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A Killer’s Touch – Book Review

by Michael Benson
Published by: Pennacle Books, Kensington Publishing Corp., www.kensingtonbooks.com
Copyright: 2011
Type: Paperback
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, 03/23/2012

Summary: The 2008 kidnapping and murder of Denise Amber Lee and the systemic flaws in the 911 system which contributed to her death. Florida passes the Denise Lee Law to set voluntary standards for 911 systems in the state.

Denise Amber Lee was kidnapped from her home in North Port, Florida at around 2:30pm, Thursday, January 17, 2008. By 4:38pm, a message had went out over the law enforcement messaging system giving the details of the kidnapping. By 5:02pm, a BOLO (Be On the LookOut) had been issued describing the possible vehicle in which Lee had been transported from her home. Within roughly four hours after being kidnapped, at 6:14pm, Lee surreptitiously placed a 911 call from within the vehicle which was received by Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. It is this sequence of events which author Michael Benson relates with precision and clarity. It is this sequence of events that are the most horrifying related to the murder of a young mother of two and one very smart woman.

As a reader, you would hope everyone who works in a 911 center reads this book.

If you do not know what goes on in a 911 center, the first part of A KILLER’S TOUCH will be an eye-opener. Benson treats all parties involved fairly, from the 911 dispatcher who handled the call to the supervisors who ignored the urgency to pass the call along, to the Sheriff’s Office itself. Of course in reading the transcript of that call, a reader may be less generous and less forgiving. If the victim’s call and subsequent mishandling by the 911 center is infuriating, the call by a woman driver who hears Denise Lee crying for help in the car next to her is even more maddening.

Unlike most true crime books, A KILLER’S TOUCH focuses on the investigation of the kidnapping, murder and the trial. In this case, the trial is for a thirty-eight year old non-entity named Michael King. Benson does not give us a portrait of Michael King and what little we do get gives us no hint as to why he would single-out Denise Lee, kidnap and kill her. What Benson does give us is a more than cursory picture of how the law functions in the face of what can only be called an incompetent response to a life and death situation.
While we never learn why or how Michael King selected Denise Lee as his murder victim, we do learn what his excuses were for his aberrant behavior. It should be noted that King never admitted to the murder. His defense materialized from the shock of his family and friends. Benson gives a detailed account of King’s “trauma to the head” at a young age defense. It was possibly the only defense King’s lawyers could offer. Toward the end of the book, Benson reports on the view of Lon Arend, one of the state prosecutors in the case. Arend summed up the pivotal facts of the defense pretty succinctly based on his experience. Did Michael King suffer an enfeebling head injury as a child that made him a paranoid ticking time bomb. Probably not. But even if he had, the injury would not nullify the fact that he killed.

Benson’s reporting on the trial and the legal maneuvering on both sides may be too much for some readers, not enough for others. However, in this book, reporting on the mechanics and minutia of the legal system blends perfectly with the specific emphasis upon when and how institutions of the law are engaged upon occurrence possible illegal conduct. The event, the key that unravels the scroll of subsequent events in the Denise Lee kidnapping and murder is the 911 center–calls from both the victim and witnesses.

There is one glaring inconsistency in Benson’s book however. Minor in and of itself, but important. He reports upon the condition of the house when the husband of Denise Lee, Nate Lee, first enters the house after returning from work and discovering that his wife is missing. At one point, Benson says the house is excessively hot so Nate Lee turned on the air-conditioning. At another point, the authors says that when detectives entered the house it was excessively hot inside. It is not a major inconsistency and could be explained by the fact that the information is coming from two or more different sources. It is up to the reader to decide the temperature condition of the house.

This book is highly recommended.
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Vision of the Multiverse – Book Review

by Steven Manly, Dr.
Published by: The Career Press, Inc, 220 West Parkway, Pompton Plans, NJ, www.careerpress.com
Copyright: 2011
Type: Softcover
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, 03/13/2012

Summary: High-energy accelerators, quantum mechanics, string-theory and the search for an explanation of gravity. The concept of multiple universes—the multiverse—as an explanation for everything and everything you ever wanted to know about modern physics.

