EricCWelch

No Longer Posting to Booklikes

Not that anyone cares, but I have decided to no longer post to Booklikes.  I will continue to review on my blog, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Leafmarks. If you wish to follow my reviews, I suggest it be done at one of those sites. 

Sometimes seeing what's in front of us is difficult.

Slipping Into Darkness - Peter Blauner

How do you find someone who’s not supposed to exist?  That’s the detective’s conundrum.

 

Francis X Loughlin is losing his sight. He's a cop, and because of the genetically acquired retinitis pigmentosa his future on the force looks bleak. He's always been a loner so this means ever increasing isolation.

 

Two decades before, Francis had been instrumental in the incarceration of Julian Vega for the murder of a woman. Julian has been released following years of legal appeals he orchestrated, and soon thereafter a similar murder is committed. Now, however, the police have access to DNA technology and some very strange links and relationships lead Loughlin to surmise that Julian may have been innocent.

 

Blauner does a nice job of balancing the assorted POVs. We see Julian struggling to overcome the hostility of just about everyone, each assuming he's guilty and got off on a "technicality." He's somewhat baffled by societal changes having been isolated for more than a decade. The family of the dead girl still feels they haven't received justice, and Francis battles his own feelings about the case as well as the political powers who have everything to gain by hiding what may be the truth. You feel for all of the characters.


Great title with multiple meanings.

All those naked women.

When in Rome: A Journal of Life in the Vatican City - Robert J. Hutchinson

“Like most Catholics, I spent most of my life knowing practically nothing about the Vatican, despite twenty years writing, off and on, about religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular.” When in Rome is Hutchinson's remedy to that deficiency, a delightful romp through the mores and politics of the Holy See.

 

It's ironic that being a Catholic you get to see a lot of beautiful naked women. "It's true. You may never have realized it before. I never could understand why thickheaded, drooling Protestants would accuse us of being prudes when they gave the world the Puritans and the Moral Majority and we gave the world Rodin's The Kiss.'The fact is that everywhere you go in the Vatican you find nudity. From the Sistine Chapel to the papal apartments are busty young women and tumescent young men in murals and paintings that would cause an immense ruckus if found on the walls of any university or public library.

 

Hutchinson set out to write a book about the Vatican that would answer the kinds of questions that tourists might ask, e.g. How much do cardinals make? or Where do prelates buy their clothes? He soon learned that the Vatican is still very tight lipped and secretive. In fact, they distrust book writers more than magazine journalists, because threatening to deny them future access can control those who write for periodicals. Book writers, on the other hand, often write only one. And "reporters are trained to expect politicians to lie to them, but even politicians will tell you something, if only so they don't look as though they are covering things up. But avoid expressing an opinion about any person, place, or thing, unless absolutely necessary to further one's own interests. This timidity breeds an atmosphere of secrecy and paranoia that outsiders find pathological but which curial insiders believe to be the noblest kind of discretion." This means a reluctance to respond concretely to questions leading to this type of fictitious response from a cardinal who has been asked if the sky is really blue. 'The issue is not perception as such, but whether the apparent blueness of the sky to some people, at certain times and under certain conditions, reflects what they are actually perceiving or merely what they appear to be perceiving. You can't, on this basis alone, simply make the bare assertion that the sky is blue. It's a very complex question, one on which many experts disagree." At this point, you begin to develop a throbbing headache at the base of the skull.

 

The Vatican State as we know it today is of very recent origin. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the Papal States covered territory in Italy the size of Denmark. Rome and the Vatican were protected by foreign nations, notably France, until the Franco-Prussian War, when all the French troops were withdrawn from Italy and the Italian nationalists attacked and conquered Rome, in effect, imprisoning the pope in the Vatican. In 1929, Mussolini codified the uneasy truce, and Vatican City became recognized by international law. A second treaty was formalized only as late as 1985. Despite the pope's perpetual support for democratic nations, the church is a highly structured monarchy. The pope's the boss, no doubt about it. He answers to no one - at least no one who's willing to show him/herself politically. Still, every day at noon, a cannon is fired to celebrate the Italian victory over Rome and the pope.

