Two Kinds of Truth

[Amazon Link]

Tale of shopping: purchased in July of last year from "ThriftBooks - Blue Cloud" for a cool $5.98 (original price … much more than that). It turned out to be a rescue book from the Vineyard Haven Public Library. In good shape, those washashores are gentle readers. (Hey, for all I know, James Taylor might have read this very book before I did.)

Anyway: It's 2017 Connolly, which means I am only two years behind.

The plot threads in this book were also the basis for the most recent season of the Bosch series on Amazon Prime. There were some changes, most to adapt the details of the series' reality,

There are two major things going on: first, Harry Bosch is investigating the murder of father-and-son pharmacists in a tiny farmacia in the Hispanic section of San Fernando. It soon becomes apparent that the business was part of the oxycontin trade run by the mysterious "Santos". Harry goes undercover as a pill-popper to infiltrate the scheme that relies on fraud and coercion to funnel millions to the bad guys. Which puts him in major physical peril, I don't need to tell you.

Second, Harry gets the bad news that a thirty-year-old case where he put a murderer/rapist on death row is being re-opened. A deathbed confession from a different lowlife has been alleged. Reopening the evidence box seems to show exculpatory DNA on the victim's pajamas. And (worst of all) Harry is accused of planting a vital piece of physical evidence. If this conviction is overturned, Harry's reputation will be ruined, and it will cast Reasonable Doubt on the hundreds of bad guys he's put away since then.

The usual Connelly magic: the story hooks you and keeps those pages turning.

A bit of trivia: I said there were differences between the show and the book. Most are minor, as said, but there's one biggie on the show that might (as they say) Change Everything.

Off the Grid

[Amazon Link]

Continuing with my C. J. Box catchup reading mini-project. Purchased this hardcover off the Barnes & Noble remainder table in April 2018 for $6.98. Like new!

This is billed as a "Joe Pickett novel" on the cover, but Joe's friend Nate Romanowski starts things off when he's shanghaied by a couple shady Federal agents into investigating some mysterious goings on in Wyoming's Red Desert. Nate's an ideal investigator, because he's a falconer, and one of the people to check out is one too.

Things switch over to Joe, who has a hair-raising encounter with a rogue grizzly bear that's been tracked by a research team. Once that's over (or is it?), Joe's called upon by his protector/tormentor, outgoing Wyoming Governor Rulon, to … yup, investigate some mysterious goings on in Wyoming's Red Desert.

And then things switch over to Joe's college-student daughter, the capable, level-headed Sheridan. Her pothead roommate browbeats her into going camping with a bunch of activists in… you guessed it, Wyoming's Red Desert.

Before you can say "Dickensian coincidence", things get pretty violent pretty fast, and everyone winds up in mortal danger. It's a well-crafted page-turner. And (without spoilers) it appears C. J. has a cynically dark view of Our Federal Government. But see what you think.

Shall We Wake the President?

Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office

[Amazon Link]

I put this on my to-read list a few years back, for reasons I can no longer remember. But it was available at my new fave booksource, the Portsmouth Public Library, so…

Well, first: caveat lector. (I seem to be saying that a lot lately.) From the title, I assumed this would be mainly a history book. How James Madison handled the Year Without a Summer, for example. And even its Dewey Decimal Number (973.099) is clearly in the US History/Presidents class.

And there's some history, indeed. But it's mainly advice on how various sorts of disasters should be handled, based on key examples from the past, mostly the recent past. And not only handled by US Presidents, but also Joe and Jane Citizen. Past events are classified as handled pretty well (FDR and the Great Depression; Nixon and Hurricane Camille) or botched (Dubya and Katrina; LBJ and late-sixties riots).

Which is fine. Just unexpected. Maybe I should have read the reviews a little more carefully.

Another downside: the author, Tevi Troy, has a writing style I can only classify as "bureaucratic". It's like he's typing a very long ass-covering memo to his boss. (With an unstated bureaucratic premise: "If you don't follow this advice, woe betide you. When the shit goes down, I won't be blamed, I'll have a paper trail.")

