Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sid Gillman: Father of the Passing Game

Sid Gillman: Father of the Passing GameSid Gillman: Father of the Passing Game by Josh Katzowitz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve always heard about Sid Gillman my whole life, and about how he “invented” football’s passing game. Yet when the great coaches are mentioned, he’s rarely, if ever, included. I’ve always wanted to know why, and I’ve always wanted to know some real details about him. Thus my excitement when I found this book some time back. I held on to it, like it was a treasure, waiting for the “right” moment to break it open and revel in its contents. So I finally did break it open, after waiting a very long time. And didn’t finish it. Because I didn’t enjoy it. I found it, and Gillman himself, tremendously disappointing. It was frankly a disillusioning read.

Gillman does indeed deserve credit for “inventing” the passing game, and he revolutionized the game of football forever. He quite possibly was an offensive genius. He was a lifelong workaholic. He tutored assistants who went on to amazing careers, like Don Shula and Chuck Noll. You could see elements of his game in the way they coached and won. So why isn’t Gillman typically included in discussions of the great coaches? Maybe it was because he never won a Super Bowl, which is a legitimate point, although he did a good deal of his coaching before Super Bowls existed. Maybe it’s also because he was a giant asshole of a person, unlikeable to almost anyone who ever met him. I hated him from about the 10th page on. And in terms of this book, I felt it was boring, redundant, didn’t exactly go to great lengths to argue for his greatness, although it made some efforts, and it kind of felt like the book went out of its way to ensure I’ll never include Gillman in a discussion of the greatest coaches, and nor will anyone else. I don’t know if that was the author’s intention – I tend to doubt it – but that’s what happened with me. I feel the book could have been a lot better, and possibly if a more experienced, more talented writer had been writing such a book, perhaps the outcome could have been different. However, the best I can do is give it two stars and state that I definitely do not recommend this book at all.


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The Templars: The Secret History Revealed

The Templars: The Secret History RevealedThe Templars: The Secret History Revealed by Barbara Frale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard for me to decide what I think about this book. For virtually my entire life, I’ve heard and read rumors, stories, and myths about the mysterious Knights Templar, and most people know about the Holy Grail and have heard stories that the organization continues to secretly exist to the present day. When I got this book, I wasn’t exactly looking for or expecting to find these stories were justified. However, while I admittedly did enjoy learning about how the Templars were founded, and for what reasons, and the qualities one had to have and the sacrifices one had to make in order to become one, this book then quickly turned into basically a dry textbook of history, places, several events, politics, culminating in a very disappointing (for me) end to what had been an admirable organization, complete with confessions tortured out of the Templars who had been arrested due to political BS between the King of France and the Pope. It was further disappointing to learn that at least some of the confessions were true, as in the Templars’ secret initiation rites, which I cannot believe were original, had degraded into something undeserving of the name and purpose of the organization, and personal requirements and standards had been lowered to recruit new members, thus making for a lack of morals in some that would have probably gotten an original Templar killed by his fellows. It was also disappointing to learn of such a once-splendid organization’s demise, and as the primary author was granted access to the “secret” Vatican files, it’s highly likely that the reports of its termination as an organization are and were indeed true, thus destroying my youthful fantasies of a super-secret organization existing over the centuries to the present, exercising power in all sorts of areas. Like I originally stated, I knew that was essentially a myth, but it was still disappointing to read the historical truth.

This is a well-researched, and professionally written history of a fascinating organization that was quite powerful for several hundred years and which still interests numerous people til this day. The writing gets fairly dry at times, even boring, but there’s enough good details and history in it to make it worth reading. I’d give this book a solid four stars and state that it’s recommended.

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God Needs To Go: Why Christian Beliefs Fail

God Needs To Go: Why Christian Beliefs FailGod Needs To Go: Why Christian Beliefs Fail by J.D. Brucker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This short book is decent, not bad, and makes good and legitimate points. The author's sections include 1. The Absence of Eternity, 2. The Birth of Ignorance, 3. The Flawed Logic in Modern Miracles, 4. The Error in Faith-Based Morality, 5. The Myth of Intelligent Design, 6. The Imaginary End, and 7. My Fall from "Grace.”

