Book Report: Free Fall by Robert Crais (1993)

I have this book in hardback, but that means instead of bending paperback covers, I got blue ink on my hands from the spine of the de-dustjacketed book. I guess it was worth it.

Elvis Cole receives a visit from a damsel in distress who thinks that her fiance, a cop with an elite undercover group, is in some sort of trouble. The cop visits Cole right after the woman leaves and explains that he’s just cheating on her. Elvis follows up and finds that one of them is lying and one of them is not. It would be a much shorter book if only the woman had been lying.

The book returns to a better hard-boiled standard where the detective is looking for answers and not just solving a problem–even though there’s some of that in this book. Still, I like the style of the plot better than Lullaby Town, and I’m even willing to overlook some questionable plot holes in the beginning–as long as I don’t think about it too much.

Still, it’s better than average detective fiction bordering on the exceptional.

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Cue the Violins

Headline: Rural counties keep afloat with tape and bubble gum:

Weaverville, Trinity County — Supervisors in this 13,000-resident county the size of Rhode Island are postponing $3 million in road repairs to keep Trinity’s debt-ridden hospital afloat.

You mean Trinity County, which owns and operates five public use general aviation airports located throughout the County?

Trinity County, which gives out grants according to the directives of the its Trinity County Children and Families First Commission’s Strategic Plan [to spend money]?

Which has its own Department of Tobacco Education?

Which has its own Department of Risk Management?

Which has a number of parks and its own Library System?

Although money might be scarce, I think that these municipalities, like most other governments, lack clear priorities. They run out of money before they run out of ideas, but they don’t put the ideas on hold or examine their feasibility; instead, they get more money.

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Razzies Clear Shark and a Couple of Whales

The annual Razzies awards have taken a political stand by nominating George W. Bush as worst actor:

In addition, the president made the list for worst actor for his film clip appearances in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a movie he might well consider the worst of the year. Also nominated for their appearances in the politically-charged film about the Iraq war were Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Well played, fellows. You’re now as counter-culture as traditional Hollywood and the Oscars you used to spoof.

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St. Louis County Government Says, Nyah Nyah

After an embezzler with the county government pilfered funds and overbilled a title company to cover the shortcoming, the county government says, too bad, so sad, we’re not recompensing the title company. Story:

When a St. Louis County employee stole $727,215 from a cash drawer over about six years, she covered it up by overbilling Investors Title Co. to balance the books in the Recorder of Deeds office. That means the county should bear the loss, company President Joseph Crutchfield told a jury Monday.

But Investors Title had the paperwork it needed to discover the crime from the start, and thus should accept responsibility, a lawyer for the county countered in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

The message, of course, is that you should just assume that your government is composed of felons out to rip you off.

It’s a good message. Thank you, St. Louis County, for stating it clearly and loudly.

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Unleash the Dogs of Irony

Christian Slater explains why he loves London in a story in the Times of London, December 12, 2004:

I like the fact that there’s no gun culture here but I don’t necessarily feel safer. There’s a frisson in London that’s similar to Los Angeles or New York, a sense that something might happen at any moment, and I really appreciate that. If I was moving for safety’s sake, I’d head for somewhere like Vancouver, but I enjoy living in a country that’s a bit raw. In America there’s a real sense of danger right now, a sense that lightning might strike at any time; it’s not attractive. I prefer the edginess I find in London.

Christian Slater is attack with an edgy weapon in London, January 2005:

American actor Christian Slater has escaped a knife attack after a performance of his show in London’s West End.

Well, at least he’s safe from George W. Bush’s America and its gun culture.

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Forget the Border, There’s a Book to Seize

Here’s the lead for the story “Germany demands return of rare book found here“:

Any of the usual suspects in the book world could have bought the book, but only Rod Shene recognized the rare quality in the slender volume of old German drawings. He put down $3,900 for the work and hoped that one day he would be rewarded for his judgment.

Just another day on the job for Shene, 46, who buys and sells rare books for a living out of his St. Louis apartment. Though $3,900 certainly represented a sizable investment, serious dealers such as Shene typically spend up to $15,000 for a collection.

But there is nothing typical about this book. In the past four years, it has thrust him into a heated dispute with the German government, threatened to damage his reputation and robbed him of his time when he needed it most. Yet the book is the find of his career.

First, the good news: Shene was right about the book’s quality. Last year, leading auction house Sotheby’s valued the book of drawings at $600,000.

But Shene’s good fortune came with some bad news: The book may have been stolen from an unlikely victim — the German government. The state-owned Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart claims a World War II U.S. Army captain took the book and others from a castle and eventually deposited them in his Richmond Heights home.

Here’s the most disheartening bit:

The German consulate in New York contacted the U.S. attorney’s office about the matter. It, in turn, contacted the Department of Homeland Security to see whether Shene illegally moved stolen merchandise across state lines.

