Thursday, December 27, 2018

• God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist

God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not ExistGod: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist by Victor J. Stenger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! In reading through the various reviews of this book, which has a near-4 rating, it's incredibly funny and predictable how the fundies and other bible thumpers try to attack Stenger -- who allegedly not only doesn't use science in this book, but apparently doesn't even know it; I assume all of the fundies making this criticism have their freaking PhDs themselves in scientific fields since they obviously are claiming authority on what is and isn't science??? Anyway, these people nit pick and target a few select lines or assertions of his to "prove" that Stenger did not "disprove" god. So predictable. I just read one who was sarcastically (presumably) making fun of his interpretation of Stenger asserting that anything that can be described or generally proven though "natural," scientifically accepted methods means such things aren't God's doing. This critic is making fun of that. Holy crap, what an idiot! Um, yeah, that's basically the massively accepted and assumed consensus on the part of nearly all scientists, as well as freethinkers, rationalists, and plenty of other people. That pretty much nails it on the head. If science can explain natural causes, etc, for a whole variety of things, events, etc, then YES, you don't bring god into it! It's been proven to be non-supernatural. Duh! Fundies excel at nit picking non-fundie philosophers, other religionists (particularly other theists), scientists, and other people of differing persuasion, yet once you start pointing out the thousands of discrepancies, inconsistencies, inaccuracies (god showed Moses the part of Cannan known as "Dan" before he died, the irony being, there was NO place named "Dan" at the time; how do you know which of the two creation stories to believe in Genesis?; the crucifixion is described in all four gospels, yet while each described a sign above Jesus's head on the cross, they are ALL different from each other, so again, how do you pick out which one to believe?,; Moses, the author of the Torah/first five books of the OT, describes in detail his own death and burial in Deuteronomy, which I guess made him a zombie, and SO many damn more falsehoods and bullshit that countless books many hundreds of pages in length have been authored by Christians, atheists and others, pointing out just a number of them, because to get them all, it would surely exceed 1,000 pages), conflicting information, outright falsehoods (Nazareth evidently did not exist during this alleged census -- which also is verifiably historically wrong: there was none then, and not for about another decade -- and would not exist for several hundred more years, so obviously Joseph did not come from there.), and totally stupid "evidence" or "logic" (Example, with two problems -- Jesus's genealogy. The Jewish Messiah was supposed to have descended from King David's lineage. So two gospel authors felt it important to include Jesus's genealogy to "prove" he descended from David, thus helping to confirm his legitimacy. However, one just goes back some 14 generations to David while the other exceeds 30 and more generations, and to top it off, virtually none of the names of Jesus's ancestors leading to David match! Maybe one name. That's it. So, which one's right? How do you know which to believe? Or are neither of them right? This spurious discrepancy immediately calls into question the credibility of both authors and both gospels. But I said there are two problems. The beauty of the second problem is that it's so much more relevant that it pretty much wipes out any issues with or complaints about the previous problem I just described. The Messiah had to be of the line of David, and if Jesus was the Messiah, he would then have to have descended from the line of David. Well, throughout their history up to and beyond this time in Jewish culture, a person's line and genealogy was defined SOLEY through their fathers! Indeed, these two gospel genealogies refer, as is seen regularly throughout the bible, to a person as "son of 'X'," etc. And I hope you're seeing the irony now, and thus the outright bullshit? Joseph, an apparent true descendant of David, was NOT the biological father of Jesus!!! He literally passed no genes or DNA on to Jesus. Meaning that Jesus was absolutely NOT from the line of David, meaning he could not have been the Messiah at all! Freaking beautiful. And yet you'll never hear that mentioned in church, will you?), etc.

Look, not everyone will agree with the thesis of this book or Stenger, his points, examples, etc, and I get that. No book is universally loved and respected. And while I agree that a couple of the chapters are certainly weaker than others, which is virtually inevitable in a book such as this, and while Stenger doesn't resort to a Ph.D.-level volume on the subject, I tend to think he does a basically decent job of what he sets out to do, and at a very reader-friendly level, which some can't seem to accomplish. And while I've obviously read better, conversely I've read much, much worse, so I thus think that Stenger did a fairly good job at a complex and incredibly comprehensive subject (books 10 times this length could have been written about this, and you still wouldn't touch on everything), and while Stenger could have chosen to better address a few issues or perhaps have touched on some that are left out of this volume, on the whole, it's not a bad place to start for those who want to see how god stacks up against science. Oh, and I read one or two criticisms that focused on Stenger apparently addressing only the christian god. Well, I'm pretty sure that most points made in this and similar books could and do apply to ALL theistic gods, if not ALL alleged supernatural entities as a whole. The fact that Stenger refers to the christian god should not be held against him, because he is writing from the perspective of one raised and educated in, and almost certainly lives in the primary biggest and best known christian country, one in which you're exposed almost exclusively to the christian god and one in which right wing evangelicals have been working for decades to creative an evangelical theocracy here, and in which they've nearly succeeded and probably will. Thus destroying the country in the process. Finally, I'm very willing to bet the people criticizing this author for focusing on the christian god, apparently to the exclusion of Allah or Yahweh, are believers of and followers of these other religions, or even other ones, and I'd be shocked if these people actually think Stenger should be additionally addressing these other gods, as they share equal importance to the christian god. In fact, I'd be willing to bet a whole lot on that. So, hypocrites, don't be so damn stupid! If you can't fight the facts, shut up. And ultimately, please know that if science doesn't have the answer for everything (and it doesn't - yet), that doesn't freaking automatically mean the answer must obviously be supernatural, and moreso, must also be the christian god! There's no logic to that at all! Even if the supernatural were given partial credence, what gives you or anyone the right to insist it be the damn christian god (yours) instead of Buddha, Allah, Thor, Zeus, or any of the thousands of other gods that have and do swirl around this planet? Geez, try to use your brains for once and stop being a sheeple! What makes you so sure that you are right, in your christian god, while Muslims, who are equally as fervent and devout -- if not moreso -- and equally convinced of their heaven and hell, are obviously wrong, or ditto for Jews, Hindus, and so on? Even IF there were supernatural explanations for anything, why in the world does it have to be your own instead of someone else's? Think about that, why don't you. In the meantime, recommended book.

