Hey! Randy

Flounders

Posted by heyrandy on July 17, 2013

Founders A Novel of the Coming Collapse, James Wesley,Rawles, 2012

The is the third in the author’s series of post-apocalyptic novels. (A fourth volume is due in October, 2013.) This volume expands on some of the characters mentioned in his previous works. The book centers on a couple who leave Chicago, Illinois and travel to safe-house retreat in Idaho. The couple does not get out of Chicago before their vehicles are stopped and captured by rioters. The couple then proceeds on foot.

Along the way we meet other characters and are treated to discussions of their religion, gun calibers, and how people who survived did so. For the combat partial there a several shootouts.

I found the book trite. It is almost unbelievable that two people could make it as far as they were supposed to with as little difficulty as they encounter. It is almost a isn’t-it-wonderful-that-the-world-has-ended situation.

The book ends 178 years after “the collapse” with someone using a metal detector to find scrap metal. It is a great day when he finds seventeen old, rusty fence posts. If the situation is this bad, where did he get the metal detector? The man does find the pirate treasure. This lets him take his child helper out for ice cream. The best idea in the book.

Posted in Book reviews | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Deep Dope

Posted by heyrandy on July 15, 2013

The Politics of Heroin, Alfred McCoy, 1991

The production and sale of heroin has deep political roots. The trade prospers because of government permission. Sometimes that permission is government cooperation. All governments need money. This is an easy way to get it.

Opium is grown in the remote hills of third-world countries and through an elaborate series of chemical processes is turned into the white power of heroin. The profits in this business are so great that many countries’ secret intelligence services have used the trade to finance their clandestine operations.

The book focus on the area of southeast Asia called the Golden Triangle. This is the border areas of Laos, Thailand, and Burma (now Myanmar.) Peasant framers grow opium and then trade it to mostly Chinese merchants. The merchants then sell the opium to secret laboratories which turn it into heroin. The heroin is then smuggled into the western countries.

Along the way there is massive bribery and corruption of government officials.

The unspoken thesis of this book is that the trade is unstoppable. As long as people want heroin they will bet it. Government would go broke without it.

The book gives the history of heroin and how it became illegal. It was once a minor problem they grew when the drug became illegal. There is a lesson here. Read the book to learn it.

Posted in Book reviews | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Nut Town

Posted by heyrandy on July 12, 2013

Insane City, Dave Barry, 2013

Where do you go to find Burmese pythons, billionaires, illegal refugees, and the ultra-trendy in an atmosphere alive with ethnic tensions? If you said Miami, Florida, you are right. Welcome to the crazy place. I forgot to mention the orangutan.

Barry, a former columnist for the Miami Herald, writes about all this to not only give a view of the city that the tourist promoters do not like but to raise the very important questions of immigration policy, drug laws, and the influence money has in politics.

The story concerns Seth, an indolent, under achieving only child of elderly Jewish parents, and his fiancee Tina, the eldest of two daughters of billionaire Mike Clark. Tina is everything Seth is not. A hard-driving, take-no-prisoners graduate of Harvard Law School. Seth is a graduate of a state school “with a solid B average” in marketing. He writes pseudo tweets for feminine care products. She does “important legal work” on behalf of groups that advocate for the “undocumented” immigrants. She has never met any of the people for whom she files legal briefs.

Secondary themes running through the book are the value of college educations, obsession with being part of the elite within the elite, vanity, and hypocrisy.

The language of the book is vulgar. There are numerous sexual references. But if you can get through all that, the book addresses serious issues in the style that Barry is famous for: truth is funny enough.

Posted in Book reviews | Leave a Comment »

You Are Guilty

Posted by heyrandy on July 10, 2013

Three Felonies a Day, Harvey Silvergate.

If they want you, they will find the crime to fit. This is the thesis of Silvergate’s book. He gives many examples of how this is so. There is almost no one the federal prosecutors cannot indict and convict.

The reason it is so easy to indict people is the vast number of federal laws and the ambiguity with which they are written. There is also the problem of how prosecutors stretch the laws well beyond their original intent to make the law useful in getting someone.

Silvergate reveals all the tricks used by prosecutors. Squeeze the low-level people, even if there is no crime, so they incriminate a higher-up. Then repeat the process with the higher-up until you get your man. It is called ladder climbing. Prosecutors pile on phony charges such as mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy. The prosecutor can then offer to drop these charges in exchange for a plea deal. Justice doesn’t matter, convictions do. It is about numbers. You can’t quantify justice, but convictions add up nicely.

The courts go along with this horror. Prosecutors routinely ask the courts to freeze the defendants funds, claiming the money is part of the crime. This makes it difficult for the victim to get good legal counsel. It also make it easier to get a conviction.