 

Hutchinson's book is filled with delightful little pieces of information such as how the Swiss guard uniforms were designed, how many uniforms have to be tailored, the contents of the Vatican library, and most interestingly his tour through the secret archives that contain documents of extraordinary historical value. "The dominant trait [of the Curia and Vatican staff] is circumspection - the ability to documents of extraordinary historical value. "The Secret Archives is also responsible for the Vatican's overseas diplomatic missions as well as the staggering amount of material that is received directly from the 2,700 metropolitan sees, 212,000 individual parishes, heads of states, scientific organizations, non-Catholic religious bodies, cultural leaders, and so on. The sheer amount of paper that washes over the Vatican. . . boggles the mind."

 

The Vatican has been responsible for many scientific discoveries and we owe our calendar to Pope Gregory who- in order to correct errors of the Sosigenean calendar that was off by eleven minutes and fourteen seconds per year- simply declared in a 1582 Papal bull that the day after October 5 would officially become October 15 and that the year would now be 365.2422 days long, making the calendar off only 3.12 days every 400 years. Hence leap years. It was from the Meridian Room (more naked cherubs on the ceiling) atop the tall Tower of the Winds built by Gregory that the astronomical observations were made to provide the corrections.

 

The story of Queen Christina of Sweden, her abdication and conversion to Catholicism, is fascinating. Particularly as she scandalized Rome by her licentious behavior - she was a flagrant lesbian, and the story of how she came to be buried with the popes reveals a great deal about how attitudes have shifted in the past few centuries.

 

This is a delightful little volume that makes want to grab the next flight to Rome to indulge in the majesty and glory of living history.

Where the extreme left and right meet,.

Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline - Robert H. Bork

I hate stars.  I gave this book three even though I disagree vehemently with Bork, but it's kind of fun.   His jeremiadSlouching Toward Gomorrah uses Gomorrah as a metaphor for the United States. The book reminds me of the cantankerous old relative at the dinner table who can’t stop talking about how terrible things are today. One can’t even find time to pass the peas. Bork’s thesis is simple: our culture is immoral, and it’s all the liberal’s fault.

 

Society’s degradation has been caused by radical egalitarianism, radical feminism, popular culture, the Su­preme Court, and rock n’ roll music (which he admits never having listened to). Portable radios share much blame for they permitted youth to listen to music without parental supervision. The Internet (which he admits to never having looked at) is a quagmire of dirty pictures, political correctness, and Afro centrists. He leaves virtually no one unscathed, attacking both the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant denominations that are living in a “leftist dream world,” and have become feminized.

Bork’s solution to this state of affairs is censorship, democratization of the Supreme Court, and religion - where this religion is to be found among today’s debased denominations her does not say

The problem with this book is that it’s all assault and no finesse. Never does he engage the reader in a discussion of both sides of an issue. He creates a straw man and then knocks it over. He falls into the trap he accuses liberals of falling into; “assaulting one’s opponents as not merely wrong but morally evil.” He confuses cause with symp­toms. Never does he reveal evidence as to how the Beatles cause immoral behavior. He states simply, “Rock and rap are utterly impoverished by comparison with swing or jazz or any pre-World War II music personally, I always thought swing was the epitome of decadence] impoverished emotionally, aesthetically, and intellectually.”

Bork cannot resist name-calling. Liberals are fascist, totalitarian, and Nazi-like. Multiculturalism “is barbarism,” “feminist ideology is a fantasy of persecution.” He castigates those “cafeteria Catholics” who subscribe only to those elements of Catholicism with which they agree and then he proceeds to rebuke the Catholic Church’s call for a “just wage”, calling it “misunderstood economics.” Not an American institution escapes Bork’s wrath: the universities, colleges, government, the arts, the churches and the press have all been indoctrinated by liberals (that must be why we've elected so many Republicans in the last 25 years.)

For a self-defined conservative, Bork has some radical ideas. He would overturn the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions to be overridden by a majority vote of the Congress. He does not explain how, for example, if popular culture and society are so debased, a legislature elected by those debased people will fix Supreme Court decisions. It seems to me the whole purpose of the Supreme Court being immune to public pressure (as Franklin Roosevelt discovered to his dismay) is to provide a conservative brake on society, to constrain the short-lived stimulus of fleeting majorities. He is against an activist court. Not just liberal activism, but conservative as well, suggesting at one point that it all began with the conservative court that wrote into the constitution all sorts of free market principles that are not there. The liberals then just continued this process of activism but from a cultural perspective.

Bork is the perfect example of the circular nature of ideology, moving from far left to far right where they merge to become equally authoritarian. And what do you bet, he visited adult bookstores.

Plus ca Change...

