Religious Orders

A Love/Hate Relationship

Posted: Wednesday April 16 2014 @ 6:23pm

Religious Order: Books

Back when I used to read paper books, I picked up Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark from a paperback swap club. Then I bought a Nook, and the book sat with a bunch of other paperbacks on a shelf, neglected. This winter, I purchased an exercise bike, to try and keep up some sort of exercise regimen during the cold days. Since I didn't want to drip sweat on my Nook, I've been going through old paperbacks, starting with the long neglected The Speed of Dark.

If you look at reviews on Goodreads, you'll see some folks who think this is the best book ever. Others think it's crap, an inferior rip of Flowers for Algernon. Neither are fully correct. I both liked and disliked it intensely.

On the positive side, most of it is from the first-person perspective of an autistic man, albeit one with some near-future therapies applied. These parts are really touching and insightful. They do make you look at folks differently, with better understanding. It's very effective and evocative writing. I fully understand readers who laud the book based on this, and while I'm only dedicating a paragraph to this aspect of the book, it's equally as important as all my complaints to come. For you see, The Speed of Dark has a, well, dark side...

Bwaa-ha-ha!

Actually, it's nothing sinister, it's just that the story is tepid and antagonists are awful. Let's talk about the story first. The gist of the book is that the protagonist has a chance to take advantage of a new treatment for autism. Should he avail himself of it? Seems simple, no? The story tries to be a mechanism by which the protagonist grows as a person, but it's utterly unnecessary. His growth occurs as part of his daily activities, which happen alongside the main storyline. Meanwhile, the main storyline itself churns along, adding very little. Yes, it forces a decision, but it does so in a very clunky manner. Midway, there's some intrigue suggested behind the therapy, but it's just left to sit there, as a vague threat. It's never developed. (If you want to see this threat actually developed, I highly recommend Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky. That book also does an excellent job providing a viewpoint from a radically different perspective.)

The book would be better without that storyline. Just give us the day-to-day personal growth of a compelling individual.

It's also worth noting that the whole book is very different from Flowers for Algernon in that most of the book leads up to decisions about the treatment. The book would have been fine stopping at the decision rather than continuing on with a couple more chapters showing the ramifications. The decision stands alone without need to be justified either way by subsequent events.

The second problem is with the antagonists. There's a main one, who propels the main storyline. He is, well, just awful. He may as well be twirling a mustache while he cackles his hatred of the protagonist, a hatred which is neither explained nor justified. It reminds me of reviews of The Lord of the Rings, complaining that Sauron is just this evil bad dude with no real motivation. (He actually has tons of motivation, but you need to read much more Tolkien before you see it. Or so I'm told. I haven't read that much.) Every time the book brings this guy in, I would cringe.

The second and tertiary antagonists are more realistic, in different degrees. It's weird. I totally buy the tertiary one and partially buy the secondary. It seems like the less central the antagonist, the better job she does making them real people with real motivations.

One other aspect that bothered me was that most of the book is written in the first person perspective, but it occasionally shifts to third-person to show things not apparent to the protagonist. This causes two problems. First, it lends an objectivity to the antagonists described above. Without these third-person sections, I could chalk the shallowness of the characters up to the differing perceptions of the protagonist. With those third-person sections in, I have to accept that those characters are just poorly written.

Second, it takes me out of the sense of immersion into which she so masterfully puts me for most of the book. Because most of these third-person sections involve the main storyline, they could just as easily be jettisoned.

So, final judgment? It's a really great book with some really big flaws. I enjoyed my time reading it, but I never felt compelled to read more. Normally, it's the plot that drives me to keep picking up a book. Instead, I picked it up, here and there, eventually reaching the end.

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Barefoot + Pregnant!

Posted: Monday April 14 2014 @ 5:56pm

Religious Order: Music

Well, crap, I haven't posted in... let's see... over a month? Damn. So here's a post:

Yes, it's time for another album from the Dollyrots. If you're a regular reader of this blog (ha ha ha, ikr?), you'll know that I'm a long-time fan of the duo. (Yeah, after going through more drummers than Spinal Tap, they finally gave up pretending to be a three-piece.) I wasn't all that delighted with their third album, made for an actual record label. Undoubtedly in response to my tepid review, they struck out on their own and funded their next release through Kickstarter. That one was a winner, showcasing them in all their pop-punk glory.

