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All my book reviews and profile can be found here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Praise be to God: New Rules in Texas

Praise be to God!
Thanks to the ruling by Texas governor Gregg Abbott:

  1. County Clerks can ignore the Supreme Court and not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if their religious belief says so;
  2. Public librarians will no longer have to check out the Book of Mormon if it violates their religious belief (the Koran has already been removed from the shelves.);;
  3. Pharmacists will no longer have to dispense drugs of any kind if it conflicts with their Christian Science beliefs;
  4. Vegan pizza parlor clerks will not have to sell sausage pizza to anyone as it conflicts with their religious beliefs;
  5. Protestant clerks will not have to sell rosaries to Catholics;
  6. Protestant carpenters will not have to work on building mosques;
  7. PETA members will not have to sell materials to livestock farmers nor issue hunting licenses; nor sell any guns at Walmart;
  8. Clerks will not have to sell anything resembling a Burka or any material that could be used for one;
  9. Unitarians will not have to serve anyone.
  10. The only way to get anything done will be to hire atheists.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Potsdam Station

# 4 in the John Russell series. At the end of volume 3 in this excellent series, Russell had escaped to Sweden and Effi had returned to Berlin, hiding in plain sight disguised as an old woman by using her make-up and acting skills. Germany had just declared war on America and the Gestapo sought both of them. Fast forward to April, 1945. Paul, John’s son, is sixty miles from Berlin on the eastern front as part of a Panzerfaust unit as the eastern front shrinks, Effi is surviving but also working to help refugees escape, and Russell is in Moscow hoping to enter Berlin with the Russian troops to find Effi.

Downing follows the travails of John (struggling to get back to Berlin to find Effie), Effie (hiding from the Gestapo as she helps refugees escape the city), and Paul (trying to stay alive as his unit is pushed back to Berlin)  as each tries to survive the war in the inferno that 1945 Berlin had become.  And Downing vividly describes that hell.

I won’t risk spoiling anything about the plot. Let it be enough to say this series is excellent, but please read them in order.

NB:  Re the Kindle edition.  The book switches perspectives regularly, e.g., from Russell to Effi to Paul and back, and there is often no transition in the Kindle edition, it’s just the next paragraph, no space, no chapter, no nothing. That needs to be fixed. On the other hand, I see there are new editions out and mine is an older one, so perhaps that has been fixed.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of A Twisted Faith: A Minister's Obsession and the Murder That Destroyed a Church

Audiobook: There’s something salacious about true crime stories that always intrigues, yet the author’s reportage of intimate thoughts and conversations always makes me wonder just how accurate they can be. Some of the intimate details and verbatim conversations where only the perp and one other person are present tend to set off my crap detector.  The scene where the victim’s mother goes out with Nick and then gives him a BJ had me wondering just who his source was for that little tidbit.

Certainly this was a fun book to listen to while mowing and doing summer chores.  You don’t have to listen too carefully as the broad strokes provide more than enough to get the gist and individual conversations aren’t necessary to keep things moving.

Basically, this is the story of a deeply troubled church pastor, Nick Hacheney, in Bainbridge, WA, who began an affair with a parishioner, Sandy, known for her conversations with God and her predictions (from God) about what would happen in the smallest details of people’s lives.

It’s also a cautionary tale of how naive people can be in believing what they want to and attributing their actions (and wishes and desires and lusts) to God’s will.  Frankly, any sensible person would have tuned out of this church when people started talking about how God had told them to buy a new car or jewelry even though they couldn’t afford it. Apparently the jump to murder wasn’t very long when you think God ordains it.  Hacheney drugged and killed his wife, then set the house on fire to cover his tracks. Then he proceeded to screw (in the literal and figurative sense) what seems like half the women in the church (God’s will you know; he needed comforting and missed the physical touch of his wife.)  Gullible and stupid doesn’t begin to describe it.

The original investigation into the fire was very sloppy. (God and his minions always get away with have to meet a lower standard.)  I think the first part of the book could have been cut and the last part concerning the investigation expanded.

Hard to put down though.  Sort of like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

History News Network | What We’ve Overlooked in the Debate About Charleston: The Connection between Guns and Racism

History News Network | What We’ve Overlooked in the Debate About Charleston: The Connection between Guns and Racism:

"In the late 1960’s the Black Panthers creed was “the gun is the only thing that will free us.”  In 1967, they invaded the California State Assembly with guns in hand protesting the Mulford Act, which made it illegal to carry loaded firearms in public.  The NRA later supported the Mulford Act and that icon of American conservatism, Governor Ronald Reagan, signed the law stating  “I see no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons. …. [The Mulford Act] would work no hardship on the honest citizen."  The national Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and the Gun Control Act of 1968 followed, which the NRA did not oppose.  The “not law abiding” blacks got controlled. 