Matters of Principle: An Insider's Account of America's Rejection of Robert Bork's Nomination to the Supreme Court - Mark Gitenstein
Mark Gitenstein was Chief Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Joseph Biden, during the Bork nomination hearings. Bork had been nominated to replace Justice Powell on the Supreme Court. Gitenstein has written an insiders account of the process in Matters of Principle.

The battle between Democrats and Republicans remains an ideological conflict. Both sides had very different judicial philosophies. Judge Bork argued for a very narrow interpretation of the Constitution; that rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution could not be protected by the federal government. His opponents argued that Bork ignored the ninth amendment that retained rights in the people even if they were not specifically spelled out and that the court had an obligation to protect those rights. (See The Tempting of America by Robert Bork  for a very concise explanation of Bork’s judicial philosophy). Thus, according to Bork, if the Constitution did not categorically state that you could educate your children, you could be denied the right to educate them at home or send them to private school; that because segregation or integration were not mentioned by the framers, segregation was a legitimate form of social structure for states to adopt; and because no generalized right to privacy was articulated, states could prohibit the sale of contraceptive devices or permit wholesale abortion if they desired.
 
This opposition to Griswold v. Connecticut is interesting because it reflected a complete about-face. In 1963, articulating his libertarian stance, Bork had argued that Griswold reflected a generalized right to privacy even though it was not specifically declared in the Constitution. By 1971 his position had completely reversed. This position switching was not unusual. After all Bork had begun as a Socialist and as a young man had even handed out Communist leaflets. This was an outgrowth of his poor background. After college, however, he decided the way to way was strictly through a free market approach and from there he adopted the libertarian stance, radically arguing against the civil rights movement and legislation as an infringement on a white man’s right to sit next to whom ever he wanted, a denial of his right of association. 
 
By 1971 he was unalterably opposed to one-man-one vote decisions and court decisions that struck down legislation forbidding the establishment of private schools. By 1937 he was describing himself as a “Burkean” and was irritating his friends on the right by suggesting that a balanced budget amendment was foolish and silly. He was particularly enrage by “intellectuals” (although a major reason for his escape from a Washington law firm to Yale University in the fifties was his desire for a more intellectually stimulating environment.) By Burkean he meant opposition to “broad sweeping abstract principles as a way of organizing society, because they tend to be highly coercive; respect for community, tradition, constitu­tional structure; a willingness to look at a law and ask ‘will it do more good than harm.”’ 
 
So Bork had made the journey from “Socialist to Communist to New Dealer, to free-market advocate, to libertarian, to strict constructionist, to statist, to Burkean.” His mentor Alexander Bickel (The Least Dangerous Branch is on my TBR list) who had also moved from liberalism to Burke counseled to always push himself and never to cower in public debate, nor fear unpopular positions. That was were he was at the time of the nomination hearings. He was also a prolific writer who enjoyed provoking, as most of the writings were originally speeches that were intended to provoke. Those provocations made it difficult for the White House which was trying to portray him as a moderate replacement for the middle-of-the-road Powell.
 
 
Bork’s nomination was a response to Reagan’s failure to achieve adoption of his social agenda. Patrick Bu­chanan, Reagan’s communications director had argued, “The appointment of two justices to the Supreme Court could do more to advance the social agenda — school prayer, anti-pornography, anti-busing, right-to-life and [ending] quotas in employment — than anything Congress can accomplish in twenty years.”
This use of the judiciary to achieve political ends was not new. Andrew Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt had personally orchestrated campaigns to change the philosophical nature of the court. The Senate has always considered it to be its prerogative to thwart such ventures.
 
In the end, Borks’s extremest positions on numerous issues, obvious from a trail of documents, made it impossible for the White House strategy to portray him as a moderate. They lost the support of the moderates and southern Democrats whose votes they needed for confirmation. Ironically, though, a major reason for Bork’s defeat was less his judicial philosophy than the failure of the Reagan administration to publicly support its nominee. Bork had pleaded with White House staff to have the president issue a speech on his behalf; but Reagan never left the sidelines.
Bork’s position - that no set of values was supreme (“there is no principled was to prefer any claimed human value to any other”) is a startling proposition coming from a self-proclaimed conservative and the author ofSlouching  for Gomorrah for it means courts would be prohibited from enforcing the values they wanted adopted. This logically led him to the conclusion that courts can only enforce contracts, the Constitution being merely another contract that must be read literally. The judge must not choose between a competing set of values, but must return to the document for a literal reading much like a will.
 
