Thursday, July 28, 2016

Case Histories

This is a terrific book.

Kate Atkinson's ability to write makes even other fine writers look like amateurs. I enjoy many other authors who write about detectives: The Peter Robinson series, the Ed McBain procedurals, the old Spenser novels and many others of the find-and-get-the-perp ilk. As good as Robinson, McBain et al are, they are minor leaguers compared to Atkinson.

Reading her feels like getting on a roller coaster.  You need to buckle up. And you know it's likely that the ride will be thrilling.

The only problem with Case Histories is that the plot lines are so nuanced that you almost have to read the book in a couple of sittings. Otherwise you can forget characters who were casually introduced but later come back to be significant. Atkinson is terrific at this--essentially compelling readers to pay attention to everything.  She draws the characters so carefully--even the ones you may think are inconsequential.   Then boom, one hundred pages later, you have to riffle back to find a reference to so and so who may turn out to be very consequential to the story.  Some of the characters are unusual, but as strange as they may be, when you are finished with the book you believe that these characters--even the true nutcases--are really out there.  Even the killers.

Case Histories introduces an independent detective, Jackson Brodie.  He has been hired to sleuth out issues related to three cases.  The reader learns about the case histories in the first three chapters. The cases are not presented chronologically. In sequence we read that in 1970 a toddler goes missing, then in 1994 a beloved daughter assisting in her father's law office is stabbed by an assailant who disappears, then in 1979 a husband has his head split open by an axe ostensibly by his wife while their infant daughter is nearby.  Now, in 2004, Brodie works on all three of these cases.

In addition Brodie is dealing with his own divorce; a daughter now living with the ex-wife and her lover; a quirky elderly cat lover whom Brodie befriends; Brodie's own painful childhood history; and his current romantic desires.

If you are a reader, and have a couple of days that you can dedicate to reading, I highly recommend Case Histories.  It is the first of four Jackson Brodie novels. I had read the fourth a while back, Started Early, Took My Dog, which was not quite as good as this one.  I know I will read the second one, One Good Turn, in the near future.  Case Histories is special.


I read up some on Bernie Sanders yesterday.  I learned that he decided to study Political Science because he himself had learned about a man named Adolph Hitler whose political ascension resulted in the death of 50 million people in World War II, six million of whom were Jews, killed because they were Jews.  So, Sanders figured that politics was important to study.

I am occasionally intrigued by the phenomenon of memory.  What do we remember and forget--and why? I have been blessed with a remarkable long term memory, yet my short term memory has become frighteningly abysmal.  I write e-mails to myself to remind myself that I took a pill--and really that is nothing.  I have ceased being surprised when I see that I have already taken out the garbage when I go to take it out because I had made a mental note to take it out, but have--incredibly-forgotten that I already have done so.

But my long term memory is still good. I was unnerved recently--and did comment on this in an earlier blog (though maybe I just thought I did) about how I guffawed when I heard a story, only to be informed subsequently by the raconteur that I had similarly laughed at the same story a while back.  That incident aside, I am surprised now and again when an event that happened years ago remains vivid in my mind, yet those who shared the moment have apparently forgotten about it.

I've some college cronies who use me on occasion as the go to human google for trivia about our past.  I got an e-mail a week or so ago from someone who contended he had a certain role in our fraternity whilst another contemporary disputed the claim.  I remembered vividly the accurate information.  I'm forever being tapped at one of our reunions by someone wondering what was the name of so and so, and where we had our fraternity weekend in 1968, or who started on our high school basketball team or who dated whom. Fair enough that this is all is trivia. But how does amnesia happen when it is not trivia.

I am puzzled by the resilience of Donald Trump's candidacy. The guy steps in excrement every week and yet he is still neck and neck for the presidency of the United States. Yesterday he said that the Russians should try and hack our e-mails. Today he said he was kidding.  A month or so ago, he praised Saddam Hussein because he "knew how to deal with terrorists".   Uh, no.  Saddam Hussein did not know how to deal with terrorists. He knew how to deal with dissidents. Hussein was a dictator and did what dictators do. They destroy those who oppose them.  Is that what Trump admires?

