Thursday, December 30, 2010

What are you reading?

I have been deficient in keeping this category of blog posts current, but something has changed that. Santa brought me a Kindle.

Now I have a list of books - no, the books themselves - to read that are as convenient to carry as, well, a Kindle. I am now reading much more than before and have even eschewed Roku, DVDs, and cable for a quiet evening on other journeys. The next page is a click. The next chapter is a click. Another book is a couple of clicks. And the experience of reading is still every bit as enjoyable, maybe more. I often need just one hand, maybe none at all, to read the Kindle. The book doesn't fall shut and - a big and - I can increase or decrease the font to compensate for low light and my willingness to use glasses.

eBooks are somewhat cheaper than their analog versions, but a current book is still going to cost ten or twelve dollars (I hope author royalties are comensurately better). The gift certificates that Santa's helpers left me help with that and I found myself on my back in bed at 2 a.m. buying books via a wireless connection. Pretty slick. I'm still investigating cheap and free books, but at the moment I have plenty to read.

I have a couple of titles open: Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester, and Tree Soldier, by Janet Oakley. (Janet is a writing colleague and has published her novel of the Civilian Conservation Corps herself via Amazon.)

I just finished Russian Detective - excuse me, Investigator - Arkady Renko's most recent adventure Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith (Gorky Park, Polar Star). I'm the kind of reader who locks onto an author and tracks down everything he or she writes. Another series of books in the Kindle queue are the spy novels of Alan Furst (Spies of the Balkans, The Spies of Warsaw, The Foreign Correspondent).

I finished Three Stations and it's great, not just for the sense of place (contemporary Moscow), but the enduring protagonist who, if he isn't nearly killed, is almost always fired by venal Prosecutor Zurin. Now I have no more Arkady Renko novels to read until Smith does another. Fortunately I'm just getting started with Furst. And I have thousands and thousands more titles to check out.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Another video lynching

In the aftermath of the tragic death of Oscar Grant at the hands of a Bay Area Rapid Transit policeman on New Year's 2009, Officer MarySol Domenici was suspended, then fired for her role during a chaotic situation on a train platform. She was accused of lying to investigators about her actions that night. She appealed her termination and an arbitrator held that the law firm hired by the BART Police to investigate the entire incident presented conclusions that were flawed. Only because the officer had the resources of her union and the Legal Defense Fund of the Police Officers Research Association of California was she able to retain the services of Force Sciences Institute to examine the evidence. Force Sciences experts carefully examined all the available video evidence and demonstrated over a fourteen-day hearing that she did not lie about what did not happen. (The full text of an article is below)

This is another example of a rush to judgement based on incomplete examination of video evidence by a high-priced law firm which was supposed to objectively gather evidence. Community activists demanded the firing of all present when Grant was killed when the evidence showed at least one of them had done nothing wrong (another case is still on appeal).

There are lessons here for those interested. First, just as one should not believe everything they read in the newspaper (or on cable or on the web), they should not believe everything they think they believe on video. Second, if you want something done right, use someone who knows what they are doing. It took fifteen months for the lawyers to investigate and for the BART police chief (who has since left) to decide the officer should be fired. The officer's appeal and the decision took six months. Third, wait until you have all the facts before you make a decision.

Monday, December 20, 2010

And now for something political

Today I read of a measure filed in the House to enact a Constitutional amendment called the Repeal Amendment (New York Times, Kate Zernike). It would allow two thirds of the states to vote to repeal any federal law or regulation. What a dumb idea. And cowardly too.

Apparently conservatives think that this is the only way to limit the authority of the federal government which they find overly intrusive into private lives and business. Their case in point is the new health care bill and the requirement for all Americans to purchase health insurance. As if there is no other way to change the policies of the U.S. Government.

It's a dumb idea because potentially two thirds of the states, representing a minority of U.S. population, could dictate to the majority policy and legislation. That's not what the Founders intended. If the Founders had felt that the powers of the central government needed to be limited - and they did - they would have included a repeal mechanism in the first draft of the Constitution.

It's cowardly because if conservatives want to pass or repeal legislation they should elect enough members of Congress to do just that. If they have a friendly president, they can get him to sign the bill. If not, they can get a two-thirds majority like the Founders had intended.

We will see if this idea gets any traction, which I doubt.