Reading mysteries in the summer

I’ve been spending considerable time this summer on our upstairs screened in porch watching the birds fly by (it must overlook some kind of bird flyway), the sky, and the squirrels dancing on the wires.  And reading.

In my reading life, I have always interspersed serious non-fiction and non-mystery fiction with lots of mysteries.  I’ve written in the past about some of my old favorites:  P. D. James, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh.  I began reading them in high school introduced by my mother who was also a prolific mystery reader.  But yesterday I was looking back at what I had been reading and re-reading this summer and it seems to be mostly three very different writers.

I had read the first two books in Archer Mayor/Joe Gunther series many years ago when they first were published.  I think my Vermont brother-in-law gave one to my mother who passed it on to me.  Fast forward.  I moved to Vermont a year ago and the local author, Archer Mayor, was just publishing Proof Positive.  I rushed down to the wonderful local bookstore, Mystery on Main, and purchased a signed copy.  I read it and loved it.  Now I was on a mission, one which has gone on into this summer, to read all the rest in the series before Mayor writes another.  I am probably not going to make it as it has a September release.  Six to go and I not only have to read them, but also find copies.

Archer

For anyone who hasn’t read Mayor, he writes about a Vermont police officer from my new hometown, Brattleboro.  At some point Joe Gunther stopped being a local Bratt cop and joined a made-up state investigative bureau.  The owner of Mystery on Main, some of the other members of the book group I just joined, and I were speculating that he had to go statewide because there just aren’t that many people murdered around here.  I have to confess that I find the books a bit uneven, but the best ones (The Skeleton’s Knee, Occam’s Razor, and Proof Positive) are excellent and even the ones I enjoyed the least (The Dark Root and The Disposable Man) are very good.  He evokes Vermont landscape and politics. One murder took place across the street from me.  I enjoy driving around town and locating scenes of the crimes.  Good reads.  I would call them a Vermont version of a hardboiled police procedural.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the English novels of Robert Barnard featuring Charlie Peace.  I’ve read a couple of Barnard’s over the years including the very funny Political Suicide, but until I found The Chaste Apprentice unread on my bookshelf, I hadn’t realized that he had a written series featuring a black police inspector.  The plots are entertaining as Barnard generally is, but the discussion of how being black in the Leeds, England area and the effect on detection show how stereotyping are not just American.  I’ve only read three and a half books in the series and not in order as I’m reading them as I find them in the library, but in one of the later books, A Charitable Body, Peace is married to a white woman and they have two children.  Felicity (I haven’t finished the book yet) seems to be critical in solving the mystery.  Barnard is expert at taking ordinary situations like a summer festival and inserting not only a mystery, but poking fun at his characters and settings.

Maron

The third group of books I’ve been reading this summer are the Margaret Maron/Deborah Knott books.  Maron’s books evoke North Carolina in the same way Mayor evokes Vermont and Barnard, England.  But Joe Gunther is basically a loner with a small team and a few friends while Deborah Knott has 11 older brothers with all of the wives and children to say nothing of aunts, uncles and cousins surrounding her.  Knott is a district court judge who over the course of 19 books has been involved in a great many of the murders in Maron’s imaginary Colleton County (somewhere near Raleigh/Durham).  They aren’t quite “cozy” but they are very family centered.  Maron’s twentieth Deborah Knott book will be published tomorrow.  She has announced she expects it to be the last in the series, but like the rest of her fans I hope she will change her mind at some point down the road.

I’ve read all 19 of the Deborah Knott books before so this summer I was re-reading a few of them partly in anticipation of the new release but also because the church burnings that followed the murders in Charleston, SC reminded of me Home Fires.  Home Fires centers around the burning of three black churches and the discovery of a body which is identified as a young black organizer who had gone missing years prior.  It is about race relations in North Carolina between whites and blacks as well as the hierarchy of color between African-Americans themselves.  It is a very different take on race and racial attitudes that Deborah confronts than the one facing Charlie Peace.  I’ll have think about this and explore it further.