After that, the book is mainly notable for detailing all the different ways natural and man-made disasters can strike. Natural: pandemics, climate, vulcanism, earthquake. Man-made: economic collapse; terrorism, including cyberterrorism and bioterrorism; civil unrest; attacks on the power grid. Egads.

And as far as advice goes, Troy gets pretty far down in the weeds. Like how to wash your hands effectively. (Hot water, plenty of soap, and keep at it long enough to sing "Happy Birthday" twice.)

What I didn't know: Woodrow Wilson was an even worse president than I thought. His sin here: not stopping US troop transports during the Spanish Flu pandemic, near the end of WWI, causing (Troy claims) a "great many" additional deaths. Troy also raises the possibility that Wilson's serious health issues when he traveled to Europe for treaty negotiations could have been caused by Spanish Flu, not the stroke more conventional historians blame. In any case, the negotiations were disastrous, a primary eventual cause of World War II, and Wilson's health issues were at the core of that. Sheesh.

The Political Spectrum

The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone

[Amazon Link]

I seem to remember that Thomas Winslow Hazlett used to be a prolific contributor to Reason. He still shows up now and then. But fond memories of well-crafted arguments led me to put this book on the Interlibrary Loan queue. And I was not disappointed: for a scholarly tome published by Yale University Press, his prose is still punchy, and he tackles this topic with appropriate amounts of humor and bite.

And the topic is (roughly) the regulatory mess the US Government has made of the vast radio spectrum. The invention of the technology using electromagnetic waves to send data between transmitters and receivers is barely over a century old. (Thanks, Guglielmo!) But it had the bad fortune to take off just as the modern regulatory state was also taking wing, and people really had a mistaken faith in the benevolent state allocating resources wisely.

The primary villain: Herbert Hoover, who was Silent Cal's Secretary of Commerce. He wangled the Radio Act of 1927, essentially putting the spectrum under control of what would eventually become the FCC. As Hazlett shows, spectrum problems could have been resolved by common law, based on property rights sensibly defined.

But noooo… instead we got oppressive and intrusive state regulation, with all the well-known associated problems: protection of incumbents against upstarts, rent-seeking, corruption, squelching of innovation, censorship, lowest-common-denominator programming, inefficiencies galore.

Hazlett details all that, and the ongoing two-steps-forward-one-or-more-steps-back reform process. A particular hero is Nobelist Ronald Coase who first propoosed free market reforms in a 1959 essay. It was that classic story: "first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”.

My only quibble: among all the flinging around of kHz, MHz, and GHz, the book really could have used some simple spectrum maps, showing the colonization of radio space over the past century. Analogous to those maps in US history books showing the westward spread.

A Slight Trick of the Mind

[Amazon Link]

A few years back I watched the movie Mr. Holmes with Ian McKellen as the detective. The movie was good enough to put the novel on which it was based into the read-someday list, and … here 'tis. It turns out the movie was a reasonably faithful adaptation.

Caveat Lector: the author, Mitch Cullin, writes literary fiction, and he's completely unconcerned with the standard conventions of genre. The mysteries here are pretty minor, don't involve actual crimes, and they are overwhelmed by issues of character. Things are pretty dark, and occasionally tragic. Three plot threads are intertwined:

  1. An aged Holmes in post-WW2 Sussex, tending his bees, with a developing relationship with Roger, the young son of his housekeeper. The relationship is as affectionate as possible, given Holmes' standoffish personality. But Sherlock is plagued with fading memory and increasing physical infirmities.
  2. That's set just after Holmes' return from postwar Japan, where he's gone to research the "prickly ash", a plant said to have benefits for said fading memory. His tour includes Hiroshima, on the mend from its recent encounter with nuclear fission. And he's accompanied by a gay Japanese host who's looking to discover what happened to his long-lost father.
  3. And there are flashbacks to a decades-old case of Sherlock's, where a suspicious husband wants to know what's going on with his increasingly estranged missus, and whether it has anything to do with the music lessons she's been taking from the mysterious Madame Schirmer on the haunting armonica.

A decent read, outside my usual fictional orbits.

Both Flesh and Not

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A posthumous book of essays and articles issued by the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust.