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Unconditional Love

Let's face it, there is no such thing as unconditional love. Certainly not the kind churches feed us. God certainly doesn't love you unconditionally or s/he wouldn't put so many conditions on things.  Let's take baptism, for example.  Unless you sprinkle a little water on a baby's head and that baby dies, that baby will burn in Hell forever.  That's the condition of an insane psychopath.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Night of the Grizzlies by Jack Olsen

Obviously Olsen is quite taken with Glacier National Park and the first section of the book is devoted to a close examination of the flora and fauna of that region before he delves into the habits of Ursa Horribilis, otherwise known as the Grizzly Bear.  They are huge creatures, standing erect sometimes close to eight feet tall and despite their size can run faster than you’ll ever hope to.  Their habitat has been under pressure for decades: “ ...the destruction of the forests in which he could hide, the plowing of the plains on which he grazed, the stringing of thousands of miles of barbed wire, and the pervading, unpleasant stink of man, who only smells good to himself and his fellow man, and not always then. The grizzly of the plains, as was his custom, backed into the final square miles of American wilderness, avoiding a fight. He is holed up there today, his numbers reduced to less than 1,000, perhaps as few as 500, his range restricted more or less to a few states: Montana, Wyoming....”

Grizzlies had been living in Glacier National Park for decades and their relationship with humans had been a comfortable one, each leaving the other alone.  In 1967, however, an emaciated bear was seen foraging in garbage cans around Kelly’s Campground.  The permanent residents noticed his strange behavior and warned the rangers that this bear was not acting normally, standing his ground when yelled at instead of running away.

The Park Service was torn, clearly it had a rogue grizzly on its hands, yet the ethic was to leave the wildlife as intact as possible.  The visitors didn’t take numerous warnings seriously and the end result, a combination of negligence and procrastination coupled with some rule violations and insouciance resulted in two deaths and a mauling.

Several years ago, my wife and I went horseback riding in Glacier National Park.  We had been told there had never been an attack on a person while on horseback.  Just the following week, a group of riders ran into a large grizzly on the same trail we had been riding. When one of the children fell off his horse and attracted the interest of the bear,one of the guides reflexively charged the bear on “Tonk” a huge horse (part Percheron and 18 hands high -- I owned a large Arab that was 16 hands and he was big) that must have terrified the bear for he took off.  The horse and wrangler made it on Letterman (full story here.)  The Letterman show can be seen here.)

Olsen writes well and I must say the scenes describing the human/grizzly interactions are the stuff of nightmares.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Busting Vegas: A True Story of Monumental Excess, Sex, Love, Violence, and Beating the Odds

The book opens with a girls’ lineup in a Nevada brothel. (That will get your attention.) He follows the chosen girl up to a room, 232, and there the girl leaves and he meets up with the Russian MIT student who had used a technique that would take millions from the casinos.  It was the safest place to meet.

Forget counting cards that only increases your advantage slightly, this team, led by Victor (of whom we really learn very little), another MIT student, this team developed several strategies that involved knowing exactly how to cut cards and would seek out dealers who were just a bit sloppy during the shuffle.  (I know nothing about Vegas or Blackjack but don’t they all use mechanical shufflers now?  In fact, Mezrich suggests this change was a direct outcome of the casinos’ fear of the MIT strategy.)  In any case, these techniques increased their odds to 30% or better, a huge advantage, and by knowing just when to place the bets and knowing when the dealer was going to bust, they could take in hundreds of thousands in just a few hours.

The casinos were not stupid and knew they were doing something (the kids had fake IDs and posed as wealthy businessmen or foreigners) but couldn’t figure out what.  Not that they were doing anything illegal except that to casinos anything that doesn’t give them their guaranteed 2-5% edge is wrong and needs to be punished.

The book has been somewhat controversial with some of the principals reporting the events didn’t happen as reported in the book. So take it with a grain of salt.  Nevertheless, it’s a good read, just assume it’s like a novel. I’m downgrading it a bit because it feels very superficial, more a recounting of what happened (certainly fascinating in itself) but without much analysis of the characters and their motivation.

Perhaps the great irony is that their strategies had little to do with math and probability (MIT students weren’t needed, the personalities were more crucial) and more with concentration, card control, and knowing how to cut decks precisely.  In an interview at the end of the book, Mezrich insists he still uses the techniques successfully in Vegas. Bullshit.  I don’t buy it.

I'm a bit curious as to why the title was changed from Busting Vega$: The MIT Whiz Kid Who Brought the Casinos to Their Knees (2005?) to Busting Vegas: A True Story of Monumental Excess, Sex, Love, Violence, and Beating the Odds  (2006).  Both are hyperbolic.  No casino was brought to its knees and love played no part.

Audiobook read by the author who does a creditable job.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Hostage: A Novel by Robert Crais | LibraryThing

Audiobook:  What do you get when you mix three men, two of them brothers and the other a psychopath, who decide to rob a convenience store in a sleepy suburban neighborhood;  a local chief of police, Jeff Talley, ex-LAPD hostage negotiator trying to recover from a hostage situation that went horribly wrong; and a  house where the robbers take refuge just happens to be where a mob accountant lives?  A really good story.

This book is not part of Crais’ Joe Pike or Elvis Cole series.  Very entertaining listen.

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Monday, June 01, 2015

Quote of the Week

"If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.

The Biggest Myth About Buying Local Food | RealClearScience

Explains why transportation should not be considered a factor in reducing carbon emissions, but he does note that buying locally may increase genetic diversity of foods.

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