Perhaps ironically, Thomas Grey of Stanford has pointed out in 1975 that “Bork’s views and those of New Deal liberal Hugo Black were similar in that ‘constitutional doctrines based on sources other than the explicit commands of the written constitution were illegitimate.’” Black has also used a Burkian approach to argue against the Supreme Court’s imposition of arbitrary values and creation of “right” that prevented New Deal legislation. This conservative Supreme Court argued that an employee had a “right to work” for as little per hour as he wanted. Bork has recently stated that the Supreme Court's activism began with this early twentieth century court; that it wrote all sorts of free market “nonsense” into the Constitution. So Bork has argued he was simply using the liberal’s criticisms of an earlier court when he decried the Warren court’s activism. That earlier court had also laid down much precedent for the development of privacy and individual rights, however; a trend that Black noted and Bork has perhaps ignored. In Pierce v Society of  Sisters (1925), a decision that Bork has called “intellectually empty,” the court struck down a law that would have prohibited home schooling

 

Bork contended the 9th amendment, often used to define rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution, is essentially meaningless, yet therein lies the most important core of original intent of the Framers.

Great but for the date

A Philosophical Investigation - Philip Kerr

The problem for any author who writes about the future is attaching a date to that vision. 1984, 2001, etc.  Here we are in 2014 and witness that the future is much more prosaic than the book or movie. The same is true here. The year is 2013. Chief Inspector “Jake” Jacowicz has been assigned to investigate the murders of several VMN-negative men. Research has revealed that men who are deficient in Ventro Medial Nucleus are more likely to commit violent antisocial acts. The Lombroso project was created to analyze men, to find those who are VMN deficit and to provide counseling and drug treatment in order to prevent their violent natures from committing crimes. Unfortunately, one of the VMN-negative men has found his way into the database and is killing off the men.

 

Each of the men has been given a code name to protect his privacy. The killer’s code is Ludwig Wittgenstein (obviously the title is a pun on Wittgenstein's most famous work), a twentieth century philosopher who speculated on the nature of language and its relationship to empirical reality. Oddly, the killer, in the eyes of the detectives begins to assume characteristics similar to the original philosopher whose diaries reveal interesting speculations on the nature of death and reality. Punishment in 2013 consists of punitive coma of varying lengths — often permanent. This was a way of defeating the anti-capital punishment groups. Obviously a person in a coma is not dead, they are being fed and cared for, and we know brain waves continue during coma, and its reversible nature at will (in 2013) provides control and saves money.  Ironic given recent events in Oklahoma.

 

The book  is quite interesting in some of the philosophical issues it raises. The discussion of murder is particularly interesting. “Because each time I kill one of my brothers, I am, of course, killing God. But just a minute, I hear you say: if someone kills God and God does not exist, then surely he’s killing nothing at all. It makes no sense to say ‘I am killing something’ when the something does not exist. I can imagine a god that is not there, in this forest, but not kill one that is not there. And ‘to imagine a god in this forest’ means to imagine a god is there. Burt to kill a god does not mean that. . . But if someone says ‘in order for me to be able to imagine God he must after all exist in some sense’, the answer is: no, he does not have to exist in any sense. Except one. Where God does exist is in the mind of man. Ergo, one kills a man, one kills God.” Fascinating.

 

There are other intriguing speculations on the nature of society and what is right and wrong. Society is simply a bias toward commonly held standards of what constitutes right and wrong. “That does not give us the truth about my acts. Only the appearance of truth. For thousands of years, when a man took another man's property it was called theft. But for almost a century, in certain parts of this world this sort of thing was legitimized by the name of Marxism. Tomorrow’s political philosophy might sanction murder, just as Marxism once sanctioned theft.

You talk about a standard of a decent society. . .. But what kind of society is it that regards a President of the United States who orders the use of nuclear weapons to kill thousands of people as a great man, and another man who assassinates a single President as a criminal?”

 

 

Very good detective story that speculates on numerous important issues, but he would have been better advised to leave the year ambiguous..

Miscreant to Physician

Spy Sub: A Top-Secret Mission to the Bottom of the Pacific - Roger C. Dunham

Spy Sub is interesting on several levels. It’s the story firstly of a young man who was thrown out of college for having miserable grades. Yet the Navy saw fit to train him as a nuclear reactor operator on a highly classified submarine mission. Their faith and assessment procedures worked for the author went on to become a respected physician after leaving the Navy. Dunham explains many of the techniques used to learn the material. Basically, it was peer pressure — he would have been ostracized by his shipmates if he failed to perform — and self- preservation — he would have destroyed himself if things went wrong.