I feel safer not that the DHS has run out of terrorists, illegal aliens, and mobsters to prosecute under the Patriot Act.

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Governor Blunt Favors Hijacking, Theft, Robbery

Blunt wants tough curbs on cold pills used in meth:

Missouri may soon be stepping up its war on methamphetamine. Gov. Matt Blunt announced Friday that he wants the state to join Oklahoma and Oregon in enacting tough restrictions on the sale of the most popular over-the-counter cold remedies.

Under Blunt’s plan, consumers who want to buy cold pills containing pseudoephedrine could get them only at pharmacies, and purchasers would have agree to have their identities recorded in a police database.

Decongestant pills containing pseudoephedrine can be a cold sufferer’s dream or a narcotics investigator’s nightmare. The medications, which are available everywhere from service stations to hotel vending machines, are easy to convert to meth and in recent years have fueled an explosion in illegal drug manufacturing.

This twisted logic represents the same ill thinking demonstrated by people who favor gun control. You see, if we make it harder to legally acquire something used by criminals, we’ll make fewer criminals. In this case, it’s Sudafed. Next, to defeat child pornography, people will have to register their digital cameras. Why not? What have you got to hide?

Of course, making it harder for criminals to get the legally-ownable things they need will not prevent the criminals from getting their Sudafed. It will mean that criminals will have to get their meth ingredients by illegal means, such as burglary, armed theft, and hijacking Walgreens trucks. Ergo, Governor Blunt is in favor of more violence in the war on drugs.

At the very least, the nonviolent meth cookers in Missouri will cross state borders to buy their gross cases of cold remedies, which means those other states will get the sales tax.

The proposition is lose/lose/lose/lose. The cold sufferer loses because it’s harder to get legal remedies. The public, particularly pharmacies, loses as criminals resort to more violent means than commerce to acquire that which they will acquire anyway. Tax spenders, that is, the legislature loses the revenue of legitimate commerce. Finally, the taxpayers lose as they have to fund a new apparatus to support the initiative.

On the other hand, some do win from the proposition. A database provider will make some money. The governor will look tough. Small town pharmacies in border towns outside Missouri might prosper. There’s your half full paragraph for the evening.

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Governor Blunt Also Favors Voting Fraud

Gov. Blunt proposes making absentee voting easier:

JEFFERSON CITY – Gov. Matt Blunt has a plan that he says would make it easier for people to vote early without costing taxpayers a bundle. Blunt wants the Legislature to authorize “no-excuse absentee voting.” As the term implies, voters could request absentee ballots without giving a reason.

Under current law, people must state under oath that they will be unable to go to the polls on Election Day due to absence from the area or another eligible reason. Sometimes, people may fib about their excuses because election authorities don’t check.

Blunt would open up the process so that all registered voters could cast absentee ballots up to six weeks before the election, either at the election office or by mail. He would do away with the requirement that absentee ballots be notarized.

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Cancel the NHL Season, Please

I’ve spent the season following the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League (the AAA league, so to speak), and I don’t want to have to switch gears and root against these fellows when they’re called up to the National Hockey League as Nashville Predators, division rivals of the St. Louis Blues.

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Milwaukee Police Want to See Boobies

City considers police cameras

Of course police like cameras. They’re cheap and allow the police the ability to gather evidence of criminal activity without having to leave the warm confines of their surveillance centers. Police watching through cameras won’t actually prevent crime with cameras–the victim will still be beaten/mugged/raped/killed, but at least the police will have full color tapes of it.

Assuming, of course, the police behave better than the security officials at Caesar Atlantic City, who were fined for using the security cameras to ogle women or than law enforcement officials in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who diverted traffic cameras to look at young women.

I don’t want to sound too anti-police on this matter, but I don’t think that cameras improve public safety much, if at all, and certainly not enough to justify the expense or the loss of privacy involved.

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Misplaced Paranoia

In a column entitled Desktop search threatens your privacy, columnist David Sheets builds a long story about how desktop search applications can threaten your privacy. His main point stems from the thought summed up in first part of the following quote:

“The thing is, somebody who sits down at your computer after you’ve just used it can go back and look at everything you’ve done, even if you’ve just used your credit card to buy something or typed in your password to your bank account,” Moore said. “If no one has access to your computer, then you’re OK, for the most part.”

You know, if someone untrustworthy sits down at your computer and wants to do bad things, he or she is not going to use your desktop search. He or she will install backdoors and keystroke loggers and can just use Windows Explorer or the freaking Start menu to go through everything on your PC at will.

But some of you want the advice of your shidoshi of paranoia, and I will dispense the wisdom. What can you do to prevent someone from sitting at your computer and finding out your innermost secrets or sitting at your computer and installing malicious software?

You must always properly secure your computer chair.

