:


See if you can beat that.

Our Ignorant Newsies

I haven’t posted one of these lately. There are so many, it seems pointless, but I enjoyed one my wife brought to me yesterday. A commentator on NPR about something ended her rant with the statement:

“We can’t keep burying our heads in the sand like a flamingo.”

The Other Side of Night by Adam Hamdy

The Other Side of NightThe Other Side of Night by Adam Hamdy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The blurb from one reviewer said “…like no crime novel I’ve ever read.” That’s true, but that’s not actually praise. A lot of us are fans of conventional crime novels. If you are, you’re likely to be disappointed in this one, as I was. It’s set in England. The main characters are a male physicist, a brilliant child, a woman police detective and a scientist couple. The woman has recently been expelled from the force, but we don’t know the details of why. The woman scientist dies and the now ex-detective suspects she was murdered, even though she had cancer and died in a hospital. Then that woman’s body goes missing. Okay, that’s a pretty good setup. I was interested for the first 60% of the book. But at that point, the deaths (there are more) are explained and the culprit convicted. The case is solved.

Suddenly there is a white page with nothing but “Part 2” in the center. Everything we thought we knew starts to come into doubt. It becomes weirder and departs from the mundane. The characters are scientists, remember. And this is a novel, i.e. fiction. Science and fiction. Enough said. I found the ending imaginative, but unsatisfying. Still, it kept me reading and was entertaining enough to merit three stars.

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Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

Riders of the Purple Sage (Riders of the Purple Sage, #1)Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This laughable fantasy is a cross between a fairy tale and comic book for horny teenage boys of yesteryear. Out on the Utah prairie two broad-shouldered, straight-shooting men separately find beautiful women who are near helpless without them and who give themselves to the men. Either man can single-handedly kill a half dozen attackers and take only flesh wounds in return which they stoically endure. The plot is convoluted and makes little sense. All you need to know is that there are bad guys and good guys clearly identified and killing is the way things get settled. One man finds a hidden Eden where a man and women can live with abundance all around.

The one aspect that I found most interesting is the way Grey portrayed Mormons of the day. It would be politically incorrect today. Mormonism comes across as a violent cult led by lustful hypocritical men. While I’ve known several Mormons that I like and respect, there is some truth to the cultish aspect. My son was cut off from contact with a good friend when he was in elementary school when the friend’s Mormon mother found out we weren’t Christians.

The writing style is hard to describe. It’s an amalgam of rusticity, elegance, and hyperbole. It’s so different from anything else I’ve read that I imagine any other Zane Grey book would be instantly recognizable.

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