But for now, I’m enjoying being variously in England, North Carolina, and home in Vermont confronting crime from a distance.

The future of the Olympic Games: a permanent site needed

The United States Olympic Committee decided for some reason to pick Boston as the site for their bid.  Boston was a bad idea from the beginning.  Geographically too small, it would have destroyed neighborhoods even if some venues went to other parts of Massachusetts and New England.  From the beginning, it was promised that no taxpayer money would be spent on the Games.  How could that have been?  The Boston public transit system needs desperate upgrades already, and the crush of visitors would have overwhelmed it.  There would have to be investment in commuter rail upgrades to get people to out of town venues.  The final straw was, so it seems, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh refusing to sign a taxpayer guarantee.  Combined with strong opposition it spelled the end.

Hosting the Games has become expensive and disruptive.  Yes, I know there are countries that want the Games, but I worry about Brazil and how they can afford the games.  They will likely end up razing huge swaths of housing, as Boston probably would have done.  Actually, I worry about any place that wants the Games.

So I have a proposal.  Move the Summer Games permanently to Athens.  The facilities there are unused and deteriorating.

IN AN obscure corner of a park sits a forlorn reminder that, 10 years ago, Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics.

The crumbling miniature theatre is inscribed with the words “glory, wealth, wisdom, victory, triumph, hero, labour” — and it is where visiting Olympic officials planted an olive sapling that would bear their names for posterity.

Once a symbol of pomp, the marble theatre is now an emblem of pointless waste in a venture that left a mixed legacy: a brand-new subway, airport and other vital infrastructure that significantly improved everyday life in a city of 4 million, set against scores of decrepit sports venues built in a mad rush to meet deadlines — with little thought for post-Olympic use.

This story is from last year.  And while no one blames the Olympics for the current meltdown of the Greek economy, it couldn’t have helped.

As Greece groans under a cruel economic depression, questions linger as to whether the Athens Games were too ambitious an undertaking for a weak economy. While economists agree it would be unfair to blame Greece’s meltdown on the 17-day Games, the post-Olympic era is seen as a decade of lost opportunities — including failure to significantly boost the country’s sporting culture. It’s a lesson to which Brazil may pay heed, as it races to complete projects ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“We didn’t take advantage of this dynamic that we got in 2004,” said former Olympic weightlifting champion Pyrros Dimas, a Greek sporting hero-turned-Socialist member of Parliament.

“We simply made the biggest mistake in our history: We switched off, locked up the stadiums, let them fall to pieces, and everything finished there.”

“We spent a lot of money for some projects (that) are shut and rotting,” said Dimas, who won his last Olympic medal in an Athens arena now reinvented as a lecture and conference venue. “There were projects that should have cost 2 and 3 million (euros) and suddenly became so big that they cost 13 and 14 million. There was no control.”

The latest government estimate sets the final cost of the Games at 8.5 billion euros ($12.2 billion), double the original budget but a drop in the ocean of the country’s subsequent 320 billion-euro ($460 billion) debt, which spun out of control after 2008.

Instead of picking still another host city, pick Athens.  Make it the permanent home of the Summer Games. Greece is, after all, the birthplace of the Olympics.  The countries and cities that would normally spent millions of dollars just preparing a bid could pool that money to fix all the Greek venues.  They can start work anytime.  In fact, maybe the 2020 games (I’m assuming the Brazilians are too far along to cancel now, but maybe not.) scheduled for Tokyo could be moved.  The Japanese probably could use the money for something else – and maybe they could contribute a restoration/redesign to a venue in Athens.  In fact, various countries could take different venues in Greece.  I think that would be real Olympic spirit.  And it couldn’t hurt Greece.

Meanwhile the Boston Games are down the drain.

Boston Globe cartoon by Dan Wasserman.

Boston Globe cartoon by Dan Wasserman.

 

A few thoughts on race and gender and childhood….