It is a case of us all being criminals.We just have not yet been convicted. While you wait your turn you can read Silvergate’s book and count the felonies you have committed.

Posted in Book reviews | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Scatter Shot

Posted by heyrandy on July 9, 2013

Hit List, Richard Belzer and David Wayne, 2013

Belzer and Wayne proceed upon the thesis that the deaths of so many of those involved in the JFK assassination as witness, no matter how peripheral, is evidence of a conspiracy. The authors point out that the statistical probability of this number of people dying in a group of about 1400 is almost too vast to calculate.

The book is a series of short chapters on many people who have died in a short time after the assassination. Some of the people are directly involved in the assassination, e.g., Lee Harvey Oswald, but many of those included in the book are not even tangentially related to JFK’s death. Francis Gary Powers (of U2 fame), really?

Even if we discount the extraneous inclusions, the book still suffers from a lack of real evidence. Yes, the deaths of people like JFK’s paramour Mary Meyer are unsolved, but this does not mean she was on the verge of blowing off the lid on the conspiracy.

The authors admit that some of the people they profile may have died for other reasons than to keep them quiet about the assassination. It is always difficult to interpret the murders of mob bosses. Jimmy Hoffa hated the Kennedy brothers, but Hoffa’s real enemies were the mob thugs who controlled the union. They wanted to keep Hoffa’s replacement in office.

If all the people mentioned by the authors were actually involved in the killing, just how big was this conspiracy? If the conspiracy was as large as the authors imply, it is amazing that we know so little of it. The old saying applies: it is not a secret when if more than one person know it. The authors believe that there were a lot of people involved.

The book is of little value even to the die-hard conspiracy theorists. I found their treatment of the evidence to be superficial. Many of the chapters end on a very tentative notes. There is little concrete here. The dead deserve better.

Posted in Book reviews | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Believable

Posted by heyrandy on July 8, 2013

Beyond Belief, Jenna Miscavige Hill, 2013

Jenna Hill gives us the inside view of a very unusual religion. Scientology is quite the rage among the Hollywood set. Tom Cruise, Kirsty Ally, and Pricilla Pressly are a few of its more famous adherents. These celebrities are only one side of Scientology. Hill gives the perspective of a third generation Scientologist. Not only is Hill a third generation Scientologist, she is niece to the current leader of Scientology, David Miscavige.

Hill’s account of upbringing in the church is a tale of mistreatment, misrepresentation, and tyranny. The system she reveals is one of total control over those within its ranks. Hill’s parents were on the staff of Scientology, so Hill attended the church’s boarding school, “The Ranch.” It was a place of extreme regimentation, unforgiving discipline, and constant spying.

Hill tells us that she seldom saw her parents. This is not unusual. The church routinely posts children’s parents to locations far from their children. The church often posts spouses apart from each other. The church denies it, but the church is very anti-family.

The church is also rich. Scientology is not free. It is not even low cost. Hill never had to pay for her Scientology training because she was the child of staff workers and also held a job with the church. But “public Scientologists, those who do not work for the church, pay plenty. Hill mentions courses that cost $4000-$6000 each. There are endless courses. There is always another step to take and pay for.

Hill’s parents left the church even though they held high ranking positions.This was a major embarrassment for the church. Her parents wanted to take Jenna with them, but she refused to go. She wanted to stay in the church.

The end of Hill’s love for the Church began when the gave her the run-a-round about her wanting to marry. She began to see through the lies. She finally married her husband, Dallas, in a Scientology ceremony. Her family could not attend because of the Church’s sanctions against them. She says it was not much of a ceremony.

After her marriage she and her husband were sent to Australia on an “impossible mission.” They were to raise money to buy choice property in Canberra to erect a Scientology center there. Since there were only a few Scientologists in Canberra, it was an arduous task. They did manage to raise some money before they came home. Hill thinks the real reason they were sent off was to preclude any embarrassment to the Church that might arise from her parents. Nothing in Scientology is straight forward.

When Hill announced she was leaving, she almost left without her husband. He was so enmeshed in the Church’s teachings that he could no let go. She was not about to let the Church win, so stayed a while to persuade her husband to go. It was actually the Church’s arrogance that changed his mind.

The Church wanted protect itself from Hill, and asked her to sign a confidentiality agreement. Hill tore up the paper in front of the woman who presented it to Hill. Hill had already signed a “billion year contract” when she was a child. She was not signing any more papers.

The book exposes Scientology for what it is: an avaricious, tyrannical fraud. For those interested in Scientology, start here. There is a lot more to this religion than smiling celebrities.