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Death by China: Confronting the Dragon - A Global Call to Action

Death by China: Confronting the Dragon - A Global Call to ActionDeath by China: Confronting the Dragon - A Global Call to Action by Peter Navarro
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Some interesting assertions mixed with some plausible facts, but the author clearly has an agenda and is literally resorting to little more than scare tactics to get his message across. I'm well aware that there are legitimate issues with China, their government, foreign policies, regulations, business strategies, etc, but I don't think one needs to go quite this far to get certain legitimate points across. Further, the author has developed a certain, say, "controversial" reputation over the past few years, has apparently benefited from it in unanticipated ways, and one could possibly argue that he remains a more fringe element "expert" that other, possibly more credible, individuals may be.

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Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer?

Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer?Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? by George C. Cunningham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not spectacular, not bad. This book is designed to be a point-by-point refutation of Francis Collin's claims about his faith in a personal god as being compatible with science. Well, many people, including a very vast majority of the world's scientists, that the two are not compatible. I don't think Cunningham has to make much effort to show the flaws, holes, logical fallacies, etc, that Collins presents in his book and thinking. Really don't need to make much of a stretch here. Unfortunately, I do think a couple of Cunningham's points tend to be weaker than preferable and he should have elaborated or made more of an effort to finish Collins off. Not as good as Dawkins and some of the other current intellectuals addressing these issues, but I think the author went out of his way to "dumb it down" and make his thesis and evidence as accessible to all laypeople as possible, thus making his book seem less intellectually impressive. That still doesn't diminish the authenticity and truth behind the points he makes. Solid, above average effort. Recommended.

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Monday, December 17, 2018

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National InterestThe Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest by Walter A. McDougall
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn't like this book. And my criticisms are probably unfair, because the author most likely accomplished what he set out to do. I think I merely misinterpreted or misunderstand the primary thrust of where the thesis was going. I had been hoping for a general history of America's "civil religion" over the years through the present, but especially focusing on the Reagan years through the present, and I guess I expected some analysis which would frankly be somewhat critical of the present situation.

Now before you jump on me to tell me that that is exactly what happened in this book, let me admit that I gave up and stopped reading before I got too far in. So if the author did what I expected, it's my own fault for giving up. However, I literally have hundreds of books here waiting to be read, and I'm in the middle of reading over 100 at the present, so I really don't have the time or patience for authors who micromanage their topics to death, particularly when a layman's book is being somewhat treated as an academic book. Because this was detailed freaking history starting in the 1600s, going excruciatingly slow, unbelievably boring, and to be honest, while it's fine for historical authors to be objective and not have an agenda, on the whole, the very title of this book implied a definite agenda, one with which I'd probably agree. Yet, for the life of me, I couldn't tell what the author felt, believed, perceived, was advocating -- nothing!!! -- as he proceeded to regale the reader with amazingly boring trivial shit! And trust me, I don't claim to be the smartest person around, but I'm not entirely dumb either. For instance, I'm presently reading books in fields such as public policy, nuclear engineering, religion (especially the primary theistic ones), atheism, philosophy, history, business, blockchain technology, network engineering, espionage, biographies, science, fiction, poetry, cryptography, culture, international relations, think tanks, hardware, software development, health, machine learning, AI, electronic warfare, limited nuclear warfare, radar signal processing, management consulting, quantum mechanics & quantum computing, among other topics. Trust me -- I can handle details, I can handle boredom, I can handle a lot of "difficult" material. Sometimes I want to quit reading a couple of these other book -- one nuclear engineering book is killing me, and one book on microwave RF design is boring -- but I rarely have any questions as to the thesis of the books, the authors' stances or where they stand on issues, what their agendas are, etc. And while I obviously know sometimes you have to work hard to reach certain points, this damn book simply seemed pointless to me. Mere American religious and political history. Ho hum. Pretty much know those fields already. By heart. I thought this would be a little more cutting edge, and again, perhaps it is, but dammit, give me a reason to reach the point in your book where you venture into uncharted territory! Otherwise, I've got better, more educational, more stimulating, more challenging books to read -- piles of them. So for those of you who read this book in its entirety and came away impressed, please enlighten me as to why I am mistaken in my response to the book. In any event, I can't possibly recommend this book. I'm sure there are alternatives that do a much better job. I'm extremely disappointed. Two stars.

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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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How to Make Money Selling Vintage Items on Etsy: Open a Store, Find Inventory, Take Photos, Create Listings and Make Money Selling Vintage Items in This Billion Dollar Marketplace

How to Make Money Selling Vintage Items on Etsy: Open a Store, Find Inventory, Take Photos, Create Listings and Make Money Selling Vintage Items in This Billion Dollar MarketplaceHow to Make Money Selling Vintage Items on Etsy: Open a Store, Find Inventory, Take Photos, Create Listings and Make Money Selling Vintage Items in This Billion Dollar Marketplace by Alissa Grosso
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not too bad. Fairly simplistic and common sensical. Some decent preliminary advice. My primary complaint is it seemed slanted towards crafts, and while I know that's essentially what Etsy was founded on, many thousands of Etsy stores now have nothing to do with crafts. Mine was vintage music and books. I therefore found some of the advice totally inapplicable to me, so I wish it would have had a broader overview of things. I ended up not finishing the book as a result. Recommended for people wanting to build craft-based Etsy shops. If you want to sell other items, there are better books on the market.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits?

Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits?Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits? by D.E. Wittkower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, I have to make a public admission and state that I love Philip K. Dick and have every book he ever published, at least every book publicly available, meaning over 40 or thereabouts. Some aren't the best, while others are completely brilliant and mind blowing. Others are wildly above average, but virtually all make you think about a lot of things, like reality and what is it exactly, and what is our reality, and is it indeed reality. I love David Weber's military sci fi novels and think he's the best military sci fi writer of all time, but I think Dick is the best overall sci fi writer of all time and perhaps one of the best 20th century writers completely, sadly overlooked by most, but also one of the best American philosophers of the 20th century as well, also sadly overlooked, especially when compared to the French and other European philosophers of the same century.

I have another (sad) admission to make. I was going to write a small review, but in reading over the book's official marketing blurb on Goodreads and other sites, I've come to believe I can't really do better than what the author's publishing/marketing team did for this book, so I'm going to quote a few short paragraphs, as I doubt I can improve on them. Forgive me. Credit to the book's author and publisher:

"Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick is the giant imagination behind so much recent popular culture—, both movies directly based on his writings, such as Blade Runner (based on the novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"), Total Recall, Minority Report, and The Adjustment Bureau, plus cult favorites such as A Scanner Darkly, Imposter, Next, Screamers, and Paycheck, and works revealing his powerful influence, such as The Matrix and Inception. [Additionally, The Man In The High Castle, Amazon's highest watched series of all time, from what I understand, is based on Dick's award winning novel by the same name.] With the ... publication in 2011 of volume 1 of Exegesis, his journal of spiritual visions and paranoic investigations, Dick [has] fast become a major influence in the world of popular spirituality and occult thinking.

In Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Who Adjusts the Adjustment Bureau?, twenty Dick fans and professional thinkers confront the fascinating and frightening ideas raised by Dick’s mind-blowing fantasies. Is there an alien world behind the everyday reality we experience? If androids can pass as human, should they be given the same consideration as humans? Do psychotics have insights into a mystical reality? Would knowledge of the future free us or enslave us? This volume ... also includes Dick's short story "Adjustment Team," on which The Adjustment Bureau is based.

Philip K. Dick and Philosophy explores the ideas of Philip K. Dick in the same way that he did: with an earnest desire to understand the truth of the world, but without falsely equating earnestness with a dry seriousness. Dick’s work was replete with whimsical and absurdist presentations of the greatest challenges to reason and to humanity—, paradox, futility, paranoia, and failure, —and even at his darkest times he was able to keep some perspective and humor, as for example in choosing to name himself ‘Horselover Fat in VALIS at the same time as he relates his personal religious epiphanies, crises, and delusions. With the same earnest whimsy, we approach Philip K. Dick as a philosopher, like ourselves—, one who wrote almost entirely in thought-experiments and semi-fictional world-building, but who engaged with many of the greatest questions of philosophy throughout the Euro-American tradition."

So, there you have it. The first few paragraphs of the book's description and a good description of what the book is about. It's truly an excellent book with mostly very good chapters/essays that, like Dick's work, leave one thinking about what is and what could be. Unfortunately, not every essay is consistently strong. Thus, the four star review rather than five. Still, a must have book for any Dick fan, and strongly, strongly recommended for any fan of pop culture, sci fi, 20th century philosophy, existentialism (to a degree), and other interested parties. I don't believe and certainly hope you won't be disappointed. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found the book quite stimulating.

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The Synchronicity War Part 1

The Synchronicity War Part 1The Synchronicity War Part 1 by Dietmar Wehr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ATTN: I somehow bought this series as one single book and read it all the way through in one reading, so I am just going to copy and paste this review for each of the four separate parts making up the whole of the book I read.

It was pretty funny to read the reviews of this first part of the four part saga of Wehr's The Synchronicity War. Everybody's bitching and moaning and giving one star reviews for how much it sucked, how the plot is so terrible, the writing so shoddy, the characters so indefinable, how it's terrible military sci fi, can't compare to David Weber (no one can, when it comes to military sci fi, although I thought Chris Bunch came close), but I somehow bought this series as one single book and read it all the way through, so I saw things differently, so when I went on to read reviews for the next three books, it was rather amusing at just how many people had changed their tunes. Where were all of the hugely influential book critics? Those obviously so much better writers that they've churned out many more commercially successful books than Wehr? The ones giving him one and two stars for the first "book"-part? Um, yeah, they weren't trolling around anymore. Instead, for the next three books, I saw very little but four and five star reviews, with people seriously impressed not only with the military sci fi action, but the hard sci fi, the detailed scientific explanations of what makes THIS go THAT way, etc, and while people still thought characterization was weak, and I guess that's not the strongest part of the series, I still don't fully buy that, as I became wholly invested in the characters, human and mechanical, and their personalities and relationships, and yes, he could have given us some detailed descriptions of what so and so looked like, but the man was working on a four book Military Sci Fi series, not a damn romance, so cut him some slack! Maybe he's not as good as Weber? No one is! But I'll wager he's as good as Jack Campbell and most of the others, certainly as ambitious. And I think, a fine writer, with nothing to be ashamed of and plenty to be proud of. This is an IDEA man! He thinks of things that constantly blow me away. His tactics are borderline brilliant, sometimes just plain brilliant. So, why the first book hatred, and then the irony of the Loooove over the next three books from you, dear readers? Geez, I don't know how many of you are writers out there, but I've published 15 books of my own, pre-self publishing, have ghost written two others, and have had fiction, poetry, nonfiction, journalism, academic writing, technical tutorials, technical white papers, and everything in between, published over the past 28 years, and sometimes it just takes the author awhile to set the tone, to set the pace, to get where he or she wants to be, which may have been the case with Wehr, I don't know, but if everyone hated the first book, but loved the final three, it seems to me it just took awhile for him to set his universe up enough so that readers were adjusted to it, and grew invested in it. That's it, that's all. Sometimes some authors do that. Not everyone can jump right into you're being invested in the plot from the second page. That's a special kind of writer and usually, a certain kind of book.