Originally posted on View from Prospect Hill:

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Someone from my high school class posted a video of 50s rock and roll, kids like ourselves dancing to Danny and the Juniors “At The Hop”, and the first thing that struck me was that, just as I remembered, a number of the couples dancing in the video, just as we did at the time (knowing nothing about Lindbergh or the “Lindy Hop”), were girls. None of the couples ever were boys. That was unthought and unthinkable, never occurred to any of us that I was aware of. But it was perfectly common and acceptable, and not even to be noticed or remarked, that two girls would form a dance couple if a boy was not available to dance. For me this experience was from around 1958, when I turned 12 years old.

I recall the term “queer” from perhaps as early as the 6th grade but I don’t…

View original 460 more words

The Donald

I sorta promised myself that I wouldn’t write about Donald Trump.  Why give him even the tiny bit of attention my post would give him?  But then I read Timothy Egan’s op-ed in today’s New York Times and I had to share it.

The adults patrolling the playpen of Republican politics are appalled that we’ve become a society where it’s O.K. to make fun of veterans, to call anyone who isn’t rich a loser, to cast an entire group of newly arrived strivers as rapists and shiftless criminals.

Somewhere, we crossed a line — from our mothers’ modesty to strutting braggadocio, from dutiful decorum to smashing all the china in the room, from respecting a base set of facts to a trumpeting of willful ignorance.

And the really bad news for the Republicans?

And now that the party can’t control him, Trump threatens to destroy its chances if he doesn’t get his way, running as an independent with unlimited wealth — a political suicide bomb.

The real problem is that Trumpism has been a latent virus in the party for a long time.  Egan reminds us

Trump is a byproduct of all the toxic elements Republicans have thrown into their brew over the last decade or so — from birtherism to race-based hatred of immigrants, from nihilists who shut down government to elected officials who shout “You lie!” at their commander in chief.

It was fine when all this crossing-of-the-line was directed at President Obama or other Democrats. But now that the ugliness is intramural, Trump has forced party leaders to decry something they have not only tolerated, but encouraged.

The Republicans might be unhappy about The Donald’s remarks about John McCain not being a war hero, but they encouraged the trashing of John Kerry when he ran for President in 2004 with lies about his service in Vietnam.  Remember Swift Boat?

I believe that the Republicans haven’t tackled immigration because at the bottom line they agree with him.

The racism toward Mexicans that Trump has stirred up has been swooshing around the basement of the Republican Party for some time. Representative Steve King of Iowa did Trump one better in 2013 when he said undocumented immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

donald-trump

 Interesting that it is “Oops” Rick Perry who can see the ultimate result.

This week Perry called Trumpism “a toxic mix of demagogy, meanspiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if followed.”

Using the X-ray vision of his new glasses, Perry has correctly diagnosed the problem, and forecast the outcome. But that toxic mix has been just the tonic for his party for years, including Perry’s suggestion that Texas might have to secede. President Obama was barely into his first months in office when Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted “You lie!” at him in a joint session of Congress. For hurling that insult, Wilson was widely praised in conservative media circles.

I wonder if The Donald will ask Ted Cruz for his birth certificate.  We remember he was a leading birther against President Obama.

Trump also stoked the humiliating lie about President Obama’s citizenship. He began that crusade, he claimed, because so many Republicans still believe it, and have encouraged him to keep it alive.

If you are on the other side you have to love the infighting in the Republican Party.

I don’t think The Donald will be folding his tent and going away as he has in the past.  One way or another, the other candidates will have to deal with him.  And if he gets the nomination or runs as an independent, we Democrats will have to deal with him also.

Photograph:  from stopabuse.com

Remembering the past

I visited Civil War battle sites on my honeymoon:  Antietam, Harper’s Ferry, Gettysburg.  It was early May and they were beautiful places.  Lush fields, trees, wild flowers – and graves.  Hundreds and hundreds of men had died there fighting for both sides.  I doubt that many were particularly political.  They were recruited into adventure or a sense of honor.  Perhaps someone they admired was building a company from the small town where they lived.  Most New England towns have a Civil War monument.  I’ve seen them in Ohio and Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.  Oh, certainly the politicians and some of the men at the top – the generals – believed in the cause.  That is their job.  But the ordinary soldiers went because someone asked them or because all their friends were going or they got paid to enlist and the family needed the money.