Taking off from the Copernican revolution in which the earth (as in Mankind, the arrogant) were regulated to essentially footnotes in the cosmos, Dr. Manly proceeds at a leisurely pace to explain the various concepts behind eleven “distinct types of multiverses”. They are all listed in Appendix A of the book. Two of the eleven are “non-scientific” but are included for the sake of comprehensiveness. Dr. Manly wades through the mathematics and physics of multiple universes with ease.

The beginning of VISION OF THE MULTIVERSE has a few too many diversions for this reader’s taste, but are not disastrous. For instance, the author recounts the story of a group of fellow grad-students at New York’s Columbia University who took a rolled-up carpet into their apartment with the intent of using it in the commons area of their dorm suite. After taking it upstairs, they unrolled the rug and found a body with two bullet holes in the head. Manly ends the story by writing, “Seriously. It’s a true story.” The only reaction to this is, Really?

There are other such human interest vignettes sprinkled throughout the opening chapters of the book. But when he does get down to the business at hand, he is rather brilliant. He achieves this exalted clarity by taking the “common sense” understanding of the physical world and applying the rules of science in everyday language. In the process, he explains how the consistency of mathematics and physics expand our understanding of our physical world and how it has no applicability to our mental world. This later is rather important given the temptation of philosophers and some spiritual gurus to extrapolate the musings of physicists into the realm of the mind. While a cosmological universe is conceivably very, very big, the human mind seems to be bigger-maybe a lot bigger. After all, it is the human mind that came up with something like multiple-universes. Think about it.
VISIONS OF THE MULTIVERSE takes an astonishingly open approach to the issue of scientific objectivity. As Manly says on page 26, “science is a human endeavor” and “Scientists develop taste in ideas and theories.” This may be another way of saying that some-not all, but some-of the ideas underlying the concept of multiple universes is the outgrowth of ego or wishful thinking. In fact, Manly classifies multiverse theories eight through eleven as “Faith Based Multiverses”. The book ushers us through Newtonian reality and through the strange, non-intuitive world of time and space described by Albert Einstein. By the time we are introduced to the stranger-and theoretical-world of string theory, we have learned how surprised scientists were to discover that the current universe seems to be expanding (at an increasing rate) and that we have no idea what 70% of the universe is made of (so called dark energy).

More than anything else, VISIONS OF THE MULTIVERSE highlights the current state of flux the world of physics is in right now. The “big bang” theory of the origin of the universe has been so scientifically challenged that, even allowing for a frame of reference of 13.7 billion years in the past during which anything was possible, a bang of any sort seems highly improbable. Yet, there is no better theory at the moment. So science marches on. It marches on with the Linus security blanket of the “big bang” orthodoxy sweeping up and concealing any contrary opinion. But there are other ideas out there. This book provides plenty of hints.

Read VISIONS OF THE MULTIVERSE as your science read of the year. It is entertaining, informative and enjoyable.
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The Drunkard’s Walk – Book Review

by Leonard Mlodinow

Published by: Vintage Books (Random House, Inc)

Copyright: 2008

Type: Softcover

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, 03/15/2012

 

 

Summary: A non-mathematical explanation of how mathematicians arrived at the description of The Drunkard’s walk–the path of molecules flying through space–and how the concept of randomness affects our lives.

 

The concept of randomness is at the heart of our everyday lives. Yet, most of us have only a vague appreciation of the distinction between randomness and directed events.

 

On page 65 of THE DRUNKARD’S WALK, Mlodinow describes the slightly embarrassing predicament of German “Lotto 6/49” game officials. The lottery in which 6 numbers were drawn from a total of 49 numbers, found itself in a very unexpected position. The winning numbers on June 21, 1995 were 15-25-27-30-42-48. Nine years previous and 3,014 games before, the same numbers came up on December 20, 1986. Does that mean that if you played the “Lotto 6/49” game and chose only previous winning numbers that you chances of winner were greater than if you “randomly” picked numbers?

 

While THE DRUNKARD’S WALK is filled with these little tidbits of everyday life, the book’s major contribution to an understanding of randomness is in the clear explanations it provides of the development of a branch of mathematics we call statistics. From the “birthday problem” to “forensic economics”, the underlying rational for mathematical solutions to “non-common sense” problems are explained. This is the book any student of statistics should read before learning statistical formula.

 

In the event you are one of those who view mathematics and the scientific method as the sole purveiw of logic, author Mlodinow mentions a study of how the brain processes uncertainty. Functional magnetic resonance (rFMR) imagining in which it was found “that risk and reward are assessed by parts of the dopaminergic system, a brain-reward circuit important for motivational and emotional processes.” This early observation serves as backdrop to the history Mlodinow relates of the men who developed the rationals of statistical analysis. My favorite is Gerolamo Cardano of Rome who died at age seventy-five after burning his 170 unpublished manuscripts. One hundred and eleven of his manuscripts survived including his The Book on Games of Chance. It was Cardano who first started mapping the course of randomness—which may seem like an oxymoron, but there really is a structure within random events.

 

It was Adolphe Quetelet of Ghent, Flanders, born on February 22, 1796, who instigated the rationale for statistics. He collected and analyzed demographic data. Specifically, he applied rules for looking at how individual data points deviate from an average to arrive at a more comprehensive description of the data (standard deviation from the mean). In turn, his method was used by Jules-Henri Poincare to sort out charges of a baker shortchanging customers on the weight of a loaf of bread. As Mlodinow points out, the same statistical analytic method is now used in forensic economics to catch everything from price fixing to stock manipulation.

 

Even if you do not like mathematical analysis, statistics or mathematics in general THE DRUNKARD’S WALK will surprise you with its clarity and entertainment value. Definitely worth reading.

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The Book Of Fate – Book Review

by Brad Meltzer

Published by: Grand Central Publishing

Copyright: 2006

Type: Paperback

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, 03/03/2012

 

 

Summary: Conspiracy by federal law enforcement officers (FBI, Secret Service, CIA) to scam the government into paying for intelligence information through control of approval authorities in the White House.

 

Have you ever watched an ice-cube melt in a glass of 90-proof rum? THE BOOK OF FATE is sort of like that only without the rum—which is sorely needed in this case.

 

Brad Meltzer is the titular host of the cable-TV History Channel’s BRAD MELTZER’S DECODED. He is a very accomplished guy and also very smart. But as for THE BOOK OF FATE. . .

 

The main character in THE BOOK OF FATE is a very unlikable , very single-minded, very vaporous fellow named Wes. He accidentally suffers a disfiguring face wound upon what is thought to be an assassination attempt upon the life of the President, one Lee Manning. The only person to die in the assassination attempt is presidential aide, Ron Boyle. The attempt killing of the President takes place, circa post-Bush presidency, when Manning makes a trip to a NASCAR race to show his face before a cheering crowd. In the ensuing 574 pages of this novel, there might be some surprises. But by the time you get to them you are so hung-over from the glacial melt that the surprises—if they are meant to be surprises–sort of wash over you like trickling sweat. A cold, trickling sweat.

 

While the plot revolves around avarice, greed and revenge, both the events and characters are too contrived to be believable. This stems from what can only be called logical progression. In other words, it is not a story STORY, but an exhibition of events in which the characters must hit predetermined marks motivated by predetermined (as in cliché) emotional quirks.

 

President Manning is the gregarious, glad-handing politician; his wife, a behind the scenes female Svengali whose love for being first lady imbues her with Sally Fields acting skills. And there are the federal law enforcement agents. There are three of them. The Three, as they are called in the book. One from the FBI, one from the CIA and one from the Secret Service. The Three come to a mind-meld to defraud the government of some significant money—like six million dollars at a whack. How do they do this? If you say by merely going to work every day, you are wrong—and mean spirited. And then there is the intrepid gossip-column reporter whose dream is to become a “real” reporter.

 

The major problem with THE BOOK OF FATE is that, as the reader, you know events and characters are being pushed along by the author. If there was a story-driven flow to the events we might overlook a man, a pawn of the Three, who is shot in a graveyard and then suddenly pops up in the back seat of a vehicle pointing a gun at the former first lady. This incident, which occurs near the end of the novel, punctuates a series events which have the feel of a Macbeth moment in which there is the expectation that in all the doom and gloom, everyone dies. It would be really nice if the novel ended here–not great or even satisfactory, just nice. Instead, we plod along to a chirpy ending.

 

This book is not recommended reading merely because the story is so contrived and the characters so unbelievable. It is also way to long—or that assessment just might be the afterglow of boredom.

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