That brings us up to the latest one, again funded directly by fans, through something called PledgeMusic. The up-front promise was a return to their punkier roots. Also, they were having a baby! They were taking advantage of the touring downtime enforced by the pregnancy to record. Sweet!

So, it just came out last week. (It was just last week when I started this post, but no longer.) Does it deliver the goods? Fuck yeah, it does!

It's certainly more punk-pop than pop-punk. It does lack some of the bouncy poppiness of the previous album, but that's because it ladles on more balls-out rock. It's much more of a four-on-the-floor, three chords, bam bam bam, shouted chorus sort of thing. I don't mean it's simplistic, it's just more driving. Again, this was what they promised, and I'm delighted with it.

The songs caught in my head immediately. It really only took a couple runs through before I was shouting along. In other words, the album grew on me immediately. I could go track by track, but they're mostly gems. There's nothing on this album that would make you skip it in a shuffle. The title track is wonderfully primal-scream-esque. First World Anarchist makes me laugh every time.

There's also a good complement of love/relationship songs. One complaint I had with their third album was that sexually-oriented songs sounded immature. They've grown as songwriters since then, and the racier songs are both more mature and more fun.

The weakest track is Nightlight, only because it borrows heavily from U2's With or Without You. That said, it's sort of like Jet's Are You Gonna Be my Girl swiping the bass-line from Lust For Life in that both are derivative yet, frankly, better songs that the swiped-from songs. (Another example is The Only Ones' Another Girl, Another Planet, which shamelessly borrows from Thin Lizzy's Cowboy Song.)

Backers of the album also received some bonus tracks as well as a full second copy of the album remixed to favor a full sound spectrum over loudness. Backers also were privy to adorable videos of their kid, dubbed the Dollytot. The Dollyrots treat their fans right!

There's a full-fledged video for Barefoot and Pregnant. They're also putting out what they call lyric videos for each and every song. These are simpler videos that also showcase the lyrics. It's sure a better way of learning the words to a song than reading them off a lyric sheet!

So, bottom line? It's a fucking sweet release, on par with their very earliest work, if not better. If you love pop-punk/punk-pop at all, you need to get this.

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Lent Jokes

Posted: Thursday March 06 2014 @ 6:30am

Religious Order: Religion

It's the Lenten season! So, of course, I spent Ash Wednesday telling people they had a smudge of dirt on their foreheads. (No, I didn't.) And asking them what the t on their necklaces stood for. (No, I didn't.) But I did spend part of the day posting Lent jokes to Facebook:


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Yo Momma

Posted: Friday February 07 2014 @ 6:34am

Religious Order: Non-Sectarian

Got into a fight online with my friend Domo... A Yo Momma Joke Fight! Bonus points for religious ones!

(I am, admittedly, not great with these jokes. Plus, I was supposed to be writing, dammit.)

Domo: Yo mamma is so fat she got to iron her pants on the driveway.

Me: Yo mamma's dandruff so bad she gotta use a snowblower on her head.

Domo: Yo Mamma is so ugly she walked into a haunted house and came out with an application.

Domo: Yo mamma so old AND fat the last time she jumped in the ocean it rained for forty days and forty nights.

Me: Yo mamma so fat, last time she took a bath, the animals started to board her, two-by-two.

Me: Yo momma so fat, she deforested the Garden of Eden trying to cover her nakedness.

Me: Yo mamma so promiscuous, even Oholibah's lovers thought she was loose.

Domo: Yo momma is so fat, I took a picture of her last Christmas and it's still printing.

Me: Yo mamma so fat you can only store one picture of her on a 16 gig SD card.

Domo: Yo momma so stinky her Speed Stick got a ticket for driving too slow.

Domo: Yo mamma so ugly Zeus wouldn't F her with Poseidon's dick.

Me: Yo mamma so dumb she though Ken Ham made some good points.

Me: Yo mamma so old she older than the Earth, according to Young Earth Creationists.

Domo: Your momma is so ugly she made One Direction go the other way.

Me: Yo mamma's butt so big it made a liar of Sir Mix-a-lot.