While I enjoyed reading it, however, I couldn’t help but think that these are largely issues that have already been addressed, mostly in more detail, depth, and intellectual mastery, by other authors out there, so aside from my feeling good about seeing another (reader-friendly) atheistic book on the market, I don’t feel like it truly contributes too much, certainly little new. Thus, while again I enjoyed it, I can’t help but view it as an average book, and am thus giving it three stars. If you have not yet read Barker, Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and some of the others, this may be a good intro, but I would quickly move on to the meatier resources out there. Cautiously recommended.


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Forged: Writing in the Name of God

Forged: Writing in the Name of GodForged: Writing in the Name of God by Bart D. Ehrman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this a fascinating book and really loved it. Much of it was new to me when I started, but for some reason, I set it aside for awhile while I read other books. And some of these other books went on to assert some of the same things I found Ehrman referring to when I later picked up the book to finish. That doesn't diminish the research or quality of the material, but it does mean some of it isn't as "original" as I had previously thought, which is the reason I've knocked it down from five stars to four. Still, if you want to learn the "real" story of many of the books of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, when they were actually written, who did and did not actually author so many of the books, this is an excellent source. Definitely recommended.

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Monday, November 5, 2018

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons EverythingGod Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliant. Witty. Clever. Not completely perfect. There are other books out there that deconstruct the myth of theism through physics, archaeology, biology, hell -- using thousands of verses from the "holy" book itself (the Bible), Dan Barker and many others show the plain lack of logic, consistency, accuracy, the bloodthirsty portrayal of a brutally evil god, etc, so that you really don't even need the sciences to show the Bible, the and any theistic god is completely made up and fictitious, and there's not even virtually any independent evidence at all that Jesus Christ ever even existed! Hitch could have gone in a lot of different directions, but chose to show how evil the Bible and its followers are and have been throughout the past several thousand years, and while I love how archaeology totally destroys Biblical myths, such as the Exodus, the flood, the invasion of Canaan, and so much more, and how the other hard sciences prove there is no evidence for a supernatural being, Hitch does an admirable work himself. And yes, there are some very negative reviews here. The vast majority of them are written by those he criticizes, and are hence defensive, vindictive, and utterly pointless. Skeptics, doubters, agnostics, atheists, and polytheists should read this book, certainly, but theists should try to read this book as objectively as possible, which I realize is asking a lot, but if they took some of his points and didn't automatically pump out a knee jerk reaction, but thought about things, some people may realize they haven't asked all the right questions, they haven't been given all of the information, they've been ... misled! Recommended.

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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction

Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction by Joseph M. Siracusa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At a little over 150 pages, this book covers a lot of ground in a short format. Unfortunately, while I did think it was pretty good, its focus wasn't entirely what I wanted, and it lacked in some areas. There is an initial introduction to the creation of atomic bombs from a very minimal and layman's technical perspective, but then the book launches into the history of nuclear power, the history behind the Manhattan Project and the WW II race for the atomic bomb, America's legacy of being the first and only country to use it, and the bulk of the rest of the book is a history and discussion of the Cold War politics, diplomacy, and military strategic readiness (from a US perspective) between the US and the Soviet Union. The book ends with a minor bit on how, with the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has had to try to find a place for the Bomb in its arsenal, for some people, how to justify not only maintaining a large stockpile, but improving it, for others, how to decrease a load of weapons large enough to destroy this planet many times over. It ends by acknowledging the fact that now that there's not another nuclear "enemy" to construct a strategy around, and with the advent of non-state sponsored organizations, terrorists and the like, the effort to construct a new ideology and strategy is much more difficult than it used to be.

All of that was good, if not occasionally repetitive. What I had hoped to see was more scientific and technical detail behind, not only the creation of the early bombs, but current technology, and where we are heading. And I didn't get that. I also wanted to see more of a discussion on the ethics behind this, and on the justifications of maintaining the current seven nuclear powers while working to ensure no other country, and especially no other country the US "disapproves" of (Iran...), obtains nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapon industry. I mean, why is it okay for Pakistan to have them, but not Iran? Why is it okay for Israel to be thought of of having them (they won't admit to it), while other countries cannot? I'm not saying I support the idea of more or warmongering countries getting nuclear weapons, but who made America the planet's god, to decide who gets them and who doesn't? That strikes me as incredibly arrogant and hypocritical. And I'm American! Naturally, the world would be better off without nuclear weapons, but that genie is out of the bottle, so this is a complex problem requiring, yes, political and diplomatic discussions and solutions, and not saber rattling. I'm currently reading another book on "limited" nuclear warfare for the 21st century. It's incredibly interesting, and I think it would make a good companion piece to this book, maybe as Volume 2 of a two volume series. Because that's where the world has gone, that's where the world should and will have to go if we intend to not commit global suicide, and nuclear power countries need to dialogue about these issues and more.