 

Because the nature of the mission they trained for, which involved lowering an electronic device thousands of feet below the sub to search for something, even the name of the submarine was required to be changed for the book although numerous photographs are reproduced as illustrations.

 

Working on a submarine could not be less appealing. The confined quarters with no view of the surface for weeks at a time required that the Navy do extensive psychological testing of each candidate. Constant emergency drills — the flooding drill was particularly scary — tested everyone’s nerves and skills. When a real emergency did occur, caused by a defective 49 cent diode, they had to spend hours on battery power after SCRAMming (emergency shutdown) the reactor to track down the problem.

Life was not without its amusing moments, however. During one exercise a surface ship was supposed to deploy a top secret device — so secret it was lowered into the ocean covered by a box. The device would then be sought out by the pseudonymous Viper Fish's fancy electronic surveillance gear. Unfortunately, whoever designed the strange object didn’t consider its density in relation to salt water and the device floated where it could be seen by all after popping out of its cover, a terrible security lapse that probably caused the end of the world as we know it.

 

The mission takes place as tensions over the Vietnam War escalate. The protests at home were intensely demoralizing to the crew. After a man is washed overboard during an attempt to fix a hydraulic mechanism during a violent storm, and Dunham’s partner at the reactor control panel begins to act a little weird, tensions increase....

A complicated character

George Wallace: American Populist - Stephan Lesher

George C. Wallace came up the hard way. He was desperately poor and 'scrambled for any job that literally might earn him a few pennies. At the same time, everything he did was with an eye to-ward future political power. Even as a youth, when one job required traveling all around the county inoculating dogs for rabies, he was making friends and winning potential votes. Many remembered him years later and voted for him in droves. In some ways he was quite progressive. As a first-term legislator he sponsored and ramrodded a bill to provide low cost vocational post-secondary education for blacks and whites (separate of course) and many of the issues he favored were populist in nature.

 

In WW II he enrolled as a cadet to learn to |fly but wound up as a flight engineer on a B- 9 flying several missions over Japan toward the end of the war. Most flights were routine but they had several close calls with engine fires and other mechanical difficulties. Finally he had enough and refused to get in an airplane. His colonel, who could have had him court-martialed, instead sent him to the base hospital where he was diagnosed with battle-fatigue. Forever after he was white-knuckled on every campaign flight.

 

Stephan Lesher’s biography of Wallace brings Wallace and his role in American politics very readably to light. Wallace will be forever recalled as the man who enshrined racism as a political stratagem. Clearly everything he did, every hand he shook, every statement he made, was intended to get him elected to office. The man lived politics, and during the sixties attacking civil rights was good politics in Alabama.

Wallace argued then and later in 1930 that to take any other approach was political suicide. “It was not any of my making. . . .It was political suicide to offer any moderate approach. . . Alabamians are gullible for that kind of thing. . . .Give the people something to dislike and hate, create a straw man for them to fight, they’d rather be against something than for something. As long as our people are of that frame of mind and like their politics with that brand, then we’re going to have people to take advantage of that kind of situation.” And he did with a vengeance.

 

It also clear from this biography, that Wallace’s residential campaigns tapped a deeper malaise in the electorate as the votes he garnered during his presidential campaigns reveal. Many of his issues were used successfully in successive campaign by both Republicans and Democrats: prohibition of school busing for integration, school prayer by constitutional amendment, tax reductions for the middle class (to be paid for by taxing church-owned property, and law and order, to name few. In fact, Kevin Phillips considered Wallace as “the first national tax-revolt leader [and] the man also in the vanguard of so many other populist causes.” Lesher reiterates that no president was elected between 1963 land 1992 “without clearly embracing and articulating. ... the Wallace issues. . . .George Wallace’s wish to be rehabilitated by history may or may not be realized - but history already has substantiated his idea of history.”

And just what lessons would those be?

Destroyer Captain: Lessons of a First Command - James G. Stavridis

Now a flag admiral, the author was the second commanding officer of the U.S.S. Barry (the first to take her on deployment,) an Arleigh Burke class destroyer, the same class as the Vincennes, the ship that shot down the Iranian passenger plane (an Airbus 300 flight 655) with an Aegis missile in 1988 believing it to be an attacking jet.