Domo: You mamma so stupid she brought a spoon to the Super Bowl.

Me: Yo momma so dumb, she bet on the Broncos.

Domo: Yo mamma so hairy they made a TV show about people trying to find her.

Domo: Yo mamma so crazy Dennis Rodman tells the press she's misunderstood.

Domo: Yo mamma so fat she got a tattoo of the Bible... all of it.

Me: Yo momma so fat she uses a pizza crust for a communion wafer.

Domo: Yo mamma eat so much Jesus ran out of fish and bread.

Domo: Companion: Yo mamma drink so much Jesus ran out of wine.

Me: Yo Savior so fat, they crucified him flat on the ground.

Domo: Yo Savior so skinny they stapled him to the cross.

Me: Yo Savior so drunk people can't tell whether the wine has been transubstantiated.

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January 2014 Books Reviews

Posted: Monday February 03 2014 @ 7:11pm

Religious Order: Books

In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World - Ian Stewart

This book is one of those attempts to liven up a dull list of sciencesque things by providing some of the story surrounding the things. (The Disappearing Spoon being the canonical example of this genre.) It's not bad, but nor is it all that good.

Part of the problem is the limited audience. Unless you already know some of this stuff already, the book will be rough going. It's not pitched at someone new to science and math. Luckily, I'm new to neither science nor math, so it wasn't a problem for me. Alas, the blurb for the book claims it's approachable, a claim I suspect is shaky for many folks.

Given that I'm in the audience for it, I enjoyed it, despite some drawbacks. He does a nice job showing the history leading to the entitled equations, sometimes making my jaw drop. (Wow! Lorentz contraction equations derived from Pythagoras? Hell yeah!) He also does a decent job showing the ramifications of these equations. So, what's the drawback?

The author jumps on his soapbox too often. He rails against current theories regarding quantum mechanics and dark matter, based on little more than a personal discomfort with them. He ends the book with a rant against the financial folks who crashed the economy recently. While I agree with him, it's really jarring to find personal rants in the middle of talk of equations. It doesn't ruin the book, but it sure detracts from the larger points.

Parasite (Parasitology #1) - Mira Grant

Oh, how I wanted to love this book. It starts so promising, with a luscious blend of Brain on Fire, zombies, and a more engagingly written Andromeda Strain. Things are fine up to the mid-point of the book. Things move along. Characters are developed. Mysteries deepen.

At the mid-point, we're treated to some tasty reveals. They're not all that surprising, at least they weren't to me. Plus, another extra tasty one is hinted at, too strongly.

What the author really should have done is made the extra tasty reveal, then stopped the book right there, but she didn't. Instead, we spend the second half of the book mostly puttering around until the end. Much of what happens seems unrealistic in terms of character reactions. At the end, the reveal which has now been obvious for half the book is, well, revealed. Thus the book ends, with no real plot resolution.

It just doesn't work. The reveal doesn't come as a surprise by that point. Mid-book it hits with a hell of a wallop. End of book? Yeah, we know. We've known for a while now.

That said, I still liked the book, especially the first half. Note that it's part of a (still to be written) series. I'll likely read the whole series. Unlike many others who have reviewed it, I liked the protagonist and found the other characters interesting. I love the ideas underpinning the story. I'm keen to see what happens.

But I sure hope the next one is better structured.

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Why I Dislike Brian Kenny

Posted: Friday January 24 2014 @ 4:38pm

Religious Order: Sports

I love watching the MLB Network. It's the only TV channel I watch with any regularity. I also like most of the on-air personalities. I love Mitch Williams. Mitch knows about what he's talking, but he's not a dick about it. In fact, he hides it behind an aww-shucks country boy demeanor.

The antithesis of Mitch is Brian Kenny, a man who does not really know his own subject matter, yet is insufferably smug. (Watching Kenny is a little like watching Dubya talk about foreign policy, or about anything, for that matter.)

Now, I'm no expert on Kenny. He annoys me so that I try hard to limit my exposure to him. Given that, here's a sampling of why I dislike him and think he's basically a smug moron.

1) Home Run Trots

I first noticed that Kenny isn't all that smart in the context of home run trots. Some player had trotted around the bases rather slowly and had received some criticism. Kenny's response was that David Ortiz had the slowest time in the majors in terms of circling the bases after a home run. So, if that time is okay for Big Papi, then any time below that is also okay.

I know. WTF? Apparently the fact that Ortiz is a huge slow guy doesn't factor into this at all for Kenny. You can be the fastest guy in baseball, but as long as you circle the bases post-home-run faster than the slowest guy, you're not showing any disrespect?

At first, I thought I had misheard. Surely Kenny meant some sort of ratio of base circling time to, I dunno, time to first base under duress? (I made up the terms. It's the concept that's important.) Something like that would be useful. If you want to gauge disrespect, the ratio of how fast a guy trots to how fast he can actually run would seem a good measure. Yet, later that week, on a different show, he made the same claim!

At that point, it became obvious that he wasn't someone I wanted to spend much time watching. Yet, sometimes we would catch the end of his show while waiting for the next one. Even given that limited exposure, I'd still see things like...

2) Misplaced Zero Sums

Problem two came up in the context of whether it's harder to pitch and hit in the 9th inning compared to earlier in the game. Players say yes, to both. Kenny smugly proclaims that, logically, it can't be both.

Huh? Did he think effort was some kind of zero sum game? What if I poke out an eye from both the pitcher and batter? I guarantee you it'll be harder for both of them.

It's this sort of thing that really bothers me. He's so smug while saying things that show he hasn't really thought through the implications of his statements.

3) The Shredder

So, the MLB Network has some statistical model called The Shredder that they use to rank players. That's fine. Maybe it's a good model. Maybe it's a shitty model. That's not the point. The point is that Kenny totes it as being unbiased. Again, WTF? Any statistical model is going to be a conglomeration of human decisions on how to weight different factors. This is all open to bias. The benefit is that the model will be consistently biased. The idea is that you can later compare the results of your model against real world results and tweak the model to become better, slowly eliminating bias. (Whether they do this with The Shredder is an open question.)

But you'll never eliminate bias.

This is part of a broader misunderstanding on Kenny's part about statistics. He's often shown in sound bite form telling us that the newer statistical methods give the true story. They don't. They give a truer story. (Ten years from now, we'll have even better methods that will give an even more truer story.) The only true story is reality. You see this in George E. P. Box's observation that Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.

Now, I know, I'm being a little harsh. I'm wrong about stuff all the damn time. Unlike Kenny, I try hard to not be so smugly self-satisfied while doing it.

Except here, in this post, obviously.

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Modibot Review

Posted: Saturday January 11 2014 @ 6:28pm

Religious Order: Toys

I back a fair number of things on Kickstarter, but rarely do I love the resulting product as much as I do this one. It's a toy, called a Modibot. The guy making them used to work on Xevoz at Hasbro, I think. The concept is simple, but ingenious. Basically, let's make a Stikfas-esque base figure via traditional injection molding, then provide 3D printed accessories. (I think it's injection molding. Maybe it's some other traditional molding technique.) The Kickstarter project was a combo of figures and 3D parts. None of the 3D parts thrilled me that much, so I just went for the base figure. Later on, I ordered a few accessories directly from Shapeways. Now I can talk about the full product.

The figures themselves are much like a larger Stikfas figure, not exactly, but very similar. They're actually a little more abstract than Stikfas, plus the pieces have tons of holes for mounting accessories. Size-wise, they're considerably larger than Stikfas figures, and a little smaller than all but the shortest Xevoz figure. To me, the size is, well, perfect. Stikfas were always a little small for my clumsy hands. Xevoz figures are on the unwieldily side. Modibots are just right.

Modibot Xevoz size comparison
Flanked by the Hyper Guardian and Skull Jack
Modibot Stikfas size comparison
Next to a standard Stikfas figure

They come in a rainbow range of 6 colors, namely red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Plus there are white and gray versions. Strangely, not in black. The colors are rich and well-saturated, but not garish. (They're brighter than my crappy phone camera shows.) Still, I wish they also came in black.

Modibot made with all eight colors
A rainbow of available colors!

As with Stikfas and Xevoz, they utilize standardized ball and socket joints, so you can mix and match parts to your heart's desire. Speaking of mixing and matching, you can use Xevoz accessories with them, to a point. Xevoz accessory pegs will fit nicely into Modibot mounting holes. However, the hole spacing for back-mounted things is a little different. Rubbery back-mounted things can be made to fit, but not rigid things. However, the most important thing is that Modibots can hold Xevoz weapons! The ball and socket sizes are very close, but I wouldn't say that they're interchangeable. You can force a Xevoz ball into a Modibot socket, but it appears to put a ton of added stress on the socket. You can easily put a Modibot ball into a Xevoz socket, but the part will dangle loosely. Just think of any compatibility between the two as an added bonus.

Modibot with large fists
Hyper Fists!
Modibot holding large sword
Hyper Sword!

Build quality is simply excellent. The plastic chosen is perfect. Stikfas figures suffered from a wide range in plastic quality. The glow-in-the-dark and the yellow plastics were both notoriously brittle. Modibots are made of sterner stuff. Xevoz, on the other hand, was also quite durable. My only complaint there is that, with play, the balls and sockets would form a white residue from wear. I have seen no sign of this in the Modibots, which have received extensive testing. The plastic also feels good in the hand, with a very subtle matte finish. The joints rotate with just the right amount of resistance. Again, perfect.

I also have more than a few female Stickfas figures with broken sockets, due to thin brittle plastic in that area. That's not a concern with a Modibot. The sockets are considerably beefier. This does give the figures the appearance of having knobby joints. I find the look charming and more than worth it for a longer toy life. I should note that there are female torso/hip pieces available.

So, the final verdict on the figures themselves? About as perfect as can be. The only complaint I can lodge is the lack of black figures. On to the accessories!

I went simple with the accessories. I bought a pack of alternate hands. (The stock hands are simple C-hands, as on a Stikfas figure, or a Lego minifig.) It included pointing fingers, thumbs-up, karate hands, and rock-n-roll devil horns. I also bought two packs which work together to form shoes, Converse All-Stars basically. One pack is the sole with a peg to represent the laces, the other is the remainder of the shoe.

Modibot with devil-horn hands!
Freebird!

One potential problem with the accessories is that the colors don't exactly match up to the colors of the figures. You can get accessories in white, black, blue, purple, red, and hot pink. (And in alumide, which is a sparkly gray.) White pieces are actually very close, close enough that it's difficult to tell that they're not stock. I ordered the shoes in the classic red/white combo. The red is also good, although deeper than the figures if you look closely. That isn't necessarily a problem. I don't think the colors need to match exactly, I just wanted folks to know that they didn't.

The accessories have a slightly grainier feel to them, but it's very slight, barely worth mentioning. I was actually very impressed by the quality and smoothness of the pieces. They compare favorably with the traditionally molded pieces. The fit of the ball and sockets was also excellent. They snapped on as if they came with the figure. This was my main worry with them, and I worried in vain. That said, pushing together the two parts of each shoe took some serious effort, but at least I know they won't fall apart.

One final note about the Kickstarter project as a whole: I received my Modibots precisely on time. If you've backed Kickstarter projects, you know how rare this is. (Some folks received their stuff a wee bit late due to 3D printing delays, but even the worst cases were delivered in a timely manner.)

In short, this is what Stikfas should have been all along. I'm delighted at the success of the product.

Modibot with thumbs-up and pointing hands
Who's awesome? You are, Kid Mechano!

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December 2013 Book Review

Posted: Tuesday December 17 2013 @ 7:33am

Religious Order: Books

The Wind from Nowhere - J.G. Ballard

Finally got around to snagging a copy of Ballard's first novel. Apparently, he himself disowned it. Indeed, it isn't a very good book. That said, I think it's worth reading for fans of Ballard. It's interesting as a proto-Ballard work. I've mentioned before that I think Ballard wrote the same book, over and over. There's always a male lead that's actually Ballard. Society gets shaken up in some fashion and people form new ways of being, well, a society.

This book shows glimpses of this. There's an ever increasing wind scouring the globe and folks have to deal with it. There's no single character filling in for Ballard himself, but you can see aspects in some of the male leads. Society gets shaken up, but never really forms an alternative.

The ending fizzles, but, again, that's typical for Ballard. His books aren't about the ending; they're about what happens in between. Alas, the Ballardian framework isn't yet in place, so not much of interest happens in between.

One bonus with the copy I have is that it features a Pelham cover. In the 70s, Penguin books reissued four Ballard novels with Pelham covers. They're pretty awesome. When I looked in my bookshelf for my copy of The Drought, I was delighted to realize it was from the same reissue. So, of course, I hit eBay to pick up the other two. Maybe I'll scan them in, print them out big, and hang them on the wall.

Double Down: Game Change 2012 - Mark Halperin & John Heilemann

This is a sequel, of sorts, to Game Change, this time focused on the 2012 campaign.

Content-wise, it's very interesting. It tends to try and paint folks in as positive a light as possible, accepting their stated motivations at face value. I don't know whether I like that. (Reminds me of Huston Smith's The Religions of Man.) Still, very interesting.

Stylistically, it's an awful mess of pretentious writing. Every few pages, they toss in an obscure word, simply because they can, I guess. Is the ability to use a thesaurus that notable a skill? It really detracts from the book. At least, on my Nook, I could easily look them up. I can't think of any instance where the word they used was obviously more appropriate than more generally known terms.

Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond

This is a crowd-funded collection of short stories focused on adding a little color to speculative fiction. Don't expect this to be just a bunch of sci-fi, only with black folks. Actually, don't expect a whole lot of sci-fi at all. There's some, but it's a broader, more varied look at speculative fiction.

There's a bunch of quality work here with a great amount of diversity, diversity of all kinds. I can't think of a real clinker in the bunch.

The only point of disappointment was that I didn't really feel challenged. I'm a white guy from the mild streets of Minnesota's suburbia. I was expecting more of the stories to make me feel uncomfortable, but, with one exception near the end, none of them did.

Super Stories of Heroes & Villains

This collection of sorta-superhero stories left me feeling meh. Some of the better ones I had read before in other collections. Others were very far afield, too far to keep me interested.

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Fall 2013 Short-Ass Book Reviews

Posted: Friday October 18 2013 @ 6:41pm

Religious Order: Books

So Young, So Wicked - Jonathan Craig

I picked up a bunch of pulp novels at Munseys recently and started with this one. I don't know if I lucked out or what, but this is a pretty damn good little book. I was a little disappointed at first because, well, it wasn't tawdry enough. Plus, it was well written! It became more tawdry and remained well written as I read on.

The plot is that a professional killer is sent to rural upstate New York to bump off a 15-year-old girl. Things go way wrong and bad people do bad things. There's a great conceit about the killer also being a pianist. It comes up in the way he thinks, the way he talks, even in the way he fights. It's well used.

Things wrap up nicely and horribly in the end. I was completely satisfied.

(It's important to note that, while bad and tawdry things happen, it's not really explicit about it. This disappointed me, at first. I thought pulps were, well, pulpier.)

My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places - Mary Roach

Clearly, I love Mary Roach's books. (See here and here and here.) Turns out she also does a humor column for Reader's Digest and this is a collection of those columns.

They're short and they're funny. But they're not at all on par with her books. Each column is structured similarly and, after you've read a bunch in a row, it starts to feel rote. Alas, the short nature of each makes it tempting to keep reading just one more. But, frankly, that will do the book a disservice. I think the best way to read the book is to leave it in the bathroom and read a few columns at a time.

One complaint about them is that Roach is very wedded to traditional gender roles. I'm not that wedded to such roles, so humor based on them falls flat. It's 2013. Those kinds of observations aren't funny anymore. (Perhaps they still are to Reader's Digest's readership?)

So, if you're new to Roach's work, start with her other books. If you're already a fan, feel free to give this a read, now forewarned that it's not as good as her books.

That's Not Funny, That's Sick: The National Lampoon and the Comedy Insurgents Who Captured the Mainstream - Ellin Stein

I read this on a friends recommendation. He liked it. I really didn't. It's a smug self-satisfied book about a bunch of smug self-satisfied people. I found it torturous to read. I made it partway through the fifth chapter until it became too painful to continue. After a break of a few days, I flipped ahead to around chapter 20, where Animal House comes into play. It had become a better read by that point, humorously in direct correlation to how much it became about Saturday Night Live actors over National Lampoon writers.