I get the importance of political power and the need for parties to try and gain it.  Yet this guy is not a Republican really.  He is an independent who was able to get the nomination because people have amnesia.  Even the casual high school study of the third reich, even the laziest high school student, knows that Hitler rose to power because he used a scapegoat--Jews--to get the Germans to coalesce around a foul nationalism.  So Trump is not using Jews--using the Moslems and Mexicans--and sleeping with the Russians.

How do you forget the important stuff?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Not the Last Time

The snafu that has been the talk of the day is not the last one that will surface from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

I know that because of how they handled the first one.

Melania Trump delivered a speech last night which contained sections that clearly and incontrovertibly had been lifted from Michelle Obama's 2008 address to the Democratic National Convention.

Instead of acknowledging the mistake, apologists for Trump denied wrongdoing and, incredibly, blamed the negative attention on Hillary Clinton.  This attack is akin to saying  "Donald Trump had to have a root canal today. Clinton is up to her old shenanigans."

Only a no-matter-what supporter of Trump can feel as if this, the denial, was a smart move.  Others have to be feeling a little squeamish.

A campaign that is willing to suppress truth like this, takes other shortcuts.  Something will happen in the next two days that will stagger dispassionate observers.

Still, you wonder if Trump will be competitive in November. He has done so many other worldly things on the campaign trail and, nevertheless, is, in some polls, neck and neck with Clinton.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Made To Kill

I was in the library last week looking for an easy book to read.  I did not feel like working too hard. Something short, enjoyable, that would compel me to turn the pages.

I saw a book billed as a combination of Science Fiction and Raymond Chandler detective story.  I've never been a fan of Science Fiction and while I know there are legions who swear by fast talking Raymond Chandler yarns, I am not among them.  But the book was short--only 237 pages. And when I read the first page or two in the library it looked like I could get into it.  So I took a chance and took it out.

Bad choice. The book is, as advertised, a combination of Science Fiction and witty detective dialogue.  Therefore, predictably for me, not my cup of tea.

You might wonder why I don't like Sci-Fi.  Well,

The real world is as weird as necessary for me.  I don't need something beyond this world for- "out of this world."  Most stories about planet Earth are sufficiently peculiar. Also, with Sci Fi I often can't (or don't want to) get my head around the references.  I don't want to know about the planet GWAMP that is 21 gazillion kilometers from its sun FLAMQUE which is comprised of the element SHVANTZ discovered in the year 2644 .  I just roll my eyes at this stuff.  Hey there are 118 elements in the real periodic table. Nine planets. Lots of stars.  That's enough.

Why don't I like 1940s gumshoe novels?

The quick repartee of gumshoe novels does not seem real to me. Does anybody, did anybody, ever speak like that? Also, the plots typically are superficial making the yarn more about how clever the detectives speak than any story.  Are there any couples that chat like, behave like, the couples in these books. I really do like the movie, Double Indemnity, (based on a novel of this ilk) but do lovers speak like that in real life?

Biased or not, the fact is I did not like Made to Kill and it took me a long time to read its 237 pages.

You may feel differently so here's the basic plot-without giving a whole lot away. (Not that there is a whole lot to give away).

Raymond is the last robot on earth.  He is also a detective. Raymond the robot's speciality is killing people.  A client comes to visit one day and asks Raymond to kill a Hollywood actor. She, the client, hands over a heavy bag of gold (literally) for payment.   Throw in some Soviet cold war characters, radioactivity, a Russian plot, the CIA, a couple of killings, some witty dialogue, and 237 pages later you finish--and then wonder why you picked the book up in the first place.

There is, however, something I liked about the book and it will stick with me.  Raymond the robot forgets everything every night, so he often is acting without information that he once had, but the next day does not.  I liked this because it reminded me of many of we non-robots who often make decisions in the absence of information that we once had access to, but are now unaware of not only the information, but of the fact that we once had it.  I was reminded of this recently when someone told me a joke which had me roar with laughter, only to be sobered when the jokester told me that I reacted similarly a few months earlier when the joke was first relayed.