Posted in Book reviews | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Bull’s Eye

Posted by heyrandy on March 9, 2013

More Guns, Less Crime, John Lott, 1998

Gun restriction legislation, aka gun control, is always a topic of discussion. It becomes a passionately discussed topic when there is a mass shooting. What are we to think about the prevalence of guns? Are fewer guns in the hands of ordinary people something that will make us safer?

Lott has the answer. As the title suggests, gun restrictions are not the answer. Lott has the statistics to support the book’s title. He also has the strident critics to prove science doesn’t matter.

Lott’s thesis is that the carrying of guns, especially concealed handguns, are a great deterrent to crime. The presence of guns makes criminals look for easier victims. When a criminal is faced with the unknown, does this person carry a gun, the criminal often chooses another victim, often another type of crime.

The book is full of statistics Lott gathered for a scholarly paper he wrote. The paper is the basis of this book.  The numbers are necessary to support the book’s conclusion. What is interesting about the numbers is the reaction of Lott’s critics. The original study was vociferously criticized by  many who had not read it. Yes, facts don’t matter to gun control advocates, even if they are university professors.

While the numbers are important, they make the reading a little dull. I do not have the statistical training to re-crunch Lott’s numbers, so I spent my time looking at his conclusions.

What was that conclusion? The title says it all. Buy a gun.

 

Posted in Book reviews | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

What Do I Do?

Posted by heyrandy on August 23, 2012

The Unthinkable Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why, Amanda Ripley, 2008

The ship suddenly lists. The building shakes, The fire alarm sounds. Would you know what to do in any of those situations? Would do it, without hesitation? Most people would not act without hesitation.

The author examines many past disasters to give us a picture of how people react to a sudden disaster. Most people are initially like the deer in the headlights. They freeze. They do not comprehend what the situation is like. They do not understand the danger.

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks give us a good example to study. The author recounts one woman’s actions after the plane hit her tower. She did not know why the building was shaking. She did not know what to do until someone said that an airplane had hit the building. Then she still did not know what to do. When she finally decided to leave the building, she first returned  to her desk to retrieve some trivial personal items. This cost her precious time. She was not the only one to do this. What is more stunning is that this woman was the designated disaster evacuation leader on her floor.

The real value of the book is in its analysis of human behavior in disasters and in its revelation that you are the only person that you can count on in a disaster.

Most people do not think any thing dangerous can happen to them. It never has, it never will. This leads to complacency and boredom. We ignore the pre-flight safety instructions flight crews give to the passengers. Yet such instructions can save lives.

However, safety instructions are seldom complete. We are told what to do but not the why. None of the pre-flight safety presentations I heard ever mentioned why you should leave your carry-on luggage. (Getting it slows down the exit of those getting of the plane last and blocks the aisles by taking up more space.)

The book also reveals that engineers do not understand how people react in an emergency. The World Trade Center Towers took twice as long to evacuate as engineers had estimated. The stairways, although meeting the building code, were too narrow. To make them wider would have meant losing rental space.

The prevailing model of human action is the water molecule. The idea is that people flow like water in pipes. Molecules are not emotional. They are passive. People quite emotional. They deny reality. They forget. They become irrational. Better models of human behavior are available, but getting the designers to use them is difficult.

The book should be required reading for every safety engineer. The book raises many questions about prevailing assumptions. Everyone else would benefit from the book because it leads one to think about safety. In a disaster you are often on your own.

Posted in Book reviews | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

No Babies Here

Posted by heyrandy on August 14, 2012

How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam Is Dying Too) David P. Goldman, 2001

This book is an eye opener. The book’s major thesis is that civilizations have throughout history died because they did not produce enough children. The birth dearth was death. This phenomenon is evident in most developed countries. This decline in fertility is a huge problem for many western countries. It is also a problem for most of the Islāmic countries.

People do not have children because they lose hope in the future. It becomes a matter of living one’s life for one’s self. There are many factors that bring this thinking about, but religion is the main one. When people lose their beliefs, they focus upon themselves. It is a case of “Live for today because tomorrow does not count.”

Goldman cites population statistics to make his case. The fertility data track well with the decline in religion. Quebec, Canada is an example. Catholicism in Quebec went from a high of 88% Mass attendance in 1960 to 20% in 1980. Today Catholicism in Quebec is largely dead. The form remains, but it is hollow. The birth rate fell with the religion. Quebec’s birth rate is well below replacement, and declining.

It worse in Iran. There the birth rate is lower. But what makes it so terrible is the fact that many young women are financing their college education by prostitution. Iran is an Islāmic republic run by hardcore theocratic mullahs. The young don’t care. To them Islam is true, but so what?