God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States - Karen Stollznow

This book is an examination of the weirder stuff in the world of religion. It suffer from the same weakness that many popular science books have: If you're at all well read on this subject, then you already know most of this. That said, it's still an interesting read. While I was familiar with much of the information, it's good to have it clearly written down all in one book. (Plus, the Quaker stuff was new to me.)

One weird thing is that the author visited many of these folks, to gain some insight. Alas, those sections seem shallow and tacked on for the sake of being able to say she did it. If you're going to try and gain real personal insight, you really need to throw yourself into it. See Ferocious Romance: What My Encounters with the Right Taught Me About Sex, God, and Fury by Donna Minkowitz for a good example of this.

On the other hand, a weakness Ferocious Romance has is that the author becomes fond of the folks she visits and is thus unable to really lay into them when they deserve it. (By my vague memory, at least. I read it years ago.) Stollznow has no such qualms. However, instead of a detailed criticism, she unloads with paragraphs of invective, but leaves the details to sources listed in the bibliography.

All of which makes this an odd book. The author doesn't gets personally involved enough to provide a good personal take, yet nor does she provide detailed critical analysis. That just leaves descriptions of the weird stuff. For many folks, that will be plenty. It just wasn't enough for me.

The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick

Alternate reality novel in which the Axis won the war. Don't be expecting a German-oriented book. Most of the story takes place along the Pacific coast of the US, in Japanese-controlled territory. It's an interesting read. I enjoyed most of the characterization although there isn't really much of a plot. You pick up on the lives of folks, follow them for awhile, and then the book ends. There's a wee bit of alternate-alternate reality in the form of a book-in-a-book that posits a world in which the Allies won, inside this world where the Axis won. The ending of the book tries to make something of that, but it really didn't do much for me. I'd rather have had it stick to just being an alternate reality. But, I suppose that isn't enough for an author like Dick.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness - Susannah Cahalan

This book is, in a word, harrowing. Mysterious illness strikes the author and doctors try to figure it out. The condition itself erased her own memories of much of the time. Reconstructed from interviews and video footage, she's really telling a third-person account of her own first-person story. Sounds confusing? It's not. It's very well done.

The only minor criticism I could lob is that I wanted a little more coverage of her rehab and less of her post-rehab activities. Minor nit-picking, nothing more.

It's Kind Of A Cute Story - Rolly Crump and Jeff Heimbuch

Rolly is a Disney Imagineer. He's pretty famous for it. This book is simply his recollections of his time designing fun things, at Disney and away from the Mouse. The stories are indeed cute. The style is quaint in a captivating way. It sounds corny, but it does feel as if he's sitting there just telling you these stories. It's a delightful read.

Don't read it looking for dirt on the inner workings of Disney. It's not that kind of book.

The Eyes of Heisenberg - Frank Herbert

Strange book. Don't go into it expecting Heisenberg-oriented hard sci-fi. That's not what it is at all. Rather, it's about the Optimen who control the rest of humanity, using them for work and breeding purposes. Of course, some normal folk rebel. There's a bunch of set-up that seems promising. Then there's some action and a chase. And then it just gets boring and noodling. The ending feels pretentious, without there being any there there.

Blackdog - K.V. Johansen

Like pretty much everyone else who read this, I picked it up because it was billed as an epic tale in a single book. Like most other folks, I found it lacking in terms of storytelling and characterization, which may well be unavoidable in a single-book epic tale.

There are some interesting ideas here, particularly regarding the world's gods, but the plotting lags. Midway through the book, I really had to push myself to finish. It wasn't bad, but it just wasn't holding my interest. I did push on, but the ending doesn't really make sense and I didn't feel adequately rewarded for the effort I put into it.

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The Devil in Justice Scalia

Posted: Thursday October 10 2013 @ 1:08pm

Religious Order: Politics

So, as you've likely heard, Scalia did an interview in which he admitted believing in a personified Devil. When the interviewer was incredulous, he retorted:

You're looking at me as though I'm weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It's in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

And I don't know which is worse, that Scalia believes in a personified Devil or that he's actually correct in his retort.

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