I'd skip this book unless you like both Sci Fi and fast talking forties gumshoe stories.

Black Lives Matter

The debate over the Black Lives Matter movement is disturbing for a number of reasons.

The first is that some people, ostensibly, do not get the meaning of the slogan.  It, of course, does not mean other lives do not matter, but rather that black lives matter too.  And, implied, is that there is a sufficiently large population of ethnocentric bigots who do not believe this to be the case.   How tough would it be for you to identify people who fall into this population of neanderthals?

Black lives matter might as well be, Black lives matter as much as all other lives.

Who does not get this? I think there are three groups.

(1) The congenitally or developmentally obtuse.  There are people who are not that swift and others who never exercised their brains such that what could be a useful component of one's anatomy is not much more than some mushy gook located between the ears.  So, these folks maybe do not get what black lives matter means.  Careful not to sound especially condescending here, but how long would it take you to identify five people who can fall neatly into this category of the congenitally or developmentally obtuse?

(2) The second group is composed of people who do not want to get the message because they have a political agenda. It is convenient for this cluster to pretend to be obtuse so they can claim that those marching behind the black lives matter are separatists or just not concerned with any other group than their own. Former Mayor of New York Giuliani made comments on the national news last week which made it seem that he could fall into this group.  He has a political agenda, sees the black lives matter movement as an opportunity to make some debate points and deliberately does not get it. Giuliani did some wonderful things for the city of New York when he was mayor. I think of him with respect on those rare occasions that I walk in Time Square at midnight with no sense of fear--something that was out of the question in the late 60s and 70s. But on this issue he, and other members of his ilk, are not doing our society any favors. Black Lives Matter does not mean that other lives do not matter, but that black lives do.  And this group knows this.

(3) The third group is made up of those who no longer want to hear about complaints from African Americans. This group feels the playing field has been leveled and point to the President, chiefs of police, and politicians as an indication.  This group feels police act as they should when they suspect criminal activity.  And the group contends that the black lives matter movement fuels aggressive behavior by those who otherwise would not be likely to commit crimes. They point to recent killings in Baton Rouge and Texas as evidence.

All three of these groups do not get it.  All black lives matter means is that it is time that we as a society get past race as a criterion for anything.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

Deflategate over, for now

I'm very grateful for the overwhelming support I've received from Mr. Kraft, the Kraft family, coach Belichick, my coaches and teammates, the NFLPA, my agents, my loving family and most of all, our fans. It has been a challenging 18 months and I have made the difficult decision to no longer proceed with the legal process. I'm going to work hard to be the best player I can be for the New England Patriots and I look forward to having the opportunity to return to the field this fall.

Tom Brady posted this message on his facebook page today.To me, this means one of two things. (1) He knows he is culpable (2) He knows he has almost no chance in the supreme court because the ruling is not about his culpability but the right for Goodell to do what he pleases-----and Brady plans to file a law suit against the league subsequently.

I think it is (1).  I am not a legal scholar but I wonder if by not taking this as far as he could at this point it undermines any case he might make subsequently.  Also, I believe that if he is blameless he would not stand for his name to be besmirched any more than it already has been. He would issue a statement as strident as it would be substantive explicitly rejecting any intimation of culpability.  

If you were innocent, would you stop when your near flawless image had been sullied, probably irreparably, by baseless charges?

When I read through the report and read how the report was defended, I was stunned by the lack of substance, the biased process of investigation, and Goodell's apparent irrational intransigence. 

I always thought and wrote here that Goodell had a smoking gun. Some clear information that unequivocally linked Brady to the behavior that, for some intelligent reason, he did not want to disclose. Otherwise his decisions acting against one of the game's icons was, to anyone other than a Patriot hater or jealous other, was too confounding to explain.  

So, I think Goodell has a smoking gun. That Brady is culpable.  

I do not get why Brady would possibly take a suspension, unless, unless...

His legal team said it would be a waste of time because it would inevitably have been rejected by the supreme court before it was heard, ie. they would have voted not to hear it.  