The current desire in a lot of places, Richmond and New Orleans to name two of them, is to remove the statues of the generals and politicians.  I lived for many years just blocks from Monument Avenue in Richmond.  The large monuments stand in circles that can be difficult to get to depending on the traffic:  Jeb Stuart, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson.  Plus the explorer Matthew Maury and tennis great and local hero, Arthur Ashe.  (Ashe was added after a great deal of controversy.)  Most Richmonders probably couldn’t name all the statues and likely don’t know who any of these men are.

The Boston Globe had a feature story on July 4th.

Ana Edwards stood on Monument Avenue, one of America’s most elegant boulevards, and stared with disbelief at the inscription on the 67-foot-tall memorial to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate government that was based here during the Civil War.

“Exponent of Constitutional Principles,” the inscription said about Davis. “Defender of the Rights of States.” There were no words explaining Davis’s role in the enslavement of hundreds of thousands, no hint that much of the nation’s slave trade was conducted here in Richmond, at a time when black lives plainly didn’t matter to many, except as human chattel to be exploited or sold.

Instead, emblazoned in stone, was Davis’s assertion that he acted “not in hostility to others.”

Edwards had never read the description and I hadn’t either.  And neither had the Mayor of Richmond, Dwight Jones.  But unlike many in Richmond and other places across the South, I don’t think the statues should be moved or put in museums or crowded together in a kind of Confederate History Park.  I believe they need to be used as teaching tools.

Earlier this spring, my husband and I were in Annapolis where there is a prominent statue of Roger Taney on the grounds of the State House.  Taney was the Chief Justice of the United State Supreme Court and wrote the infamous decision in the Dred Scott case declaring slaves were not citizens and couldn’t sue in federal court.  Instead of removing the statue, there are signs that explain who Taney was, who Dred Scott was, and why the decision mattered.  I like this approach much more than taking down the statues and putting someplace where most people will not see them.  Annapolis also has a new memorial to Kunte Kinte (subject of Alex Haley’s Roots) on the City Docks where he landed as a slave.

The controversy over Monument Avenue comes at a time when there is a fight to prevent development in Shockoe Bottom where there were a number of slave jails and auctions.  I wrote about the preservation effort back in April.

dividedrichmond1

Slavery is an ugly part of our past and the men who believed in it, the Jefferson Davis’ and Roger Taneys need to be remembered.  We can’t forget who they were and what they did, any more than we should forget the slave auctions.  Richmond, and other parts of the south have a prime opportunity to educate.  Put up some markers, publish some informational materials.  Make sure that all those bicyclists and spectators at the big race in Richmond in the fall know who Jefferson Davis was and what he did, but leave the statue.  Leave the statue as a reminder of our dark past.  Leave the statue so we don’t forget.  And make sure they, and other visitors to the City know about Shockoe Bottom.

We can’t always be proud of our history, but we do need to remember it.

 

Keeping things too cold

Reading the Sunday Review section of the New York Times I was reminded that I always kept a sweater on the back of my chair in the summer time.  I also pretty much kept the blower in the cube off.  We were always playing with the blowers in the ceiling because it was just too cold.  So Kate Murphy’s “Enduring Summer’s Deep Freeze” definitely resonated with me.

IT’S summertime. The season when you can write your name in the condensation on the windows at Starbucks, people pull on parkas to go to the movies and judges have been known to pause proceedings so bailiffs can escort jurors outside the courthouse to warm up.

On these, the hottest days of the year, office workers huddle under fleece blankets in their cubicles. Cold complaints trend on Twitter with posts like, “I could preserve dead bodies in the office it’s so cold in here.” And fashion and style bloggers offer advice for layered looks for coming in and out of the cold.

Why is America so over air-conditioned? It seems absurd, if not unconscionable, when you consider the money and energy wasted — not to mention the negative impact on the environment from the associated greenhouse-gas emissions. Architects, engineers, building owners and energy experts sigh with exasperation when asked for an explanation. They tick off a number of reasons — probably the most vexing is cultural.