This is a good book on which to invoke my standard disclaimer: these blog entries for the books I've read are not "book reviews". They're more like "book reports". I.e., I report my reaction to the book, and your mileage may definitely vary.

There are a couple of long (nay, seemingly interminable) essays of literary criticism. It's DFW, so I assume they are not insufferable pretentious crap. It's just that I was unable to distinguish them from insufferable pretentious crap. My bad. I only claim: I looked at every page.

But those two clunkers aside, this is a poignant reminder of the voice that was self-stilled back in 2008. Funny, smart, deeply insightful. (Yes, and also a victim of Bush Derangement Syndrome, as a couple of screedy passages reveal.)

A mark of a fine writer: DFW can get me hooked on writing about a subject I don't care one whit about, like professional tennis. Don't miss the footnotes, where he, for example, muses on Jimmy "Connors's compulsive on-court touching and adjustment of his testes within his jock, as if he needed to know just where they were at all times."

And he also managed to explicate (in "The Nature of the Fun") my own blogging attitude: you can be writing for your own enjoyment, and that's fun; but when you start to get noticed, that fun can transform itself into wanting to be liked. Being liked, well, that's fun too. But it's a different kind of fun, and it can turn you into a different kind of writer.

Damn, I miss him.

Faithful Place

[Amazon Link]

Number three in Tana French's series of crime novels set in Dublin with police protagonists. The narrator in this one, Frank Mackey, was a supporting character in the previous book, a higher-up in the Dublin Police undercover unit. He was presented as a master manipulator, kind of a jerk. But in this book, he comes out as flawed but sympathetic.

Why? Well, back when he was a teen, he came from an extremely dysfunctional family, living in a borderline slum. He developed a plan with girlfriend Rosie to ditch their respective families, hop the ferry to England, and make their way out from under the repressiveness of kin and society.

But bad news: on the night of the big escape, Rosie doesn't show up for the planned rendezvous, and instead Frank finds what looks to be a kiss-off letter. Bereft, he takes off, estranging his family. But not to England. Instead he gets on the path to becoming an Irish cop. And…

In the present day, a couple decades later, Frank's a divorcee with a wonderful cute daughter. And (as the previous book described) he's a professional success. But he gets a call from his sister with unexpected news: Rosie's suitcase has been found, stuffed into a chimney in an abandoned apartment. This means… oh, oh… Rosie never left Dublin either. What happened instead?

Well, it's pretty sordid. And Frank gets put through a lot of new familial anguish.

And, oh yeah, everyone smokes way too much.

Case Histories

[Amazon Link]

I heard good things about Kate Atkinson, so I thought I would give her a try. This book is her first in the "Jackson Brodie" series. Jackson is an ex-cop private eye. But this book doesn't follow normal PI-genre conventions. For one thing, Jackson doesn't even show up until page 69, after three separate crimes have been committed: a missing toddler; a young woman murdered by a crazed knife-wielder; a young wife and mother giving her husband ax-whacks. Worse, the crimes are old: 1970, 1994, 1979.

But eventually Jackson gets entangled with all of them: two of the toddler's sisters make a shocking discovery that casts a new light on the disappearance, asking Jackson to check it out. The guilt-burdened father of one of the murder victims seeks Jackson's services. And (eventually) the sister of the ax-whacker in the third case asks Jackson to track down the murderer's daughter, entrusted to her parents, now missing.

And, oh yeah, someone's apparently trying to kill Jackson. Related to one of these cases, or not?

Ms. Atkinson keeps things tricky by jumping around in time, using multiple points-of-view (sometimes describing the same incident later from a different POV). And the book describes some pretty sordid, twisted, and generally abhorrent behavior. A back-cover blurb describes this as a "tragi-comedy for our times", but I'd go with 95% tragi.

Thanks a Lot Mr Kibblewhite

My Story

[Amazon Link]

I've been a fan of a lot of music artists over the decades. For a lot of them I look back, and ask: Geez, what was I thinking? I can't say I'd be upset if I never heard another of their songs. Chicago. Fleetwood Mac. The Association. The Eagles.

But The Who is an exception. If anything, I'm a bigger fan now that I was back in the 60s-70s.

I have also, over the past few years, picked up the occasional memoir/autobiography by aging stars. At first, I thought I'd gather some insights into creative genius and the keys to fame and fortune.

But (as it turns out) the uniform message of these books is: these folks don't know how it happened. Luck is involved. A passionate attachment to the art, of course. Usually, substance abuse. Borderline mental illness. Also, getting suckered by thieving managers.

So anyway, I picked up Roger Daltrey's book at the Portsmouth Public Library. It's an interesting counterpoint to Pete Townshend's book, which I read last year. It seems to be an "as told to" book, a ghostwriter (I assume Matt Rudd, thanked in the endnotes) kind of arranging random thoughts in roughly chronological order.

Roger seems a lot more grounded than the other members of the band, mostly free of the drug abuse that killed Keith Moon and John Entwistle (and almost Pete, Roger claims).

Impressive: coming from a poor background, Roger built his first guitar. And his second.

Roger was not exactly an angel himself. His deviations from the straight and narrow were mostly sexual, meaningless hookups with convenient chicks on the road. (Generating at least one kid he finds out about much later.)

It's especially fun to read his tales of the making of Tommy, directed by Ken Russell. There's an "Acid Queen" scene where Roger, playing Tommy, is in a coffin. Hey, let's put snakes in there too!

Nope. How about butterflies?

As it turns out, both snakes and butterflies will pee and crap on you when in a coffin.

And they went with poppies instead.

The title: one of the defining incidents in Roger's life was getting expelled from school at age 15. He'd brought an airgun, one of his friends shot it off, the pellet ricocheted into another friend's eye causing him to lose sight in that eye). The headmaster, Mr. Kibblewhite, bidding him goodbye: "You'll never make anything of your life, Daltrey."

Oh, yeah? But who knows how things would have worked out if he hadn't been expelled? Roger's smart enough to know things would have been way different. And so the title isn't sarcastic. It's earnest.

Socialism Sucks

Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World

[Amazon Link]

A fun book which (somewhat surprisingly) was purchased by the Portsmouth Public Library. Author Robert A. Lawson is one of the co-authors of the Economic Freedom of the World (EFotW) report put out annually by the Fraser Institute. Benjamin Powell is an econ prof at Texas Tech. They are no fans of socialism. But they are fans of drinking and strip clubs. So they got the bright idea to (or near) various socialist utopias, and try to have some alcohol-fueled fun.

It turns out that's hard to do. The fun part, that is.

First, they dismiss Sweden, and the similar countries Bernie et. al. like to use as examples. They aren't free-market heaven, to be sure, but they regularly rank pretty high on the EFotW measurements. (Sweden is #35 out of the 162 countries scored.)

Countries considered:

  • Venezuela, dead last (#162) in EFotW. Worried about kidnappers, Bob and Ben don't get into the country itself, but visit a Columbian border town, where Venezuelans try to get goods that are impossible to buy in their own land.

  • Cuba (unranked at EFotW because of lack of data).

  • North Korea (also unranked at EFotW). Again (unsurprisingly) Bob and Ben just look across the border (from both China and South Korea).

  • China (#113) is cited as "fake socialism". Sorta-capitalism is combined with ruthless suppression of anything the rulers consider to be dangerous to their system.

  • Russia (#85) and Ukraine (#135): "hungover socialism". Two countries that can't seem to make the transition to freedom.

  • Georgia (#12) is a success story, however. Adopting some heavy market reforms helped, and even though it's still kind of poor, it's on a pretty decent growth path.

  • And finally, the good old USA (#5), or is that the USSA? Bob and Ben visit the July 2018 "Socialism Conference" held at the Chicago People's Collective Hotel of the Revolution Hyatt Regency. They are taken with how little socialism is discussed or defended; instead it's the usual left-wing array of issues: white privilege, immigration, feminism, gender, … All topics worthy of discussion, of course, but where's the socialism?

All in all, not a lot of surprises here, but the authors do a good job of reporting.

To the folks who gripe: that's not real socialism. Well, sorry, it is.