This book doesn't have the highest rating out there, and I've read a lot of reviews and it seems mostly due to lack of sufficient discussion on a wide range of topics, such as I've brought up. But I think its lower rating is unfair, because the subtitle for the book is "A Very Short Introduction." What the hell do you expect for 150 pages?!? Of course I would have liked more. For that, I need to buy a 750 page textbook for $200. This was exactly what it advertised itself to be, so I feel it merits four stars at a minimum. If this is a topic that interests you, I certainly recommend it.

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk

Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of DunkirkBlitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk by Len Deighton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a pretty good book, but it had some information and assertions that surprised me. I've spent my whole life as a war buff, spent much of my youth consumed with WW II, thought I understood how Blitzkrieg theory was actually fought in WW II, but apparently, I'm wrong.

The book gives a pretty good history and summary of German war status, theory, preparation, Hitler's rise, mindset, theories of various military strategists. And then the war finally commences. Obviously, then, if this is well known to others, I'm showing my own ignorance here, but I'd always heard that Germany's Blitzkrieg techniques were unleashed on Poland, before excelling in Belgium and France, and ultimately later Russia, to a degree. If you've believed that too, Len Deighton will argue you're wrong. His thesis is it was not used in Poland, it was somehow not used in Russia, and it wasn't even really used in Belgium. Merely in France, in the Ardennes, to a shocking degree of success. This was news to me, but I'll grant Len authority status and take his word for it.

I wasn't totally stunned at how inept France's leadership, both political and military, was, as I'd read other books on France in other wars of the century where the beaurocracy, logistical and communication nightmares are simply legendary, but it was still a bit of a shock to find out how the previously thought to be best army in Europe/the world was so incredibly fucked up! It took 48-72 hours to relay orders, because the leaders didn't use radios, everything was hand carried (orders), and just because you got orders, you didn't do anything until they had been confirmed one to two more times. By which point the German army was 60 miles behind your lines, destroying your country. Fucking idiots! The British, initially, weren't a lot better, at least not the vaunted RAF, which was disappointing to read, but if the truth hurts, it hurts. Some of the French actually played soldier at Dunkirk, allowing hundreds of thousands of British and French troops to escape to Britain, but again, I continued to be shocked at how willing the French political and military leadership was to surrender to Hitler and essentially conspire in his plot against Jews and others, while the Free French forces in Britain were led by only one real general of note, and we all know who that is. Why France is on the UN Security Council is beyond me. They've insisted they're one of the great world powers, but they got their asses kicked in WW I, went over to Hitler after getting their asses kicked in WW II, lost Indochina (although embarrassingly, America followed France's exact same mistakes with the same results), lost most or all of their colonies, and while they're the centuries biggest losers, they land a permanent spot on the UN Security Council. Don't get it. I've read about how they insisted. THEY HELPED HITLER! They shouldn't have been allowed anywhere near the UN Security Council! Of course, while implicitly bragging about the US in the first half of the century, like an ugly American, I could admit to a number of American "irregularities" that many people wouldn't want known about a LOT of countries around the world where uninvited or unwanted westerners stuck their noses into things and propped up or took down "dictators" all over the damn place, so in the end, maybe the US shouldn't be on the Security Council either, eh? LOL!

Okay, I'll stop with the politicizing. Sorry. It's a good book, an easy read, interesting to those who would find the topic interesting, but stops with the capitulation of France, and I guess I knocked a star off because I wish the author had gone on to address Russia and explain just why that was NOT blitzkrieg warfare -- what the differences were -- because without having studied it in detail lately, it seems like similar tactics were used to launch the Eastern Front, but obviously I'm wrong. I just want to know how and why I'm wrong, and I never got that information from this book, so one star off for that. Otherwise, recommended.