“Being able to make people feel cold in the summer is a sign of power and prestige,” said Richard de Dear, director of the Indoor Environmental Quality Laboratory at University of Sydney, Australia, where excessive air-conditioning is as prevalent as it is in much of the United States. He said the problem is even worse in parts of the Middle East and Asia.

What a waste of energy and resources!  Back in 2005, the Japanese government decided to bump up the thermostats in government buildings.  It took a while for what they called “Super Cool Biz” to spread.  The first year, men still wore long sleeved shirts and carried jackets so they wouldn’t feel weird meeting with private sector people.  A blog, GaijinPot explains what it all means.

Cool biz has been a summer buzzword since the Cool Biz Campaign was launched by the Japanese government in 2005. The Cool Biz Campaign aims to help reduce energy consumption in part by having government offices and cooperating private companies set the air-conditioner to 28˚C. In addition, the campaign encouraged workers to wear cooler clothing to work, which in effect meant a more casual dress code for summer.

28C is around 82F.

The suggested dress code Japanese government workers in the summer?

Not required to wear:
Necktie
Jacket

Allowed to wear:
Half-sleeve dress shirts
Kariyushi shirt (Okinawan shirt)
Polo shirts
Hawaiian shirts/Aloha shirts
Chino pants
Sneakers

Not allowed to wear:
Exercise shirts
Shorts
T-shirts
Jeans

Notice this is for men. I assume women can wear shirts or dresses with sandals.

Summer attire in Japan

Summer attire in Japan

We already do casual Fridays many places and a lot of tech companies are casual every day so why not raise the temperature, maybe not to 82 but to, say, 78.

As Kate Murphy wrote

Extreme temperature changes like entering a freezing lobby on a sweltering summer day may feel good at first, but it makes the hypothalamus go nuts, intensifying physical and psychological discomfort when the initial pleasure wears off — as if to say: “A blizzard is on its way! Do something!”

The problem is compounded by building managers who, surveys indicate, typically don’t adjust the temperature set point higher in summertime when people wear lighter and more revealing clothes than they do in wintertime. Since thermoreceptors (nerve cells that sense temperature changes) are on your skin, the more of it you have exposed, the colder you are going to feel. Sixty-eight degrees feels a lot different if you are wearing a wool turtleneck, slacks and boots versus a poplin sundress and sandals.

However, you can understand managers’ bias toward keeping the lower, wintertime setting when many are men and might wear ties and jackets no matter the season. They may be even less inclined to bump up the thermostat if they are heavyset, as body fat is the ultimate heat insulator.

So, men, take off those jackets and ties in the summer.

A couple of computer scientists have developed a smartphone app that proposes to solve that problem by making people the thermostats. Users can tell the app, called Comfy, whether they are hot, cold or just right. Over time, it learns trends and preferences and tells the air-conditioning system when and where to throttle up or throttle back the cooling. So far it’s used in a dozen buildings, including some of Google’s offices and some government-owned buildings, for a total of three million square feet. The developers claim Comfy-equipped buildings realize savings of up to 25 percent in cooling costs.

“We have a lot of data that people are most comfortable if they have some measure of control,” said Gwelen Paliaga, a building systems engineer in Arcata, Calif., and chairman of a committee that develops standards for human thermal comfort for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, or Ashrae.

Of course, for fresh air and comfort, engineers and architects tend to agree the most effective control is being able to open and close the windows. No app required.

Maybe one day we can stop dressing one way outside and another inside during the summer.

Can there be too many candidates?

I was hoping to avoid the 2016 Presidential race for a while longer, but it is becoming too much fun.

Quick.  Can you name all the Republicans?  J. Bush, Rubio, Jindal, Cruz, R. Paul, Christie, Carson, Fiorina, Huckabee.  That’s as far as I got without looking them up.  The rest are: Santorum, Graham, Pataki, Trump (How could I have forgotten him?!), and Perry.  Walker and Kasich will be joining them soon.