As for me, while not necessarily as good as *some* of Weber's finer works, this series blew me away and I loved it! I loved the risks the author took, with his characters and with his readers. It strikes me as brave. The books had my attention the whole way, and while people pointed out that, yes, big bad aliens who were stronger technologically than humans and out to destroy us was nothing new, the author's treatment of this plot device was, IMO, so I thought he handled it quite well. Indeed, the only disappointment I felt was in reading the final page and knowing I had come to the end. After spending so much of my time in this universe. It was a tough blow! I would love to see Mr. Wehr come out with some more books, although he does have another series, which I've also read and enjoyed. His name is not that well known, I don't believe, but I think it deserves to be. In any event, I loved this series, and I strongly recommend it for all who love military sci fi, hard sci fi, or good sci fi in general.

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Independent Contractor, Sole Proprietor, and LLC Taxes Explained in 100 Pages or Less

Independent Contractor, Sole Proprietor, and LLC Taxes Explained in 100 Pages or LessIndependent Contractor, Sole Proprietor, and LLC Taxes Explained in 100 Pages or Less by Mike Piper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This wasn't a bad book. It was a fast read, and terms, ideas, and facts were represented in clear, understandable writing. I learned some good things from it. But I didn't learn everything I wanted or needed to. As part of a two person LLC, I needed some explicit tax advice, particularly as to how such LLCs are taxed as partnerships and the trickle down effects on personal taxes that has, as well as how to record startup expenses, what sort of liabilities such entities face, etc. I had to turn to an alternate book that had much more information specifically for LLCs. And perhaps that's my own fault, because the book does specify that LLC taxes (there are none for LLCs, to be precise, as I discovered come tax season) comprise only a third of the book via the title, but sometimes it felt like LLCs were the stepchild of the book, while the first two types of jobs/business owners were concentrated on a bit more. Or maybe I'm just being sensitive, I don't know. Whatever the case, as I said, it's not a bad book, but I suspect if you're an independent contractor or a sole proprietor, you'll get more out of it than if you're involved in an LLC. Recommended for certain audiences.

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Letter to a Christian Nation

Letter to a Christian NationLetter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"What is interesting about this book, as in most atheist thought, is that in lambasting fundamentalist institutional religious dogma, the author ends up doing exactly what he accuses his opponents of: polarizing, claiming to know what truth and reality are better than anyone else, and pushing moderates into extremism. He claims, as all atheists do, to be speaking solidly from the standpoint of reason. As a reasonable man, then, he should have recognized..."

Lovely. This critic of the book is critical of the author for accusing his opponents of "claiming to know what truth and reality are better than anyone else" and claiming to be "speaking solidly from the standpoint of reason" and therefore as "a reasonable man, then, he should have recognized" ... THE TRUTH! Which in the eye of this Goodreads critic, typical of so many self righteous reviewers of this book, is the teachings of CHRISTIANITY and while criticizing Harris of "claiming to know ... truth and reality," and of polarizing people by pushing his agenda, this reviewers seems completely guilty of the accusations thrown at the author!!! If I may borrow and rebrand, so to speak, from this reviewer, so "typical" of Christian thought! I do not claim to know the truth, but theists do, and, to paraphrase Hitchens, exceptional claims require exceptional evidence. Just because Harris points out some of the seemingly inherent flaws within Christianity, the people who claim HE polarizes then polarize some more in attacking him for pointing out the obvious to most non-Christians, theists of other faiths, and freethinkers around the country. This reviewer epitomizes what he accuses Harris of doing and in so doing, justifies Harris's contentions. If it weren't so tragic, the irony would be too funny.

Not the absolute best book I've read, but pretty solid, in my opinion. And in the opinion or many others, though you can't tell from all of the attacks from so many of the Christians reviewing this book. I guess it's hard to face accusations that don't jibe with your belief system when the accusations hurt or insult, even if there may very well be legitimacy to them... Recommended to all.

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How To Become A NFL Sports Agent: Step-By-Step Instructions

How To Become A NFL Sports Agent: Step-By-Step InstructionsHow To Become A NFL Sports Agent: Step-By-Step Instructions by John Hernandez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not a bad book, but I'm only giving in 3 stars because it's far too short, far too general, lacks way too much detail, really barely covers anything significant. But the author could have put more time and effort into it and made it into a much better book, because like I said, it's not bad -- it's just incomplete. I did learn a few important details, so it was worth the investment, and it gives some advice on resources, but could have acted more like a significant resource of its own, if the author had chosen to do so. Lately, I've been approached by both players and coaches about both representation and advising them on their careers, but I'm not a sports agent, and not sure I would ever want to be. But I wanted guidance in how to more properly guide these people in their searches for new opportunities. This book gave me a few facts that were important to know, but really, it's just an intro, almost just an outline, and a much more comprehensive book should be required if researching this field. But you get what you pay for, and it was short and cheap, and therefore I did not have high expectations, so I was not terribly disappointed. It's a nice intro, and I'd encourage the author to write a second edition and significantly expand it to become the resource it could be. Barely recommended to a niche audience....