AND they were certain that the real victory would come down the road when the NFL would be sued for fabricating a case that provided clear damages to the athlete's income and reputation, let alone to the team and fan base.  Bob Kraft and Coach Belichick must know that Goodell has Brady by the short hairs. Otherwise we do not see this post on facebook today.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Deflategate again.

The following headline appeared on today.

Patriots QB Tom Brady has Deflategate appeal denied by 2nd U.S. Circuit Court

Literally, this headline is correct. However it is misleading.  The Circuit Court did deny Brady's appeal. However, what it denied was the request to hear the case.  The substance of Brady's claims regarding Deflategate was not rejected. The court decided not to hear the substance of the claims.

Just to be clear of the evolution here.  

  1. Goodell made a decision.  In my opinion and in the opinion of many others it was flawed for several reasons. 
  2. Brady appealed the decision. 
  3. Goodell acted as the appellate arbiter and denied the appeal.  
  4. Brady appealed arguing that the appellate decision was flawed if for no other reason (and there were several other reasons) that the judge for an appeal should not be the same person who rendered the initial verdict.  
  5. A judge heard the arguments from Brady and his lawyers and decided that even though Goodell has the right to serve as judge and appellate judge under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), Goodell had unfairly exercised both of these responsibilities.  He ruled that  that while there is a great deal of latitude in terms of what can be considered fair, Goodell's behavior was beyond even liberal parameters.  So Brady's suspension was revoked
  6. The NFL appealed that decision saying, in essence, that the CBA allowed him to do whatever he wanted. Consequently since Goodell did indeed do what he wanted, there could be no rejection of his actions.  
  7. A three court tribunal listened to the NFL and agreed with Goodell by a vote of 2-1.  
    1. NOTE these important facts. 
      1. The tribunal did NOT agree that Goodell was fair. 
      2. It did NOT agree that Brady was complicit.
      3.  It agreed that under the CBA Goodell can do what he wanted.
  8. Brady then requested that the 2nd court of appeals, in its entirety, listen to the appeal. 
  9. The court today said, in one sentence, that they would not hear the case.  Again, NOTE, they did not deny the legitimacy of Brady's case.  They upheld the ruling that Goodell was entitled, under the CBA, to do whatever he wanted to do. 
Therefore, any claim that another group of arbiters has now agreed that Brady was complicit is innacurate.   

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Vinegar Girl

Vinegar Girl is the latest offering from one of my favorite authors, Anne Tyler.  Since The Accidental Tourist, Tyler has put out a book nearly annually and each one has been wonderful.  Noah's Compass may be the best, but they are all good.  So, I was excited to read Vinegar Girl.  

It's a very easy read but not really special in the way that Tyler typically is.  Vinegar Girl is about Kate, the sour daughter of a scientist.  She, in her late 20s, takes care of her father and her teenage sister.  The father is nearly helpless without Kate.  And, beyond his lab, sort of helpless in terms of what is appropriate. He thinks nothing of urging Kate to marry an assistant in his lab who is an immigrant so that the assistant may be able to become a citizen and continue working in the lab.  Kate is aghast at the idea, but goes ahead with it anyway.  

It wasn't until I was halfway through the book that I was reminded that the book was billed as the "Taming of the Shrew" retold as Vinegar Girl.  The publisher Hogarth Shakespeare hires well known authors to take Shakespeare's plays and present them as modern novels.

I know I saw "The Taming of the Shrew" at least once but that was many years ago.  And I believe it was one of the plays assigned in high school that I either just skimmed or read the Cliff Notes.  When I finished Vinegar Girl, I read a synopsis of the play and, then, I had a greater appreciation for the novel.  Tyler really does a good job of modernizing the play.  Character names are similar and the novel is, at least superficially, a 21st century updating of Shakespeare's play.

So, for that--a respect for the ability to take something written in the 1500s and translate it to contemporary times--I can recommend the book.  But in and of itself, the novel is Anne Tyler light.  It is an easy read though and if you are just looking to get into a book and finish it quickly, this will do the job.