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Monday, September 17, 2018

Making Business Connections That Count

Making Business Connections That Count: The Gimmick-free Guide to Authentic Online Relationships with Influencers and Followers (Six Simple Steps to Success Book 4)Making Business Connections That Count: The Gimmick-free Guide to Authentic Online Relationships with Influencers and Followers by Michal Stawicki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book isn't bad, and for some people, I'm sure it'll be quite good. Unfortunately, for me, it didn't reveal too much that I either haven't done or haven't figured out on my own, etc., because in retrospect, I've been a pretty successful networker over the years, and have an extremely high-quality LinkedIn network, which I didn't need to read a book to know how to successfully grow and maintain. So I'm really not sure why I even bought this book. I guess I was hoping there'd be a number of tips regarding strategies I'd not yet tried or encountered, but I guess I'm better than I realized, because this was pretty basic for me so I didn't get that much out of the book and didn't even finish it. That said, I do think it's decently written and there are probably a number of people out there that this book will likely help. With those people in mind, this book is recommended. Obviously, if you're a vet, you don't need this book...

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Sparta: Rise of a Warrior Nation

Sparta: Rise of a Warrior NationSparta: Rise of a Warrior Nation by Philip Matyszak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a bitter disappointment for me in a couple of ways, one of which is shared by another book on Sparta that I'm currently reading. I've looked up to and admired Sparta and the Spartans my entire life. The first research paper I ever wrote was on Sparta, and it was in elementary school. My whole life, I've heard about how tough they were as a people, how they were warriors, the infamous story about the youth and the fox, their innovative political and cultural systems, the incredibly famous stand at the Battle of Thermopylae, their leadership and domination of the Greeks, their rivalry with Athens and eventual defeat of Athens, etc.

But this book dashed those fond beliefs and admirations to pieces, and for that, I cannot forgive the author. I'll be the first to admit that he's the expert, he's done the research, written the book. He knows more, and perhaps knows the truth. But the truth hurts, and most of my beliefs and perceptions of Sparta and the Spartans turned out to be bloody well wrong! They were indeed viewed as a warrior people and tough as hell, but I'm not sure why. They were surrounded by rivals and enemies, most of whom I'd never heard of before, and they fought awesome, hard fought, longass wars against some of the nation states, and it took them over a century, I believe, to simply subdue just one of their rivals on their part of the Greek peninsula! Other enemies they tricked, battled hard against, tried to avoid fighting altogether, and because even though they were allegedly "warriors," the men had to get back to the fields for harvest season, they rarely laid seige to cities or peoples, and wanted quick victories so they could get home. They also weren't a sea faring people, while Athens dominated the seas. They played neighbors off one another, getting Athens to fight Thessaly or Thebes or one of the others over a third city state, and while their males trained from a very young age to become warriors, the population of Sparta was so freaking small, they couldn't even field a remotely respectable army (which may account for their decades long struggles against their neighbors, possibly), often putting a mere 7,000 men in the field. Compare that to the universally believed vastly inflated Persian number of at least a million man army, and even up to a three million man army, and it's almost impossible to believe Sparta was capable of dominating ANYONE! In fact, during the first Persian invasion, Sparta didn't even participate because of "religious" rituals they couldn't leave, so Athens had to fight the Persians off. That's a little embarrassing, particularly when you believe Sparta made its reputation off fighting the damn Persians! So when Xerxes decides to go after the Greeks again several decades later, Sparta had taken so much grief for pansying out of fighting them the first time and leaving it up to the rest of the Greeks (which is how it was viewed), that this time, even though they were having the SAME DAMN RELIGIOUS CELEBRATIONS AND RITUALS, they weren't going to be denied, and gathered the independent Greeks together, and somehow because they were universally viewed as the best and toughest warriors in Greece (which says a lot for the rest of Greece, considering Sparta could barely beat anyone), they were placed in the military leadership position, and one of their two kings (they operated on a two king system), the famous Leonidas, took his famous 300-member honor guard off to hold off the Persians. And even though the battle is famous for the "300" (recall the Hollywoodized movie), they actually had a number of servant-warriors, and even some allies with them, so they had many more warriors than the infamous 300. They had well over 1,000. Nonetheless, they pass they chose to defend was so damn tight, that only about a couple of men could approach at one time, and they built a wall to defend from the top, and also -- this isn't widely known -- the actual battle commander was the Athenian naval commander, because evidently Sparta, Athens, and the rest of the Greeks actually believed the few Spartans and their allies could hold the pass indefinitely, while the Athenian navy actually won the battle against the huge Persian fleet, and when the Spartan religious ceremonies were over a week or so later, they'd send their "huge" army of some 7,000 warriors if they were even needed by that point. Bear in mind the "official" history we rely on, by Herodotus I think (???), so vastly overinflates the size of the Persian army, as to be viewed as almost totally unreliable, stating it was between one and three million men large. Against roughly 1,000 defenders led by the 300 Spartans. It boggles the mind. And when Xerxes sent emissaries to the Spartans requesting they put down their weapons and surrender, Leonidas reportedly made that hugely famous statement (in Greek): "Come and get them!" That, my friends, is the true definition of big, bad balls! And as everyone knows, after just 3-4 days, a Greek traitor who lived in the area went to Xerxes and offered to show him a small trail around the other side of the mountain, thus flanking the Spartans and trapping them from the rear. Becoming one of the most infamous traitors in history. The Spartans did indeed fight very nearly to the last man, while the Athenian navy did indeed rip the Persian navy to shreds, but because Xerxes got his men into Greece because the most famous battle the Spartans ever had, and one of the most famous battles in the history of the world, was LOST by the Spartans (although, yes, treachery played a huge role in that), Athens was sacked entirely, but enough time had been salvaged for the citizens to escape, but you know what? I really don't know how the rest of the Greeks ended up beating and driving back the Persians to ultimately win the war. It wasn't because of Sparta.