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The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East

The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle EastThe Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East by Abraham Rabinovich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of the better military history books I've ever read, and I've read a LOT of them over the years. I've long heard of the Yom Kippur War, but didn't really know any significant details, other than the combatants and the outcome (which turned out to be wrong; the outcome was much more complex than I had believed). This book not only filled in the gaps, but had so much detail and even minutiae, that the author really took you into the tanks where shell shocked men survived amidst corpses of their friends and into the foxholes of paratroopers and commandos, and into the the minds and strategies of the two primary countries' leaders, both political and military. The author, Abraham Rabinovich, is a very talented writer with a gift for both prosaic writing and an eye for detail. And while the bulk of this book is told from the Israeli perspective -- in part, because Israel has released historical and former secret documents about the war, while the Arab countries involved largely have not -- it's about as balanced an account as could be, considering it's told largely from the perspective of one of the major combatants, Israel. We are given numerous scenes and dialogue amongst the Egyptians, and less so among the Syrians, but what truly distinguishes this book is the political detail, with Henry Kissinger's strong arm tactics with both the Soviets and Israel to force a peace agreement and to put America in the driver's seat in the Middle East, supplanting Russia and its influence, at least with Egypt, the reigning Arab power.

The Yom Kippur War itself was as dramatic a war as any others to that point in the modern Middle East. Just six years before, Israel had won one of the most convincing military victories that practically any modern country has ever experienced; it had captured some 42,000 square miles in the Six Day War, enlarging the country by roughly 350% of its original size. As a result of this easy victory, Israel was led to self-satisfaction bordering on basic hubris, as well as complacency, concerning its military and the surrounding Arab countries. Israel's military intelligence assumed in 1973 that the Arabs would be crazy to attack again any time in the near future, and certainly not without long-range weapons to threaten Israel's cities, which they didn't have. And both politicians and military commanders assumed that if Egypt and Syria, in particular, did attack, they would easily be beaten again by the superiority of their high quality but numerically inferior forces without not only not losing any territory, but not even having to retreat. They had a series of forts and outposts along the borders manned by anywhere from platoons to companies and possibly several tanks each, KNOWING these would be enough to withstand and ultimately defeat vastly numerically superior Arab armies potentially attacking. I believe the author relates that one general was told Syria had some 800 tanks massed on Israel's borders and stated that their 100 tanks would guarantee victory against those odds. And it was this thinking that led Israel to some of its hardest and darkest periods in its short history, as not only did the politicians and military believe this, but intelligence did as well and all told, the general public did too, assured constantly that they could and would easily whip the Arabs again, just like in the Six Year War, because Arabs were soft, they couldn't fight, and they didn't have "real" soldiers. As a result, the Israelis suffered a series of near-catastrophic disasters and early defeats when Egypt and Syria simultaneously launched a Soviet-armed dual front invasion, before finally turning the tables with some truly awesome and heroic feats of military and individual prowess. The stories of sacrifice told in this book are written so well that you almost want to cry along with the soldiers experiencing mutilation, death, and destruction, but ultimately some satisfaction for not only Israel and its military, but even Egypt and Saddat, who emerged as a victor of honor in recapturing land lost in The Six Year War and going toe to toe with the Israelis for weeks without blinking or retreat. But the author focuses largely on Israel, and its military victory came at a heavy cost: Israel suffered casualties that, on a per capita basis, were equivalent to three U.S. Vietnams -- and in only three weeks' time! I had always heard that Israel "heroically" withstood a tremendous invasion and saved itself through bravery, courage, and with a smaller but superior military, beat the invasions back and ended up with a huge military victory. And to a degree, that's true. But the author makes it clear that there were other winners besides Israel, and argues that Egypt was actually the biggest winner, because it accomplished regaining the honor it had lost in The Six Year War, regained land, and its leader emerged as the Arab leader first to make peace with small, yet formidable Israel, which unfortunately would cost him his life just several years later. But he was viewed now as a statesmen, while Israel was left scrambling at how to explain how unprepared they were, how badly their intelligence had failed them, how mistaken their assumptions were, etc, so even though they technically "won" militarily, Egypt came out ahead, because they regained their prestige while Israel's military and intelligence prestige took such a heavy hit, that it took years to overcome it. And America, thanks to Kissinger, was also a winner, as the hard line peace broker who forced a peace, and then would lead the two countries to sign treaties, although Syria was not party to such, as they could barely tolerate peace with Israel. However, it was Egypt who was the important Arab player in this story, and the author gives us a very balanced and objective analysis of the outcome for all countries, but needless to say, I had not ever heard the perspective that Egypt won anything, let alone came out on top, in this war, and bear in mind that, I believe, the author is Jewish, so it's not like an anti-Semite is writing this. For a Jewish author to state such things, when much of the world and the history most of us know, asserts that Israel was the sole victor by a large margin in this war, is a brave, courageous, and admirable thing to do, because he's giving us an unbiased analysis of the outcome regarding all of the players (including the Soviets), even if it partially stains Israel's historical reputation regarding the outcome. Chalk one up for Rabinovich. That takes guts.

This book is full of tactical detail, political intrigue, and awesome battle scenes, especially armor battle scenes, as this was the overall biggest tank battle in history, aside from perhaps the Allied invasion of Europe in WWII. Thousands of tanks were involved and thousands were destroyed and tens of thousands of men were killed and wounded. The end of the book tells the tales of some Israeli survivors, their feelings of guilt, hatred, bitterness, sadness, etc. It's heartbreaking and touching in many ways, in part, because I know that our U.S. military veterans who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 15 years have also suffered what we now called PTSD, and I think it's damned tragic for any soldier of any nation.

This was truly an excellent book, and not only told a fascinating part of history that I lacked sufficient knowledge of, but also described compelling battle scenes and, again, tales of heroism and courage. Five stars, easily, and strongly recommended to ALL!

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Monday, September 3, 2018

Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942–1943

Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942–1943Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942–1943 by Antony Beevor
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I feel guilty for what I'm about to say because I've been a big fan of World War II history since childhood and I've read countless books on virtually every nation involved, as well as most of the various conflicts, etc. But I lacked a good book on Stalingrad, so I was happy when I stumbled across this book. I had high hopes for it. And it started promisingly. There's a slow buildup on getting the German forces even TO Stalingrad, which is somewhat understandable, and there's incredible detail on the Russian defense of the city and area surrounding it. There's fascinating information on Stalin, his mindset and that of his advisors, a little info on Hitler and his advisors. And then it begins. I'm about to admit that after awhile, I set it aside for awhile, hoping to pick it up later and regain my interest, only to do so, experience the same feelings, set it aside, pick it up later, etc. I've been doing so for 10 months and I STILL haven't finished it, though I'm very close to the end. But I'm done, I'm not going to finish, this is it. I've tried so hard and I've read so many military histories, but I've got to say it: this book bored the shit out of me! At first the various battles within Stalingrad were interesting, but after awhile it became so repetitive and predictable, I practically fell asleep after 2-3 pages at a time. My God! How many can you take of One Side attacks the other, the Other Side counterattacks; One Side is starving, the Other Side is starving; One Side is freezing, the Other Side is freezing; One Side is valiant, the Other Side is valiant; One Side seems to be winning, oh no, the Other Side Seems to be winning??? Holy shit, after awhile I just didn' anymore. There's only so much of that you can take, page after page, hundreds of pages after hundreds of pages, before you want one fucking side to just fucking WIN!!! I tried to give it a fair chance. I read most of it. But it was like the worst homework. It was a chore. I had to make myself keep picking it up. In the meantime, I've read fascinating books on the creation of the Israeli state, the Yom Kippur War, the creation of the NSA, the creation of DARPA and its history, a book on infamous spy Kim Philby, and much more. And all of these held my attention. I couldn't put them down. But this book? Sheer painful agony. The only reason I'm giving it two stars instead of one is that part of the book is interesting -- the part leading up to and the beginning of the battle for Stalingrad. After that the book frankly sucks. Surely there have to be other books on the battle that are more interesting, more captivating! Right? Please? Because this book is most definitely Not.Recommended!

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Long Beach State: A Brief History

Long Beach State: A Brief HistoryLong Beach State: A Brief History by Barbara Kingsley-Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As an alumnus of Long Beach State, or California State University Long Beach, as it's officially known, I was really excited to hear this book existed, to get it and read it. And I largely, mostly enjoyed it, and am glad it was written. I liked learning lots of information about its founding and the early days, its growth through the '50s and '60s, and even interesting info when I was there for grad school in the early 1990s.... But... I was annoyed it was only "A Brief History," because as one of the largest and most diverse universities in California, I thought the book could -- and should -- have been easily three times longer and STILL left out lots of info! The author picked a few key topics and wrote short three and four page chapters, and I felt she could and should have written 10, 15, and 20 page chapters on topics such as, say, the sports programs. Nothing about the baseball team, which went to four College World Series beginning while I was there, or much about the women's basketball team, which went to two women's Final Fours during the years my undergraduate alma mater, Tennessee, was winning its first of eight national championships. I also found parts of it depressing, as how while the state created the school, initially as a teacher's college, and then as a four year state school, and finally as a state university with numerous graduate programs, including even several PhD programs now, there was never enough money for the school to do anything to help itself, and thus, for years, it was just dirt, and muddy when it rained, parking lots, with dirt roads cutting through the campus, and how it initially started in two apartment complexes and how the first buildings, still in evidence there, looked like Soviet-era concrete block bunkers, which I found depressing when I was there, and you could tell how it went through growth spurts just by looking at the differing architectural styles, and how it's always been a commuter school, unlike Tennessee or UCLA, two other non-commuter schools I went to, and the lack of support for most of the sports teams -- except for women's volleyball, strangely, although in fairness to that excellent program, it's won a crapload of national championships and finished as second place runner up many other times, so what awesome success, but the school has had other sports programs that have experienced success, such as the baseball team, and at times, the basketball team, and I was disappointed to see how the small part on the basketball team focused on the early Jerry Tarkanian years and never mentioned coach Seth Greenwood, who was coaching when I was there and how two of our players were drafted by the NBA while I was there, one of them especially experiencing great success playing with Karl Malone in Utah, or even how the recent teams have experienced great success and have dominated the conference, gone to the NCAA tournament, and become nationally famous for playing any team, any time, anywhere, and plenty of top 20 teams, such as North Carolina and Kansas at those schools, and being very competitive, even beating some, such as top 20 Xavier, losing at UNC by only 3 points, etc, before going on to own its conference once conference play started. Nothing about that. I would have even liked to find out some info on the water polo and beach volleyball teams! Oh well. I appreciated the history of the Greek system there, because it was an issue when I was a student, as I recall, but again, felt discouraged that CSULB constantly had to hold fund raisers in the community to do things like buy tons of peach trees to plant to hide the ugly concrete buildings, and put brick patterns on the walls of some of these buildings, thus starting a new architectural style, begging for money to finish the famous Long Beach State Pyramid, where the basketball team plays, on how they had to start a new Scholars program, done while I was there, to bring up its academic reputation and attractiveness to students by giving school valedictorians a free ride -- which worked! In the 1980s, US News & World Report rated LBSU as a pretty crappy school, but for the past decade or more, it's gotten outstanding scores in a number of areas and has been listed as basically one of the three most ideal and attractive largely non-PhD granting universities in the West, and how it's the best school for the money, the best ROI-type school in the entire country, and one of the most diverse schools in the country, and how the students who graduate from Long Beach owe less than most students from virtually all of the other universities in the country, etc, so it's gotten high US News scores for a long while now, and has established itself as a decent academic school, thanks to a number of good programs instituted in the 1990s and up. I'm very proud of how far my first graduate alma mater has come in just a few short years, relatively speaking, starting with practically nothing and progressing to an appealing, well regarded university. I also enjoyed reading about all of the celebrities who attended Long Beach State, like the Carpenters (they were building the Carpenter Auditorium, or whatever its proper name is, while I was there), Steve Martin, Steven Spielberg, Chris Carter, and numerous baseball players, among others. I already knew about most of them, but it was still cool to read details I didn't know. And I had to laugh about the t-shirt I read about regarding the now-gone football team. It reads "Long Beach State Football: Unbeaten since 1991." The program was shut down back in 1991, the year before I got there, after new and legendary coach George Allen had died unexpectedly, because very few people supported the teams by attending the games over the years, and it was a huge drain on an already always tight school budget. I was deeply disappointed to attend a school whose football program had just been shut down, especially after going to UT, where the team competed for -- and won -- national championships on a regular basis, but a lot of smaller schools shut down their programs back then, like East Tennessee State University, just up the road from Knoxville 100 miles, among others because it takes a LOT of money to have and run a college football program, especially if you want to truly be competitive. I came to accept this over the years, and embraced that t-shirt's slogan to the point of ordering one from the school just a week ago, literally, and I'll now proudly wear it and laugh to myself as people will undoubtedly look confused when they see it.

All in all, it's a decent little book, and I'm glad it was written and I'm glad I read it. But I STILL wish it wasn't a "Brief History," because I think the school deserves a "Comprehensive History," and I guess I'll just have to wait to see that one written some time in the future. Recommended for anyone who has ever attended or graduated from Long Beach State, as well as any interested Cal State University system supporters and Long Beach/L.A. County residents.

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The Hangman's Daughter

The Hangman's Daughter (The Hangman's Daughter, #1)The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVED THIS BOOK! It's actually more about Jakob Kuisl, the hangman, and Simon, the physician, and would-be suitor of Magdalena, Jacob's daughter, who does - yes - play a key role, but the story is Jacob's and it's freaking awesome!

We're taken back to 1659, right after the Thirty Years’ War has finally ended, and all of a sudden, children are dying under suspicious circumstances with what appear to be marks of a witch tattooed on their bodies. The villagers all gang up on the midwife, who goes to prison to be tortured by Jacob until she signs a confession, whereupon they can kill her. The problem is, Jacob believes she's innocent, so it's a race against time for the three protagonists to find who's really doing this and clear the midwife while the townspeople are calling for her head.

It's a fantastic historical mystery based on the author's own family, of centuries ago, but he comes from a lineage of German hangmen, and that made it more interesting for me. Fascinating, detailed, suspenseful, and totally believable, I can't recommend this book enough. Five stars and strongly recommended!

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The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World

The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital WorldThe New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World by Damon Krukowski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is more than just a simple “back to vinyl” sermon, refreshingly. It’s a highly scientific and socio-psychological look at the history of recorded music, the transition from analog to digital, and what that means to people and society.

Damon Krukowski writes as a musician, music fan, and techno nerd, yet mixes this all together quite skillfully. He writes about context, signal, and noise in ways that will make sense to most readers.

Krukowski writes that people hear in stereo sound. That having two ears allows us to make the small, even tiny, mental distinctions providing much-needed context for the world around us. He tells one story, among others, of a person falling over while riding a bicycle wearing earbuds because, while they were focused on the sounds that were being delivered in their ears, they weren’t able to integrate and HEAR other sounds in the world around them. Krukowski asserts that our stereo hearing is incredibly accurate for providing context for what we actually hear (and need to hear, for the most part) while our brains separate signal from noise.

And what’s the distinction? The author explains that signal is the foregrounded sound we’re supposed to concentrate on, ie., music in this case, while noise is the allegedly “unnecessary” sounds that interfere with our being able to focus on signal. The role of technology in separating signal from noise provides the allegedly purer sound that one obtains through digital transmission, eliminating noise entirely. But the question is, is music without (analog) noise what we really want to hear? Krukowski makes the case that it is not.

Krukowski’s “The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World” skillfully examines the science, physiology, and effects of the changes from analog sound to digital sound, not only over time, but now in the rapidly changing musical media world in which we live. By putting our audio experience of recorded music into a bigger context of how people interact with the world, he offers a more intricate view than many who bemoan the emergence of digital music as it's experienced through devices like head phones, iPods, and even smartphones. He argues that the digital delivery of music replacing analog, tactile music has largely been responsible for the loss of community represented by now many distant-memory record stores where people could hang out, chill, and talk with others about music and other similar interests, while shopping for tangible, artistic items of value that one can hold and play and hear signal WITH noise. He then calls for the re-introduction of the noisy environment once surrounding all music, that would lessen the near-total isolation with which people now experience music.

The only reason I am giving this book 4 stars instead of 5 is that he sometimes gets caught up in going seriously too far into hard technology that one might need an engineering degree to fully appreciate, and the middle has an extended section that drags a bit as a result. However, he ultimately delivers a very thoughtful analysis at how rapid technological change leads to unanticipated social consequences that aren’t always good. A very interesting and decent book and recommended for all audiophiles, vinyl (and CD) enthusiasts, and music lovers in general.

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Deconverted: a Journey from Religion to Reason

Deconverted: a Journey from Religion to ReasonDeconverted: a Journey from Religion to Reason by Seth Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic book! Seth Andrews lived my own exact life growing up, and we were both traumatized by the same types of things (the movie, "Thief In The Night!"), and we were both fundies/evangelicals for much of our younger lives before we both started asking ourselves some questions, before asking others, and began reading and researching, and while Andrews reached his conclusions and belief system before I did, I admire his resolve and his courage for "coming out" as an atheist in a strong Bible Belt city, because I live in the biggest Bible Belt city in America (I believe it was so named last year...), and unless you're a Red State Republican bible thumper here, you don't really feel very welcome in this city, and while I haven't spent years as an out and out atheist as Andrews has, I may as well, because when I'm not on my feet "praising the lord," I stick out like a sore thumb, and it can make one very uncomfortable. Yes, there there are "liberal" Christians here, as well as a few Muslims, about 25 Jews, possibly a few Hindus, although I haven't seen any, some agnostics, some atheists, but no place to really gather and not be in church, because the only alternative is the Unitarian CHURCH, and while it's a catchall for all beliefs and while they tend to make fun of fundies, it's still called a "church," so that kind of defeats the purpose. I'm reading Dawkins, Hitchins, Barker, George W Smith, and others right now, and it's been really refreshing, and for the first time in my life, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, like I've been liberated, and I have Barker and Seth Andrews to thank in many ways, because until Hitchins, they've BEEN there, they understand, they know what it's like to "deconvert" and how traumatic that can be for so many reasons, and I have found this book very helpful and very freeing and I recommend it for anyone going through a similar process or who has questions, doubts, etc. It helps fill it the holes, or flesh out the holes, one finds gaping wide open in the christian bible. And the stress is not on what one believes, but what one doesn't believe, unlike what many people think. Atheism is merely the "a lack of belief in a god" or supernatural being, etc. It's NOT an antithetical belief, although individual atheists can choose to have antithetical beliefs or any belief they want, the caveat being a lack of belief in a god. That's it, that's all. It's very simple. If there is no evidence to convince you that a god exists, you are thus not obligated to believe in a god, nor should anyone else be. Very simple. Sure, you can go full blown philosophical and George W Smith does that, but it's not necessary, and you can find out why by reading most of these authors and finding out in less than 10 minutes. In any event, I'm elated I came across this book and now I listen to the author's podcasts and have found help, comfort, and entertainment in them. Strongly recommended for those encountering spiritual doubts....

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My Custom Built Xidax X-8 Glacier

Late last year, I custom designed a high-end PC system I wanted built. Earlier that year, I had originally gone with OriginPC for their huge Genesis machine (34 drive bays!), but it didn't work out, so I looked very carefully at Digital Storm, Falcon Northwest, & Maingear, before finding out about a newish boutique PC maker -- Xidax. They didn't have a lot of professional reviews, but the ones that were out there were very good & one article listed them as one of the top five boutique computer makers in the world. Additionally, they had thousands of customer reviews & ratings & they were almost all universally outstanding, so I priced out several systems & found I could get a pretty nice system that was better than what Digital Storm & FN had to offer (especially in storage capacity & expandability) for a little less, although it still cost a small fortune. So, I'm going to post the specs of the system with a few pics. Just for the heck of it.

Xidax X-8 Glacier Specs

Brand: Xidax

Model: X-8 Glacier

Case: Thermaltake View 71 Tempered Glass RGB Edition

CPU: Intel i9-7920X 12-core, hyperthreading, 2.9 GHz (4.4 GHz overclocking)


Memory: G. Skill Trident Z-64GB DDR4 3200 MHz (4x16GB)

PSU: Corsair AX 1500i

GPU: Dual MSI NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti 11GB in SLI bridge

Storage: 2 1TB SSD M.2 discs, led by Samsung 960 Pro NVME M.2; 3 1TB SSD discs, led by Samsung 850 Pro; 6TB WD Black HDD


CPU Cooling: Corsair Hydro H100 V2 Water Cooler

OS: MS Windows Home 10 Premium

Sound Card: Creative Sound Blaster ZXR PCI Express

Speakers: Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 THX Certified Computer Speaker System

Webcam: Logitech C-310

Security: Bitdefender Security

Shipping: Free

Warranty: Free (!!!) LIFETIME support, labor, & parts replacement & more (cable sleeving, fans, etc.)

I won't list the cost, but I maxed out some systems, just to see how high the cost would get & a maxed out Falcon Northwest ran about $25,000 & a maxed out Digital Storm ran very close to $30,000! Their systems that would have been similar to the Xidax were generally about $1,000 - $2,500 more than what I ended up paying.