Goldman writes a column under the name “Spengler.” Throughout the book he postulates “Spengler’s Laws.” The one that I find most incisive is “A country isn’t beaten until it sells its women, but it’s damned when its women sell themselves.” This to obtain a degree from a university Western schools regard as a diploma mill.

Education of women is the single most accurate predictor of the decline in fertility. The data are consistent in all societies. The more educated the women, the fewer children they will have. The population bomb was defused in the classroom.

It is not all gloom. The two bright spots are Israel and the United States. Here the birth rates are at or above replacement. Religion is the reason. It is Orthodox Judaism in Israel and Evangelical Christianity in the U.S. Both of these religions offer transcendence and a hope in the future.

Goldman spends some time discussing Islam’s conflict with Modernity. It is an abrasive relationship that Islam is losing and is going to keep losing.  The reasons are the structure of the Islāmic family and the attitude toward the Qur’an.

Islamic society is a copy of the paterfamilias of ancient Rome. The father was the head of state with power of life and death over the rest of the family members. It becomes a matter of family, clan, and tribe. The individual has no rights. This system works only in a largely agrarian, illiterate world. The internet exacerbates the problem.

The Muslim view of the Qur’an is the second problem. This view sees the Qur’an as being dictated to Mohammed. Therefore any disagreement, doubt, or question is not allowed. Goldman cites one Arab Jesuit as saying that it is a case of “The Word became Paper.” Muslims are against any textual or historical criticism of the Qur’an. Unlike the Old and New Testaments which have withstood several centuries of the most rigorous criticism, the Qur’an has never be subjected to such scrutiny. Scholars who attempt such work do so at physical peril.

The book is filled with historical references which the author uses to explain the current situation. He makes much of the Thirty Year’s War to explain the decline of Christianity in Europe. Read this book to understand the problem most countries are facing but ignoring.

Posted in Book reviews | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

It Has Begun

Posted by heyrandy on August 13, 2012

Uncommon Dissent Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing, William Dembski, ed., 2004

This is an amazing collection of essays. It is an academically fired shot at the most sacred doctrine of the West’s secular religion. To criticize Darwinism is heresy. These authors are genuine heretics. They have looked at Emperor Darwin and seen that he is ugly when naked.

Not long ago it would have been impossible to get a serious, intellectually based critique of evolution. The only people who criticized evolution were “them,” the creationists. They were dismissed as kooks. Creation was (and still is) dismissed as not being science. The evolutionists appeared to have won the battle. Wasn’t the decisive shot fired in the Scopes trial? Had not the Genesis account been discredited? Had not evolution been vindicated? Not quite.

The evangelical wing of Christianity has emerged from its self-imposed isolation. It is on the attack. The evolutionist’s free ride is over. There is mounting dissatisfaction with evolutionary theory. Advances in every field of science are raising doubts. There are cracks in the façade. Dembski’s book is evidence of this.

The essays in the book address evolution from a variety of perspectives. Some of the writers are creationists but some are secular. This variety of perspectives gives the book a broad face with which to address evolution’s weaknesses.

Perhaps the best thing the essays do is establish the religious nature of evolution. By exposing the rhetoric that conceals the lack of physical evidence and by pointing out the things that evolutionary theory did not predict and cannot explain, the authors bring real criticism to bear on this holy theory.

Nancy Pearcey’s essay, “Darwin meets the Berenstain Bears: Evolution as a Total Worldview,” address the matter of evolution’s becoming a universal explanation. Evolutionists are Darwinizing everything. What ever humans do, it is because of evolution. We are no longer free agents. We are merely products of natural selection. Ethics is no more. Given the premises of evolution, how can one disagree? If there is only naturalism we are not guided by anything but naturalism. The evolutionists, except for those who advocate this theory, disagree. They have no case. The logic is against them. They protest; they command; but the tide rolls in. They must retreat or drown.

My favorite essay is the one that inspired the book. David Berlinski’s June 1996 essay in Commentary, “The Deniable Darwin.” is reprinted in the book along with some of the letters the essay generated. The letters are quite revealing. Berlinski responds to the letters, showing the evolutionary establishment does not tolerate heretics.

I recommend the book for all who think that evolution is a settled matter. Dembski says best: “In commending this book to the reader, I wish to leave the Darwinists with this closing thought: You have had it way too easy until now. It is no longer credible to conflate informed criticism of Darwinism with ignorance, stupidity, insanity, wickedness, or brainwashing.” (p. xxxvii, italics in original). The battle is joined.

Posted in Book reviews | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »