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Monday, July 29, 2013

Review of Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry:

I must admit to watching the fall of Jim and Tammy with some glee in the late eighties. It was the classic case of the pompous, arrogant , holier-than-thou, rich evangelist getting his due in a sex and greed scandal that brought down his religious television empire.

Bakker was one of the pioneers of the television ministry and his rise was similar to that of the Pentacostal Church in the United States. He profited to a large extent from that revival. But his story also is a parable for the dangers inherent in television ministries which accumulate huge sums of money, most of it exempt from any kind of taxes and prosecution for fraud, because of its "sacred" tinge, is almost unheard of lest the prosecutors be accused of being anti-religion.

Following a stint working for Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, Bakker struck out on his own. Even from the beginning he would get his way by relying on the old standby, "God told me so." He would often completely disregard financial and legal realism saddling PTL with more and more debt. He was impulsive, controlling, and chronically impractical. He would just charge off and plan the most grandiose projects and then fail to follow through with promises, often embarrassing his friends and staff (whom he would fire at will for lack of loyalty.)

Bakker's theology was what has become standard in the pentecostal circuit: the prosperity gospel, otherwise known as "seed-faith," i.e., you give to the ministry and God will reward you financially. In the meantime, Bakker was buying bigger cars and houses for himself, usually with PTL funds. Irregularities surfaced everywhere. Attempts at budgeting failed because Bakker would charge off, buy a new boat or house or begin a new project and money had to be siphoned off from other accounts to cover hie expenditures.

Evidence of Bakker's sexual proclivities were apparent almost from the start. He began paling around with John Wesley Fletcher, a supposed faith healer, who also had a penchant for the ladies. In one case Fletcher brought Jessica Hahn down from New York, procured, I should say, for Bakker. Several male staff were asked to give Bakker massages and then were solicited for sex; most were too embarrassed to report anything. He sent one friend at CBN (Pat Roberstson's Christian Broadcasting Network) a case ! of condoms.

One of my favorite stories surfaced in this book. Bakker sold his remaining TV station to avoid an FCC investigation into his financial dealings (the FCC could regulate TV station owners, but not those who supplied content.) The buyer was a rather shady character who had taken over Billy James Hargis's ministry. (Hargis was known for his Bible thumping anti-communist and anti-gay rhetoric.) Hargis got into trouble when the story surfaced he had had sex with five students at his college and that two of those students discovered on their wedding night that both of them had slept with Hargis.

When the Charlotte Observer began writing articles critical of PTL and their prevarication and mismanagement, the PTL response was a series of shows proclaiming victimhood and claimning it was a conspiracy to prevent them from getting the Word out. Typical. Ignore the facts and marshal the forces against the truth. And marshal they did. The reporters were soon subjected to phone calls and letters detailing the miseries God would wreck upon them. Of course, nothing happened except to reveal the mental degeneracy of most of Bakker's followers.

Bakker, constantly under financial pressure because of his erratic and grandiose building projects, hit on a plan to fund his endeavors while his regular PTL operations were running a $1.2 million per month loss. For $1,000 (later $2,500) you could purchase a partnership in his Heritage Park hotel that would guarantee free lodging, first for two nights then three, every year. The problem was that the partnerships soon exceeded the capacity of the hotel which need at least 50% paying occupancy just to come close to breaking even, let along make money, which was the original intent. So each partnership "sold" became a long-term liability. Soon the IRS became interested in how the money was being spent. The board and Bakker had ignored their auditor's recommendations to use money collect for religious purposes that instead was being used to support an extravagant Bakker lifestyle, and the IRS soon began to question PTL's religious tax exemption.

By this time, some PTL staffers had observed that the structure of the organization resembled the Soviet Union, i.e., it was run by a small bureaucracy which controlled all the money, urged the "rank and file to sacrifice", held all the privileges and manipulated the flow of information about the organiztion, "individuals were expendable, that everything existed for the good of the state."

The Assembly of God leadership was also becoming concerned. Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert were dueling on-air, Bakker complaining that Swaggert was coming down too hard oin a Texas ministry who had been caught, literally, with his pants down. In light of what happened to Swaggert later on (see...), perhaps he should have listened to Bakker. Be that as it may, the church leadership was also very concerned about the financial irregularities becoming increasingly apparent at PTL. In addition "...the denomination mainstream found the ministry superficial. gaudy, self-aggrandizing--and perhaps guilty of using religion as a cover for greed. . . Bakker had manufactured a ministry with an adjustable moral compass." One might argue that's not so unusual, but that's another debate.

It was, as everyone knows,the Jessica Hahn affair that brought down the walls around Bakker and he served some prison time. No need to recount the sordid details. I find it interesting that Bakker is still on cable, and I tuned in the other day. Looked like the same old crap to me. Guess he didn't learn.

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Review of Swaggart

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Swaggart:

Jimmy Lee Swaggart, by October 1987, was one of the most popular television evangelists in the world. His first broadcast was in 1973, but unlike many of his colleagues, he would prance around the stage, phallically waving the microphone. He attacked Catholics and Jews, New Age theology (an oxymoron if there ever was one), Christian theme parks, prosperity theology and feel-good theology. He especially castigated rock music – ironic, as his cousin was Jerry Lee Lewis – and dancing, but adultery came in for special condemnation: " he seemed piercingly aware that sex had been the downfall of many great men of God." The higher they get, the harder they fall, and when Swaggart was arrested in 1987 for soliciting, the shock waves were substantial. 

The Fundamentalist movement originated in part as a response to the " gospel" movement of the early twentieth century as mainstream churches sought to deal with social problems endemic to an increasingly urban society. The Fundamentalist was a twelve-volume work published by two oil millionaires. It became the Bible for the new Fundamentalist movement, which established four basic tenets: " Jesus Christ is deity; (2) there was virgin birth and a resurrection; (3) there will be a Second Coming of Jesus; and (4) the Bible is without error." Fundamentalists were suspicious of education and science (obvious when we get to their proclivity for inbreeding), most notably the new evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin. Glossolalia – speaking in tongues – also became an important tenet of several new Fundamentalist sects. It had a long and troubled history in Europe where the Catholic Church had associated it with Satanism, but Charles Fox Parham of Topeka, Kansas hoped it would help spark interest in his new church and so he held long prayer meetings on the evening of – yup, you guessed it – New Year' Eve, 1900 that resulted in many parishioners speaking in what was reported to be authentic foreign languages. (The idea was glossalalia would be of great assistance in their missionary work. Honest. I'm not making this up.) The time was ripe.

"Glossolalia is often connected with powerlessness, surfacing historically in times of severe religious persecution or decline, or economic privation." One of Parham' students, a black named Seymour, began a hugely successful revival in Los Angeles – much to Parham' bitter jealousy – that lasted for some three years. Known as the Azusa Street revival, it resulted in the formation of the Assemblies of God that Swaggart' family became so much a part of. The Swaggart family was heavily intermarried. Jimmy' great-grandfather had married his first cousin, and his father married his aunt – she was two years younger than Jimmy – which made their offspring " own first cousin' each others first cousins, their parents' first and second cousins, their parents' niece and nephew, their grandfather Swaggart' first cousins, their parents' niece and nephew . . . . [it goes on:]." The family had an unusually high number of musically inclined, and Jimmy Lee was very closely related – how could he not be – to Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Leroy Gilley, both of whom apparently had something to do with country music in the United States:) )

The influence of Pentacostalism on Jimmy from his grandmother Ada, who, after experimenting with several denominations, had a religious experience during a revival meeting and thereafter sought similar happiness for her grandson. Jimmy's later womanizing may have been genetic, for Ada's husband, night marshal, was well known for conducting more secular services in the back seat of his patrol car. He was suspected to be the father of at least four black children in the town. Jimmy's call to Christ came early, at age eight, in a movie theater. Movies were frowned on as being satanic, and it is perhaps ironic that Swaggert' moment occurred in a place of entertainment. Jimmy reported that God spoke to him in a Biblical dialect, and one wonders if Jimmy ever noticed that movie theaters and churches were beginning to converge into a similar reality: " facing a stage where a compelling story is being told." He was giving up the artificial movie stage for a much larger auditorium and audience. Soon he was speaking in tongues and making some astonishing prophecies, preaching from a log altar behind his house: sincerely thought his father, but ostentatiously, too, almost a performance. 

The form of Jimmy's evangelism had a long history dating to the First Great Awakening that began around 1720. Jonathan Edwards, its founder, won many converts to his idea that personal religious experience was required for personal salvation. He did it in a traditionally American manner: by creating a market and introducing entertainment into the sales mixture. The First Great Awakening died out by 1750 to be replaced by the Second, after the Revolution. The religious establishment was in disarray, many of its leaders having been tainted by their close association with the British monarchy, and by the end of the 18th century, 95 percent of southerners had no church affiliation. While the First had stressed the lack of free will and hence the need for grace, the Second Great Awakening preached the importance of free will. Its audience was the vast number of settlers moving west, and circuit preachers would gather people in large camp meetings, forerunners of the tent revivals of the twentieth century. Often these meetings were the only form of social gathering for many of the isolated settlers and a civilizing influence on a society that was most often inebriated: babies were fed alcohol because water was considered to be devoid of food content; one-third of all brides were pregnant, violence was commonplace, and debauchery rampant. Music came to play an important part at these events as part of the entertainment, much as music was an important part of Jimmy and Jerry's lives. Both played the piano well and learned to imitate and incorporate the new beats of the black musicians and rock music that was beginning to become so popular. "Television was the perfect medium for evangelists. It did what they did: simplified and magnified the message for easier digestion." Protestant format was especially amenable to this medium because it concentrated authority in an individual. The personality became all important. 

Unlike the Bakkers, however, who seemed to amplify the flashy materialism -- Tammy's fake eyelashes were so long and mascara covered that a popular T-shirt featuring huge smudges wore the legend "I ran into Tammy Faye at the mall" -- Jimmy established a reputation for sobriety and Frances, his wife, eschewed her more sensational clothing after they moved to television. Their television presence blossomed. The more stations they added, the more money came in, the more stations they could add. This new visibility brought media scrutiny with it, and Jimmy, who was fond of saying that in his chain of command he was every link, came under ever more pressure. The Swaggert ministry had been known for its fiscal propriety, but now huge sums of money were being spent on buildings and fancy television equipment, making many of the faithful employees very uncomfortable, but anyone who questioned Jimmy or especially Frances, was summarily fired. This visibility also meant that traditional Pentecostal doctrine (goods works will not help achieve salvation) sometimes expressly anti- Catholic, ("Most Catholics are Catholics two times a year: once at Mardi Gras and once at . . . I can't remember) irritated many Catholic parishes. When he attacked priests, saying "they pestered survivors to say prayers for the dead; that bordered on heathen ancestor worship," in a predominantly Catholic city, pressure was put on some television stations to drop his broadcasts. He learned quickly that this often increased donations to his ministry. 

The Assemblies of God community was rocked by one scandal after another in the late eighties. The Pentecostal format had an almost sexual fervor to it, but there was no appropriate way for preachers to deal with sexual issues. "There was little study of how to prepare, or what to do if the preacher's own state of arousal starts to take a sexual expression. Moreover, Pentacostals play with fire, channeling the arousal into touching, hugging, confessing, and laying on of hands." If you had a problem, you were supposed to pray about it and it would go away. That rarely helped, and Jimmy, like many others, was tormented by his longings, and his inability to talk about his problems; counseling - - not that it would have done any good anyway - - was not an option. There was deep religious antipathy against counseling in the Assemblies of God. "You just sucked it up and believed God, and if you died, well-- you just didn't have enough faith. It's a terrible way to tell people to live, and it's an even more terrible way to die." Politics, power, rivalry also played an important part. The Bakkers by this time had an immensely rich and huge network of television ministries, anchored by the PTL club. That property was envied by many of the others. 

When rumors began to surface about Jim's homosexual activities and the payoff to Jessica Hahn, the vultures began to circle. He was brought down, but that made his accusers more vulnerable because revenge then became a motive for those who had lost their power base. Despite the unwillingness of the Swaggarts to assist in this biography, Seaman has portrayed them quite sympathetically. You can't help but feel sorry for the man, trapped by conflicting emotions, but trying honestly to do what he thought God was telling him to do. It becomes obvious that that belief can easily become corrupted by power and money and perverted into thinking that anything one does is at God's beckoning.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Review of Cold Dish

I really should have read this book first. It sets much of the stage for understanding the relationships of the characters in the later novels of the series (see my review  of #2 which provides an examination of what is -- and is not -- real in the books:

One might argue Johnson sets a bit too much of the stage in this novel, sometimes sacrificing the plot. One element I thought was a bit over the top was the mystical Cheyenne component when Walt was trudging through the snow on the way to help Henry.  And then the snow ceased to be an important element even though it was supposed to be a terrible storm.  

But I nit-pick.  If you enjoy only action-packed stories with multiple car chases, etc. you might not like this series. (Note they are different from the excellent TV series.) But if you like books with conversation and people who act like real adults in a unique setting, you'll like this series.  Ruby, BTW, is a stitch.  The radio traffic business is very funny.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Random Thoughts

Wow, bring on the global warming. Low tonight (July 26. northern Illinois) of 45, possible frost in Wisconsin tomorrow night.

I ran across a reviewer of the Book of Mormon (any review of that thing even hinting at some negatively brings out the crazies. It's as bad as a food topic, and don't even mention raw milk.) And they all talk about facts, the "fact" of the BOM, etc. etc. My response:

Ah, facts. Here's a set of "facts."
1. The Book of Mormon is true.
2. The Koran is true.
3. The New Testament is true.
4. The Old Testament is true.
5. Monotheism is true.
6. Polytheism is true.

I could go on, but you get the idea. These statements are regarded as facts by different groups of people who swear by their validity; yet, they are all, or in part, mutually exclusive or contradictory. They can't all be true or factual. Now the question is how does one determine which is the truth. One can certainly have an opinion based on one's own cultural and personal exposure, yet the only real "fact" is that they all cannot be correct. And the sub-variants within each group are endless and often perceived as worth dying for, yet the truth of each remains more than elusive.

Occam might even suggest none is true.

A few musings on audiobooks.

I had a recent reader ask me to write a general post about my experience with audiobooks. I have been an avid listener ever since I discovered Recorded Books and Books on Tape back in the early nineties. I bought many for the library and they became quite popular. Once I discovered MP3 technology, I would convert them to MP3s and then begin listening on a variety of little devices. I then graduated to digital download audiobooks after reading an article in the Atlantic by James Fallows about Jon Katz, the founder of Audible. I think my library was one of the early adopters of digital audiobooks and I negotiated a deal with Matt Fine, then a VP at Audible, for the distribution of audiobooks to library patrons, in 1999. In fact, Matt and I were doing a presentation on Audible for libraries for the South Suburban Library System (long since merged into oblivion) on 9/11. We couldn't figure out why the audience kept leaving the room for hurried whispers and visits to a TV in the other room. Matt had to rent a car to get back to NY.

Enough memoir. I almost never listen to an audiobook while doing nothing else. I always use them as adjuncts to some other activity, e.g. driving (wonderful), mowing (I place earbuds under special noise-suppression headphones - my lawn takes about 4 hours with a 46" riding mower), in the shower or doing the dishes (hook up an iPod to external speakers), or while watching a grandchild play soccer (useful for drowning out the inane parental comments), etc.

Do I occasionally miss something or lose where I am? Surely, but that's what rewind is for. Do I reserve certain genres for particular activities? Absolutely. History for interstates or mowing, mysteries for city traffic, and so on. The iPod is great for the car and my wife and I always pick a book we both want to listen to. It's easy to pause so we can discuss some aspect of the book. When traveling, I always take along a small cassette recorder so I can record my impressions or notes, which helps when writing reviews.

All that being said, the narrator of a book can be crucial. A bad reader will easily ruin an otherwise good book, and a good reader (I have many favorites) will often make a mediocre book better. In general, I prefer Australian and English readers. I love the articulation and precision of the reading, but among Americans, Michael Kramer, Richard Ferrone, Grover Gardner, George Guidall, Barbara Rosenblatt, and many many others. The death of Kate Fleming/Anna Fields was a great tragedy. She was one of the best. Rarely can an author successfully read h/her own books; Lawrence Block being an exception. He's perfect.

Do I remain an avid print (digital almost exclusively, of course) reader? Absolutely.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review of Bank Shot

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Bank Shot:

We all miss Donald Westlake, the creator of so many delightful books of which this is a fine example in the Dortmunder series.  Dortmunder is a thief and con-man (he's been collecting deposits on encyclopedias when he runs into a little trouble). This time he's approached by his friend Kelp, who, with his  his ex-FBI agent nephew, Victor,  have the perfect bank robbery all lined up.  It seems while a new branch bank building is being built, the bank has moved across the street to a mobile home.  The bank usually doesn't worry  about theft since cash is in the safe (damn those credit cards and checks) only Thursday nights and with seven guards and a sophisticated alarm system, what's to worry. Well  you no doubt can guess their plan.  It's to install wheels and drive off with the entire building.

As is typical with Westlake caper books, just as things seem to be going right, they go off the rails. The ending is worthy of slapstick comedy; in fact, this could make a great movie. ("Could" being operative word. Apparently  they tried with George C Scott and Joanna Cassidy, but it was a bomb.) .   The charm of these books has less to do with plot than the conversations and interplay between the characters, not to mention sarcastic portrayals of certain professions, mundane examples of how we move through life.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Why Don't Farmers Believe in Climate Change? | Mother Jones

Why Don't Farmers Believe in Climate Change? | Mother Jones:

My comment:  ALL of us contribute to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  It's unfortunate that it has become fashionable to blame some other member of society be it agriculture, corporations, whatever even while we all drive cars, use computers , produce magazines, etc. all of which use fossil fuels in great abundance and contribute to an increase in CO2 levels.  The question is what to do about this increase.  I wager that there is NO ONE who is willing to reduce his/er standard of living by any considerable measure;  no one.  It's always the other guy who has to do it. We are always the righteous ones, so our use of fossil fuels is OK since we are engaged in righteous activity.  It's everyone else who has to make adjustments.  The fact is the earth is getting warmer and human activity is contributing to that.  Whether it's causing climate change is less certain.  What IS certain is that some parts of the world will benefit from that climate change, others will not. We also know that we are coming to the end of the most recent inter-glacial (Holocene)  and that previous inter-glacials coincide with changes in the earth's orbit.  We are just coming off the Little Ice Age that lasted between 1250-1850.  The Earth has seen major temperature and climate shifts many times before.   During the previous inter-glacial (the Eemian Period which was between 130,000 and  114,000 years ago) the sea level was about 8 meters higher than today and the North Sea 2 degrees C warmer than today.  There is no question we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels, but let's look to ourselves rather than pick on the other guy.  Reduce your consumption and frankly the best way to do that is by reducing your income by say 50%.  Any takers?  I didn't think so.

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Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Death Without Company

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Death Without Company:

The publisher's blurb compares Craig Johnson to Ace Atkins, Nevada Barr, and Robert B. Parker. I have no idea what they must have been smoking when they wrote that. I have read some from each and Johnson is better. His use of language is far superior and evocative, not to mention the undercurrent of humor. Walt Longmire is someone you would really like to know; Spenser? Not me.

This is the second of the Longmire series, the third I have read. Probably not necessary to read them in order, but I have decided to do so except for the one I already read out-of-order. Lucien, Walt's predecessor and mentor in the Sheriff's office, has told Walt he needs to have an autopsy performed on Mari, his fellow resident at the assisted living home. Turns out he had been married to her for three days way back when. The investigation goes back many years and involves Basque culture (did you know that 27% of Basques have O-neg blood type -- as I do, coincidentally -- a normally rare type that is valued as it's the universal donor type. I'm rather proud that I am up to 8 gallons now of donated blood.)

Walt's department is such an interesting mix of personalities and stereotype-busters: he has a degree in English lit and quotes Shakespeare; Vic is an ex-homicide detective from Philadelphia with very colorful language. Santiago, the newest addition, is of Basque heritage - Absaroka County has a high percentage of Basques-- who is a linguist. Walt's best friend is Henry Standing Bear who speaks several dialects of Cheyenne (the relationship between the reservation and non-Indians is a recurring theme.)

Absaroka County is a mythical county supposedly about the size of Vermont (9200 sq miles similar to the real Femont county, the seat of which is Lander, population 7,800) and the least populated in Wyoming (unlike Fremont County). There is a real Absaroka mountain range along the border of Wyoming and Montana. For those of you who think it might be unrealistic to have such a small department for such a large territory, consider this. I was talking to Donald Harstad, a former deputy sheriff of Clayton County, Iowa who, incidentally, writes a terrific series of stories. Clayton County covers about 728 square miles in NE Iowa. ( said that at any given time at night in Clayton County, the department could field only two deputies for a dispersed population of about 18,000. That means to get to the site of an accident at the far end of the county requires some very high speed driving over very hilly roads. It's a very scary thought.

As one who has lived in large cities (Paris, Philadelphia, etc.) but also remote farming areas (the closest grocery store was 25 miles and the closest neighbor where I live now is 3/4 of a mile) I think those who grew up only in cities have little concept of the distances in places like Wyoming where the population is not quite 6 people per square mile. That being said, Harstad provides a better feeling than Johnson of the large distances that must be covered. BTW, I could find no reference to any real Cheyenne Indian reservation in Wyoming. There is an Arapaho and Shoshone reservation in west central Wyoming, but the closest Cheyenne reservation is in South Dakota.

Johnson is very good. I intend to read all of them. But read Harstad, too.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Why Liberals Should Thank Justice Scalia for Gun Control -

Why Liberals Should Thank Justice Scalia for Gun Control -

From Scalia's Heller decision: "Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. [United States v.] Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons."

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review of Mad River

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Mad River:

Another enjoyable audio listen, this time read by Eric Conger. This book is part of the Virgil Flowers series by Sandford. Flowers is a BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension - weird name for a state police agency if there ever was one) agent working under Lucas Davenport who makes several cameo appearances. This is not an investigatory police procedural. The story alternatives between Flowers and the killers' narratives. There's never any doubt who's guilty, the only mystery being their ultimate motivation for the first killing. Mostly it's the chase of three dysfunctional kids who go on a rampage following a simplistic contract killing. They are totally sociopathic and embark on an unintentional (soon becoming otherwise) killing spree.

As the killing intensifies and the killers remain at large, the tension escalates into a conflict between Virgil and the local cops as to how best to deal with the miscreants. That provided one of the subtexts that I found interesting: the desire of the community for immediate vengeance, and Flowers's obsession with discovering whether Jimmy had been hired to kill Agatha.

I think I prefer the Flower series to the Davenport. Flowers just seems to be a more interesting and introspective than Lucas who often strikes me as superficial.

Review of Supertanker Memoirs

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Supertanker Memoirs:

OK, I admit it.  I have a soft spot for memoirs and a really squishy spot for sailor memoirs.  Rarely are they literary masterpieces.  I don't care.  They convey a story and information and I like that. One can never have too much information on how things work or how people live, or why they do what they do.

Gilbert joined the British merchant marine as an apprentice seaman and was assigned to tankers. That would not have been my first choice since I have an aversion to volatile substances.  He and the other apprentices had never been to sea which I suppose one could consider logical or irrational depending on one's prior sea experience.

Tanks had to be cleaned, a procedure never to be taken lightly and it was here that Brightwell, the Third Mate, whose overabundance of energy was usually disdained, was appreciated.

This was a single-bottomed tanker. The entire cleaning procedure was extremely dangerous. First of all the tanks were gas freed with big fans lugged around the deck form hatch to hatch. Then huge rotating wash heads on frames where wheeled around and lowered into the tanks and the tanks were washed. Then men had to climb into the gloom full of walkways which led straight out into the open space when you were walking along them and mop the residues of cargo and fuel up lying between the strengtheners and squeeze the mops into buckets then someone else had to haul the buckets up eighty feet to the deck and chuck the residues over the side. Then you had to unbolt a cover on the stripping system and bolt on a flexible pipe and hoover up the last of it. Tempers frayed. The sailors didn’t like working down there. The nastiest one taking over from the other apprentice had a massive fit because he couldn’t find the bolts to connect the hoover hose to the suction. They were right in front of him on a kind of shelf. When this was pointed out to him he ranted that it was a stupid place to leave them. This was when you really needed the bosun. A big part of his job was to punch out any sailor who moaned too much and this one had a record for performing that duty quite assiduously.   The danger came from the lack of oxygen. Basically the whole procedure was equivalent to attaching a fan to the petrol cap on your car’s empty fuel tank and then climbing inside it and cleaning it. There were many incidences of sailors dying down there. Three minutes without sufficient oxygen you were brain damaged, four and you were dead. Warsash had gone into some detail about rescue procedures. “Forget it,” Brightwell said. “If you’re going down a tank in that situation you’re going to bring up a corpse.” Normally, everyone was moaning about Brightwell’s efficiency as it was a pain in the neck. Here they were all quietly grateful for it. He would not send any man down if he wasn’t ninety-nine per cent sure it was safe. You could never be a hundred per cent certain.

Filled with injudicious comments about ports and captains, the writing is either amateurish or Melvillian.  You decide:

They did things on tankers that would have made an OSHA inspector blanche.  But the flow of oil was not to be stopped and so safety and principles were never allowed to interfere with normal operations.  If someone dared to complain, he was reported and his career quickly came to an end.  The ship berthed and the Brazilians looked skeptically at the mate’s loading plan. The mate was one of the past it Freemasons and unsackable so it was perhaps well that they did. But they eventually deemed it O.K. and started loading. Generally, apart from Belgium obviously, the terminals were pretty content to follow the mate’s plan except in the United States. There, despite, their girly safety nonsense, when brutal looking Stevedores would throw a fit over the slightest spot of oil on the deck and pronounce it a safety hazard and wait for someone else to wipe it up before they commenced work, the terminals wanted to do their own thing. All American authorities operated on the basis that the rest of the world’s population were complete morons and they were infinitely brainier. A lot of the rest of the world’s population held the complete opposite view but you have to cope with what you have to cope with.

Then again, Australian might be worse: “Once the ship leaves the berth, he doesn’t care if it disappears,” reported the stevedore. Considering that a lot of bulk carriers were disappearing at this time this wasn't a harmless comment. They were sinking all over the place often due to the speed with which terminals insisted on loading them. Eight ships had sunk after leaving Dampier in Australia but the Australian shipping authorities, the most self-righteous in the world, didn’t do anything about slowing things down. Once Australian big business came into play principles were out of the window. Several ships had snapped in two alongside the berth while loading in Brazil. You were taking your life in your hands sailing on them.

I would have enjoyed more detail about his educational experience at Maritime college,but he does provide occasional glimpses into the Alice-in-Wonderland  aspects of the shipping world (see also Shipping Man ) For example, when asked to discuss an accident sailors were simply asked to write out a report detailing what happened.  This they had to do even at the risk of self-incrimination: You could not claim that you were incriminating yourself because the Government said that you weren't being asked to give evidence against yourself merely to aid the investigators to compile their report. Then once the report had been complied it was promptly used in evidence against you, but the Government insisted speciously that you hadn't given evidence against yourself, the report had.

The last third of the book might be less interesting for some as Gilbert descends to a litany of ports he visited with only brief descriptions of the sailor's view of each and he focuses less on the ships. He eventually earns his master's license and the book then rather abruptly ends.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Review of The Dark Horse

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Dark Horse:

Sheriff Walt Longmire has a money-making arrangement with neighboring counties: he provides lodging in his jail for the overflow from their jails. When Mary Barstad is brought in and he reads her file, his interest is peaked. She had confessed to shooting her husband, Wade, with .22 rifle, understandable enough given what a mean SOB he was thought to be, but to then burn down her barn with her horses in it? That didn't make sense, so with the other sheriff's blessing, Walt decide to do a little poking around.

The book's scenes converge, alternating between the present and events that took place ten days before. As the interval shortens we begin to see the outline of the puzzle begin to take shape. Normally, I don't care for this kind of structure, but Johnson pulls it off very nicely.

This is a really good book, a real page-turner and I don't use the word lightly.   I struggled a little with The Cold Dish, which I listened to as an audiobook. Normally, I like George Guidall as a reader so I don't think it was his reading that made it a slog. I read The Dark Horse in print (well, on my Kindle apps which is the only way I read anything now.)  Perhaps that made a difference? I have a couple others in audio so we shall see down the road.   Certainly, Johnson is one of the more literate writers of the genre and the relationship between Henry Standing Bear and Walt is marvelous.  It's refreshing to read about someone who can't leap tall buildings or catch bullets with one hand not to mention beat the crap out of fourteen bad guys at once all while sipping on a Dewar's.

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Sunday, July 07, 2013

Review of Blind Fury by LaPlante Linda LaPlante writes excellent police procedurals in several series. This one features DI Anna Travis whom we saw earlier involved in a ridiculous affair with her boss, Superintendent Langton who continues to have a presence and influence on the investigations. He's also a very bright detective as we see in one scene.

The scenes with Cameron Walsh were a bit too reminiscent of "Silence of the Lambs." Walsh is a killer Travis had jailed years earlier but he's obsessed with her and claims to be able to help with their investigation into the deaths of young foreign workers.

You get a real sense for the plodding tediousness of a difficult investigation with few clues. It's definitely not a thriller but seems to me to be a more accurate depiction of how frustrating and repetitive an investigation can be. I rather liked the repeated interviews, tracking down and interviewing witnesses, the interplay among the characters, and the tedious seeming lack of progress that many other reviewers decried. I'm not so wild about the romantic relationships that Travis finds herself in constantly but which often lend little to the overall plot. An attempt at building up the character, I suppose.

A thriller it's not, but as a realistic portrayal of the frustrations of police investigations, it's top-notch.

Review of Snapshot

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Snapshot:

A woman who took some snapshots at a swingers club orgy and then mailed them to several of the men there, with no note or demand of any kind, is murdered and Inspector Challis, in this third of the series, investigates.  The dead woman just happens to be the daughter-in-law of the Chief Superintendent who insists on meddling in the investigation.  The question that begins to bother the DI and Ellen, his sergeant, is whether Janine was the intended victim.  Federal officers show up when they inquire after the god-daughter of one of the neighbors.  It seems she was in witness protection and is now on the run from a gangster she had informed on.  As is typical in any investigation red herrings abound.

Talk about an incestuous department:  Challis has the hots for Ellen, his sergeant, who is married to a senior traffic constable, Alan. Alan and Ellen are constantly at each other's throats, with Alan accusing Ellen of sleeping with Challis.  Alan, in turn, is using his position to pick on Pam, a constable on Ellen's team and charge her with reckless endangerment in the death of bystander.  Pam's partner is the  misogynistic  John Tankard who can't take a hint.  They are charged with driving around and awarding citations to good drivers.  Challis, in the meantime, had had an affair with a local newspaper celebrity, so the superintendent has reason to suspect him of leaking information about the shooting.  And by the way, his wife had tried to have him killed because she was fooling around with another cop. And all of this interpersonal rigmarole clearly influences the way they perform their jobs. If I were the supervisor of all these folks there would be a serious re-organization.

Nevertheless, in spite of the rather abrupt ending, it's a good series, but I'm a sucker for anything Australian.

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Saturday, July 06, 2013

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Shipping Man

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Shipping Man:

This book is probably only for die-hard nautical fans like myself who love Max Hardberger's books.  You have to be really weird like me to enjoy the arcane twists and turns of the shipping industry.  If you do, and you enjoy sardonic writing, you'll love this book.

Robert Fairchild is a New York hedge fund owner/manager who becomes intrigued by the possibility of making money in the shipping industry.  He's a total neophyte, completely unaware of the hazards and complications of an industry ostensibly stateless but subject to a myriad of regulations, all of which cost money and time.

Succumbing to the desire to be a ship owner and against his better instincts, he decides to buy an old freighter from a Greek broker and that's where his troubles begin. ("The truth was stark; Robert had willingly gotten  drunk and made a very costly mistake for which he could blame no one  but himself. This was one of the few downsides of having a one man  investment committee.")

The market for charters, thanks to fires in Russia, seems to be moving his way so, greed taking over, he uses his personal funds, well maybe a few dollars, too, from the fund, to creatively finance the purchase of the ship.  Then things get really hairy.  "“Yeah, that figures,” he laughed condescendingly  and shook his head back and forth. “Look, Mr. Fairchild, I hate to  spoil your quaint little illusion, but in the shipping business  everything is negotiable all the time. A word is only a man’s bond if  the market is moving in his direction. And just so you know, you haven’t  earned the freight until you’ve been paid the freight – and the  demurrage. . . Now it appeared as if he were the ATM machine,  spitting cash at the ship. In fact, the only difference between him and  the lanky Indian guys in the orange jumpsuits smoking cigarettes  directly beneath the massive NO SMOKING sign painted on the  rust-streaked accommodation building was that they were making money. He  was spending money."

Robert's travails will lighten your day. Guaranteed.  And convince you NEVER to buy a ship.

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