So my major complaint resides in the fact that this book (and the other one) totally demolish my lifelong held perceptions of Sparta and the Spartan warriors, because the best I can tell is, the few wars they won were against insignificant adversaries, sometimes through trickery, and sometimes over the course of many decades. So why did they have this reputation of such badasses? They're probably the most overrated bad ass "warriors" in the history of the world! And that saddens me more than you can know, but who did they conquer, what territory did they acquire, how much of Greece did they take, etc.? The answer to all is virtually none. Meanwhile, just a hundred or two hundreds years difference shows Alexander, a semi-Greek, destroying Persia, and becoming probably the greatest king the world has ever know, controlling virtually all of Europe, all of north Africa, the Middle East (Asia Minor), the lower parts of what's now the ex-Soviet Union, all the way through Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, leaving virtually only the relatively unknown Chinese as the only moderately civilized people in the world NOT under his control. And he accomplished all of this before he turned 32! Meanwhile, Rome comes along just a few centuries later to form what's often thought to be the greatest empire in history (although not nearly as big as Alexander's) and centuries later, Ghengis Khan conquered China, much of Russia, dominated parts of the Middle East, and spread his territory into eastern and central Europe. And Sparta compares to these truly great leaders and warriors how??? Sparta was "dominant" (if you can even call it that) for maybe 200 years, and even then, only over a very small territory and to a very small degree. So why its huge, gigantic reputation? What the hell did they EVER do to merit it? I'm like a monotheist whose eyes have been opened by science and now the idiocy of my former beliefs are laid out before me, leaving me ashamed and embarrassed.

Finally, my other complaint about this book is it deals almost exclusively with the rise of Sparta through the second Persian war, and then the book just kind of ends, even though Sparta was to play a role in Greek politics, wars, and life for another century or so. It just ends. So it's really just a half book, and that added to my disappointment.

I wanted to give this book one star, but I can't because that wouldn't be fair to the author. It'd just be displaying my biases, and wouldn't realistically have anything to do with the actual writing, research, or disappointing truths I've been forced to endure learning. Nonetheless, I can't give the book more than three stars, because for one thing, the book went through some very long, dry, boring spells, and ultimately because the book is incomplete, even though the title should indicate that it's not about the entire history of Sparta, but merely the rise. It SHOULD be about the entire history of Sparta, and I think the author does the reader a disservice by just leaving the story half told. So, interesting, enlightening book, but not recommended for fans of the "traditional" Spartans, but objective ancient history fans might find it moderately interesting....

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Thursday, September 6, 2018

Understanding SSL: Securing Your Website Traffic

Understanding SSL: Securing Your Website TrafficUnderstanding SSL: Securing Your Website Traffic by Nathan James Neil
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not a bad book on SSL. Some good basic foundational material. Not as technical as I would have preferred. Poor proofreading, copy editing. So many of these mostly self published authors could stand to hire a professional proofreader. It would make reading their books easier and more enjoyable. In any event, while there are better SSL books out there, there are some worse too, so if you're looking for a short, basic starter, this is cautiously recommended. My one real complaint, though, is it's far, far too short, and thus can't even begin to get into the meat of the topic. So while cautiously recommended, don't be willing to pay too much for this, because it's not worth it.

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