Naming the Democrats is pretty easy:  H. Clinton, Sanders, O’Malley, Chafee, and Webb.  That’s two biggies, one in the middle and two also rans – in that order.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Sanders supporter and I’m sure I will be writing about that and him as the race proceeds.  I can’t wait for the debates to begin.  I know Bernie wanted them to start earlier, but he seems to be gaining some momentum without them.

The Republicans have to figure out either how to get everyone on stage at once, how to limit the debate field, or bag debates altogether.  The Fox method of the top 10% in the polls will, unfortunately, probably mean no Christie/Trump match-up.  That would be worthy of pay-for-view.  And I’m unclear on how they will handle the Iowa caucuses.  Are there places in the precincts with enough places for each candidate to have a place to stand and caucus?  But then there will be New Hampshire.

The Sunday New York Times had an interesting story about New Hampshire today.

The likely field of 16 Republican candidates is stirring frustration, particularly among voters who say they feel more overwhelmed, even ambivalent, than ever before about their long-cherished responsibilities in holding the nation’s first primary. Some voters said they were already dreading the weeks of political fliers stuffed in their mailboxes, of campaign volunteers at their doors during the day and of television ads and automated phone calls all through the night. Others said they already had candidate fatigue.

For decades, New Hampshire has fought to keep its place at the front of the presidential nominating contests, and party leaders talk with almost religious fervor about the state’s duty to “screen” and “weed out” second-tier wannabes to save most other Americans the trouble. The state’s news outlets, political consultants, and hotel and hospitality industries also make tens of millions of dollars from the campaign operations. Politics is pastime here, but the 2016 race creates a challenge that is the opposite of a leisure pursuit: Is there such a thing for New Hampshire voters as too many presidential candidates?

“I can’t keep track of all of them. It’s ridiculous,” Laura Major, an independent voter from Milford, said as she collected candidate stickers and free candy from volunteers for Mr. Bush and other campaigns along the parade route here.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida at an Independence Day parade in Amherst, N.H., on Saturday. He was among the nine presidential candidates campaigning in the state over the holiday weekend. Credit

Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida at an Independence Day parade in Amherst, N.H., on Saturday. He was among the nine presidential candidates campaigning in the state over the holiday weekend.

Still another reason to be happy to be away from Boston where the local TV stations will be saturated with advertising since they also broadcast into southern NH.  Not having been through a Presidential election season in Vermont, I’m not sure what happens here, but I don’t think we will get a lot of advertising.  We will have to see.

State Senator Jeb Bradley, the Republican majority leader, said the complications of 2016 went beyond the sheer number of candidates: Voters are also struggling because there is no clear front-runner, as there was in 2012 (Mitt Romney), 2008 (John McCain), 2004 (George W. Bush) and 2000 (Mr. McCain).

“This is the first time since 1996 when we have a wide-open contest, and there are now twice as many major candidates compared to back then,” Mr. Bradley said. As for his own preferences, they are increasing — Mr. Bush, Mr. Rubio, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Mr. Christie, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Carly Fiorina, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — rather than shrinking.

“But look, by the time our primary rolls around in February, I just can’t imagine there will be 16 people on the Republican ballot,” Mr. Bradley said.

Others are not so sure. The emergence of “super PACs” could allow just a few wealthy supporters to finance advertising and other activities for their preferred candidates, giving many of the 2016 contenders the resources to survive poor showings in the first few nominating contests.

I love this quote.

“Every day there are two more Republicans jumping into the race, but hopefully the debates will help us sort all of this out,” said Okie Howe, a 98-year-old Democrat and Army veteran living at the Tilton retirement home. She said she wanted to find a Republican to support because she was “sick of Hillary Clinton,” but thought she would probably vote for Mrs. Clinton in the end because the Republican field “was too big to make sense out of.” (As for the 73-year-old Mr. Sanders, Ms. Howe said, “He’s a bit too old, isn’t he?” She then chided herself for “being the pot calling the kettle black.”)

Vote for Bernie, Ms. Howe.

Photograph:  Sean Proctor for The New York Times