 

The book was a big disappointment to me. It’s basically a journal, an almost daily one, but without the serious introspection of those worth reading. It’s quite self-congratulatory and one wonders if those under his command really had the same regard for him that he had for himself.

 

I had hoped for a better feel of what it’s like to become captain of a modern destroyer. Unfortunately, this journal is too superficial. Here's an all-too-representative sample:

 

We had lunches and dinners all over this intriguing seaport city, which is actually quite blue collar—at least by Riviera standards. Clearly, it is the best buy on the Riviera, with a good French fixed-price dinner going for under $20 for three courses and frequently with wine thrown in! Pizza in the wood-burning ovens is excellent. My favorite place, in fact, was a pizzeria called Luigis up over a hill behind the beach area of Mourillons. The Cercle Navale (French officers’ club) has excellent buys on lunches. The large Carrefour in the downtown is a French Kmart of sorts, with great buys on wine, pottery, and other typically French items.

 

Now what lessons of command he learned from that escapes me.

 

For something much more real, I highly recommend Don Sheppard’s books.

Tsk, tsk.

Another Man's Moccasins  - Craig Johnson

Sheriff Longmire is back in Wyoming nursing Katie back to health following the devastating attack on her in the last book. This one has parallel plots: one involving a Vietnamese woman whose body was found along a highway, and the other Longmire's experiences as a Marine CID investigator in Vietnam assigned to find the source of some drugs. They begin to merge when Longmire discovers that an elderly Vietnamese was following the woman; he says she was his granddaughter. And then there’s the huge Indian found homeless in an underpass who had also served in Vietnam.

 

I recommend not starting the series with this book. The development of the characters and their personalities is what drives the series and the intermingling of the Vietnam story with the present day doesn’t always work that well, at least in the audio version. Very ably read by George Guidall.

 

Well above average police procedural series. However, I continue to think the relationship between Vic, his deputy, and Longmire, is not a path for the author to take. Aside from the March-December aspect, supervisors should never, ever, ever have an intimate relationship with a supervisee. And to make matters worse, Katie is beginning a relationship with Vic’s brother. Tsk, tsk.

 

I'm reading/listening my way through the entire series

Right for the Wrong Reason or Wrong for the Right Reason.

Becket - Jean Anouilh, Lucienne Hill, André Aciman

If you have never seen Becket, the movie, with Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton, you must. It's based on this play by Jean Anouilh that I had never read. I ran across the LA Theaterworks production on Audible and gave it a try. Wonderful production and play. My only complaint is that it was sometimes difficult to distinguish the voices to determine who was speaking. If you can, get a copy of the printed play to read along with the audio.

 

I won't bother with any kind of plot summary. Everyone knows (or should know) the story of Henry II and his stormy relationship with Thomas Becket. It has ethnic and religious conflict; dispute that remain unsettled to this day.

 

Another great movie related to Henry II is Lion in Winter, also with Peter O'Toole. Get both of them. You will not be disappointed.

A Reversal of Sorts

The Wrong Quarry - Max Allan Collins

I have read all the Keller, Quarry and Parker books except for this, the most recent. It’s good.

 

What is it about “hit man” books that attracts us (or me anyway?) I suspect it’s the lifestyle, the hunt, the tracking, etc. The Walter Mitty quality of it all. I think it would be great fun -- except for the killing part. There I draw the line. Guess I’d be a lousy hit man. Come to think of it, I’ve never had women fawning all over me either. That’s OK, my wife loves me.

 

Collins has taking Quarry in a novel direction. Rather than being hired through a middle man to hit people, he’s managed to obtain the list of contacts kept by the broker and is using it to determine who the target might be. He then contacts the target and offers to eliminate the threat from the hit man -- for a fee, of course.

 

Cute. You can read a basic plot summary above, so I don’t feel it necessary to reiterate it. Let’s just say that after the preliminaries, Quarry thinks something's just not right.

 

Fun.

See Also Charles Perrow...

No Downlink: A Dramatic Narrative About the Challenger Accident and Our Time - Claus Jensen

Read in conjunction with Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

The author, a huge fan of Richard Feynman, draws on Feynman's work to discuss the problems and events leading up to the Challenger accident. I remember being at we work when one of the other deans popped in to report the explosion. This was still when Shuttle launches were watched with great interest by the public and the presence of Christa Maculiife added especial interest. Her kids were watching in school. Just imagine...

The Rogers Commission was the result, and Feynman's famous demonstration with ice water and the O-rings made everyone's favorite list of stories. Reagan in his memoirs dismisses the accident in two sentences. We had a problem, identified it, and got on with things. The author explains the systemic flaws in this book that cannot be dismissed so easily.

NASA was symbolic of large systems that surround us today, all very complex, that often devolve into uncontrollable entities where individuals eschew responsibility and suffer from bitter internal politics. Jensen examines the role of management theories in the structure of these large scale systems and the rise of HR (now, as we all know, totally out of control.) He cites Weber’s book on management (it’s impossible to have a large system without a bureaucracy) and discusses the set of principles Weber regarded as key. Note that one of them communication, and how to sort out what’s important from the river of data, was to play a part in the Challenger disaster.

Jensen does a very nice job of the examining management change during the early 60's you have a cyst was on teamwork working together I'm not punishing people for failure and the way management changed over the years before the Challenger accident is instructive He draws heavily in this section on a book I think everyone should read: Normal Accidents. The substantial disadvantages of tightly coupled systems resulted in several problems for NASA and the Apollo and Gemini programs.

Another interesting facet of the book is his examination of the relationship between the industrial/military complex (as defined by Eisenhower) and how NASA was taken over by the military once the lustre of space exploration had waned. The defense department and contractors had so intertwined contracts with thousands of communities and businesses, that it became increasingly difficult for Congressmen to vote against military (and by extension NASA since the military was now often dictating NASA specs) expenditures. 

Soon, as military companies merged large monoliths were created who, thanks to cost-plus contracts, could charge whatever they wanted. We had created a society of state capitalism. But it wasn’t just corporations who fed at government's teat. Universities fought to get grants at the expense of academic freedom. Soon an astonishing 88% of CalTech’s budget was from the government; 66% of MIT’s and even 25% of Harvard’s.

Even as the military denigrated the civilian NASA’s efforts, they were attempting behind the scenes to gain control over the program and the budget. Edward Teller was pushing Star Wars to a technologically ignorant president who loved the fantastical concept. (Never mind that cost estimates approached one trillion dollars -- the balance wouldn’t come due until he was out of office.) NASA meanwhile, had been taken over by true believers ever mindful of the need to keep the budget money flowing. Shuttles were often cobbled together from cannibalized parts from other shuttles to keep to the schedule. (The Air Force had estimated. there was a 1 in 35 chance of a disaster, making the program the most dangerous technological initiative ever.) NASA was not above telling its own version of everything. “Of all the organizations that I have dealt with … I have only seen one that lied. It was NASA. From the top to the bottom they lie … The reason they lie, of course, is because they arc wrapped up in a higher calling. In their eyes they arc white lies. They tell lies in order to do what has to be done. Because in the end the result will be for the betterment of the public. So they arc not lying from evil. But. nevertheless, they are lying.”
Can you imagine starting from scratch and putting a man on the moon in today’s contentious environment? We’d never make it to Boise.

And to follow up on that achievement, the shuttle was developed under extraordinary conditions. “Never before had a new spacecraft carried human beings on its maiden trip. And never, ever before had anyone tried to bring a spacecraft the size of a DC-9 back down through the earth’s atmosphere. Never before had there been rocket engines as powerful as those which would be required here; never before had a rocket engine filled with highly combustible liquid oxygen and hydrogen been ignited on the ground, while positioned right alongside an enormous fuel tank. And never before had it been necessary for a rocket engine to be reused, or to have a total combustion time of over seven hours. All previous rocket engines bad done well if they lasted a modest number of minutes before petering out.” 

And then they wanted to put non-test-pilots on the thing. The idea that an ordinary citizen could travel along was strongly resisted by the astronauts who understood the risks, but management wanted to show the public that space travel could be safe as commercial air travel. But no flight went without some difficulty. In one case a supplier had left out two pins from a spacesuit. Metal shavings were found blocking an oxygen release vent. Fortunately, the mission had to be cut short for other reasons. Had they tried to use the spacesuit it could have exploded, possibly smashing a hole in the orbiter. Problems with brakes were endemic. And the tiles (later linked to the Columbia disaster) were a constant problem.

The problems with the Columbia in the mission preceding that of the Challenger laid the foundation for its explosion. Delayed seven times, it was supposed to carry a Congressmen (who claimed God was instrumental in his going) into space. Each delay meant the countdown (some 2,000 pages) had to be restarted. Then there was a weather delay in getting the Columbia back, a problem because they needed parts off it for the Challenger. So the pressure to launch was immense. And we know the result.

Less a history of just the Challenger disaster, Jensen writes of the history of rocket development in the first section at some length, a distance some readers who prefer focus on the Challenger accident may not wish to travel. I thought it was excellent and provided a good background for some of the technical detail down the road. An excellent book.

Does the past never desert us?

Southern Cross: A John Marshall Tanner Novel - Stephen Greenleaf

I attended my 40th high school reunion a few years ago. It was a bit bizarre. I talked about it with my vet some weeks later who, in his inimitably deliberate way explained why he never went to his reunions. "I didn't like the people then, so why would I like them now." Greenleaf describes it well himself:

 

<i>“For one thing, it was summer, so the flora was on its most verdant behavior rather than curled in the scruffy somnolence it suffered during most of the academic term. Tempers had flared and moods had plummeted during those dull gray months of winter—loves were lost, friendships severed, studies neglected, often irretrievably. The tardy lift of spring never quite made up for it, not even the year the baseball team went 26 and 5 and Gil and I were named all-league.
  More troubling than the intemperate cycles of botany and meteorology was my sense—grounded in resentments I didn’t know' I had until I boarded the flight that morning—that the attentions lavished on the grounds and buildings, as well as on the pursuits that pulsed within them, contrasted markedly with the neglect of more essential needs. Lack of guidance, or even notable concern, on matters ranging from career choice to social deftness to symptoms of personal dysfunction had left many of my peers, including myself, in a fog that led us down wrong roads. On the day I graduated and went out into the world, I knew more about the Renaissance than I knew about myself.”</i>

 

At the reunion, Tanner met up with his best friend from college, Seth, who asked him to come to South Carolina where he is an established lawyer and has a problem. He's made lots of enemies by defending Civil Rights type and most recently a black girl who wants to enter the Palisades, a thinly disguised Citadel. He’s received an audio tape threatening his life, but what really worries him is that the voice on the tape is that of his son. With minimal digging, Tanner soon realizes there are connections to events of the early sixties where youth, sex, jealousy, and idealism all collided to affect events twenty years later.

 

There are many different kinds of enjoyable mysteries: some emphasize action, others ideas, and some language. Greenleaf’s action is cerebral and displays it in marvelous use of language. I’ve read about eleven of his fourteen books. I’ll be very sorry to finish them.

So Will Katla Take a Hiatus?

Rogue - A Katla Novel (Amsterdam Assassin Series) - Martyn V. Halm

This book grabs you right at the beginning and won’t let go. Laure Cohn is a U.S. agent trying to trap whoever is operating as Loki Enterprises. The U.S. would like to enlist h/her for its own purposes.  They set up a target, hire Loki and then watch as Katla kills the men in the airport on tape and in front of numerous witnesses but they can’t prove a thing, it was so cleverly done.

 

It’s soon a cat-and-mouse game between numerous police agencies (Deborah Stern is back) and Katla (and Bram who has become much more involved in helping to plan her projects.)


I believe this is the last of the series now available so I hope Halm is hard at work on some more.  I suggest reading the Katla series in order starting with the shorts.  Good, entertaining reading.

Is Hiding Even Possible?

 

Also http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/11/anonymous-web-nsa-trail-janet-vertesi

 

"What's Kafkaesque, is when you enter a surreal world in which all your control patterns, all your plans, the whole way in which you have configured your own behaviour, begins to fall to pieces, when you find yourself against a force that does not lend itself to the way you perceive the world." Kafka Biographer

Professor Vertesi, sociologist at Princeton, in an experiment, tried to prevent marketing types from learning of her pregnancy by eliminating all references on social media and using cash exclusively. The ramifications were more than she bargained for.

Some quotes:  "The first is Melvin Kranzberg's observation that "technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral". Our technologies have values built into them, which is why Vertesi in her talk cites someone's observation that "the iPod is a tool to make us moral" (because it encourages people to buy music rather than download it illicitly) and philosophers argue about whether surveillance encourages moral – ie socially approved – behaviour (think speed cameras)."

"You said you quit all Google products two years ago. What was the breaking point for you?

When Google knew I was engaged before anybody else did, that did it for me."

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