Your revered sensei of paranoia always locks his computer chair in the closet when he’s going to be away from his desk; as anyone knows, a burglar with hacking skills or an FBI agent with a court-ordered spyware kit won’t be able to work their dark magic on his computer if they don’t have somewhere to comfortably sit while doing so. Hackers, social engineers, and their ilk simply won’t abide by standing, kneeling, sitting on the desk, or bringing their own folding chairs to your computer.

This simple step, often overlooked by computer users, can render your computer more secure immediately.

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How Can You Tell When A Politician Is Lying?

When they promise a temporary sales tax that will sunset:

“It is a one-half cent sales tax for whatever amount of time it takes to pay for the issues,” said Presiding Commissioner Mark Mertens. “It will not last for more than five years.”

Jefferson County, Missouri, officials want the sales tax for a laundry list of things:

If approved, the sales tax would provide funds for a new juvenile detention facility, expansion of the county jail and the creation of a park development fund. The tax would also cover the cost of bringing county buildings into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Perhaps presiding commissioner Mertens believes what he’s saying, and perhaps he thinks that he and the people who follow him in Jefferson County government will not find further means to spend money generated by the new tax so that Jefferson County will need to extend or make permanent the sales tax.

However, as a private citizen, I have my doubts. Once the sales tax is in place, I suspect it will be permanent and eventually, I predict that Jefferson County will find some reason to raise its amount for the Children or some other pet projects.

Once Jefferson County’s revenue becomes dependent upon sales tax monies, watch for eminent domain abuse as its government officials determine that large retail developments are worth more to them than actual residents who own the land the developers covet.

Slippery slope? Not too slippery, since it won’t happen suddenly. After all, it would be five years before the Jefferson County government has to act to make the temporary sales tax permanent. But don’t doubt they would try.

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I just returned from one of those January holiday parties, and I admit that I, too, was finally offended by the overtly PC sensitivity people who insist on calling it a holiday party instead of naming it properly to pay homage to the reason for the season.

The people throwing the party should have called it a Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Party along with any company throwing parties for their employees in January and calling them “Holiday Parties.”

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Trust Us

Story: AMR might add flights:

American Airlines, the biggest operator at Lambert Field, will add more flights in St. Louis if it can negotiate lower airport costs in the coming year, AMR Corp. Chairman Gerard Arpey said Wednesday.

“If we can get facility costs down, that can only be good news for adding new service in St. Louis,” he said. AMR, of Fort Worth, Texas, is American’s parent company.

Kudos to the headline writer for recognizing that once AMR gets what it wants–lower rates–it might not actually deliver the possible new flights.

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Wrong Focus

AOL to expand capabilities in Web searches:

America Online is expanding its online search capabilities in an effort to establish a bigger presence in the lucrative search-advertising market.

AOL is expected to announce on Thursday that it has teamed up with several technology suppliers to help it offer expanded search functions, such as improved geographic-based searches, clustering results by topic and helping people refine their searches through suggested alternative keywords.

AOL plans to expand the advertising appearing on its search page, the article said. It will also use the unusual approach of charging advertisers based on how many telephone calls are generated by their ads.

No word about improving the customer experience; if anything, it looks like it will adversely impace the user experience with the inclusion of more advertising.

Perhaps AOL should stop the continuous loop of Field of Dreams at headquarters. Just because you build it does not mean the users will come.

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Book Report: Lullaby Town by Robert Crais (1992)

Lullaby Town is the third Elvis Cole book, and Crais takes the series in a new, but common direction. No longer does Elvis Cole have to figure out what’s going on, but rather he knows what’s going on and has to get his client out of it.

When a famous Hollywood director hires Elvis Cole to find his ex-wife and child, Cole has to travel from the warm and friendly confines of California to New England. He soon discovers the wife has made a new, successful life for herself but with accidental and encompassing involvement as a money launderer for a New York crime family. So early in the book, we know the whole thing and the remainder of the book is not so much mystery as it is crime-based problem solving.

Robert B. Parker took this tack, too, with a number of his novels and, in many cases, the lesser novels in his canon. Chandler, nah, Marlowe was always trying to figure out what was going on in the room. Whenever crime novels run in this direction, they tend to make their heroes the most clever person in the room, and that goes against the spirit of the hardboiled school in a way, where the detective perseveres and wins in the end not by outfoxing, necessarily, the bad guys, but through his tenaciousness and relentlessness. Okay, with some intelligence, too.

Heather assures me that not all of the remainders of the series reflect this trend, which I hope is the case. I root for the underdog, and guys who hope to outsmart organized criminals aren’t underdogs. They’re just smart guys who outsmart organized crime. And in series of detective novels, they do it once a year at least.

Confession: When confronted with the name Elvis, most people would think of the Elvis. Me, when I picture Elvis Cole in my head, I have a different Elvis as a starting point.

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