Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nonbeliever Nation by David Niose

Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans, David Niose.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan®, St. Martin's Press L.L.C., 2012.   e-book, 256 pps., incl extensive footnotes and an index.

Things have certainly changed politically in the United States since 1912 and even since the sixties, and not necessarily for the better.  I am astonished at the things that people believe and appalled at how often ignorance masquarades as divine deification.  Nonbeliever Nation opens with a piece of information that I did not know.  All of the candidates in that presidential race ascribed to darwinian evolution theory. 

In the present day, we have the takeover of the Republican Party by fundamentalist Christians and friends.  [I might have been a Republican by now if it weren't for that.  My good friend Jeremy Crow is a Republican (and yes, a Christian) and I've learned an awful lot from him].  Now we also have Democratic politicians who also have to do their part to campaign for Jesus, lest they be accused of being lawless unpatriotic atheists.  So all these politicians are talking about Jesus, faith, and something erroneously refered to as our common "Judeo-Christian heritage."  Meanwhile, a bunch of men want to make laws that basically put the life of a fetus ahead of the life of a woman-- regardless of whether or not that fetus was a result of incest or rape.  Institutions have "feelings."  And the atheists, agnostics, secularists, and the non-religious humanists have been discarded from American political discourse.

Nonbeliever Nation addresses these issues head-on.  David Niose provides numerous examples-- backed up by extensive footnotes and identification of sources-- illustrating a side of the culture wars that is frequently unheard from.  His writing is to the point.  His ideas are developed and follow a logical flow.  I liked this book.  A lot.

sapphoq reviews says: As David Niose maintains, the American "nones" can certainly take a page from the G.L.B.T.I.Q. movement in terms of the effectiveness of identity politics.  The personal is political.  It's about time we "nones," atheists, agnostics, non-theists, non-religious humanists, secularists resist the enforced march into the back rooms of libraries and bookstores.  We are growing.  If we want a more humane United States, then we need to take action. 
In case anyone who knows me or reads my blog doesn't know this:  I am patriotic. I love my country.  I am proud to be an American.  I am an atheist.  I am a non-theist.  I am a secular humanist.    I participate in the Atheist Rollcall on Twitter on Sundays from time to time.  And I am pissed off.
Nonbeliever Nation is highly recommended to all voting Americans, regardless of political party or religious viewpoints.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Argo by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio

Argo: How the C.I.A. and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History, Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio.  New York: Viking (Penguin Group), 2012.  e-book, 234 pps.

Iran is on my list of places I've always wanted to visit but probably will never get to see.  I remember well the thrill of viewing the Persian art exhibit at the Met (a.k.a. MOMA; New York Museum of Modern Art).  The little jewels in the paintings shone and beaconed me to a place that I have never been.  But the wars and the Revolutions and fundamentalist Islam changed those dreams forever and have forced me to become an armchair traveler.

I was young and angry-- quite angry-- when our Embassy was taken over by a bunch of students so many years ago.  I sang "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" along with the radio until that song was removed from the airwaves.  I had a poster hanging on the back porch displaying similar sentiments until someone who knew better than I did quietly ripped it down.  I had very little grasp of history and no understanding of current events or foreign affairs.  I had no clue why we couldn't just bomb the whole country and be done with it.  The hostages could have a nice memorial erected in their honor in Washington, D.C.  Age has a way of granting perspective in spite of our best efforts otherwise.  And I've gotten older.  Sure beats the alternative.

Somehow in my youthful fog and in my investigations into the students who were holding the hostages later on, I missed the fact that there were six Americans who had escaped the Embassy during the takeover and were trapped in Iran.  They landed as houseguests of some folks who were part of the Canadian Embassy.  Argo is co-written by one of the folks who helped extract the six from Tehran. 

sapphoq reviews says: Argo was especially fascinating to me because it introduced the concept of exfiltration to me.  I also learned that the C.I.A. employs experts in forgery and in disguises.  Agents and spies need disguises, false documents, and cover stories in order to carry out their missions.  So do, it turns out, defectors and escapees from hostile embassy takeovers.  Argo filled me in on some basic stuff like why my dad and other folks his age who served in the military don't care for Ike.  Any book that can introduce new-to-me concepts is a sure winner in my way of thinking.  I highly recommend Argo to folks who are looking for a snapshot of history as exciting as any thriller.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Shadow of the Lion by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer

The Shadow of the Lion, Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, and Dave Freer.  Riverdale, N.Y.: Baen Publishing, 2002.  e-book, 811 pps.

I came upon Mercedes Lackey's books via her Valdemar series.  Some folks I know object to talking "horses."  I was immediately captivated by them and tales of their heralds.  I've read lots of her books and so I was delighted to find that Baen Publishing offers some of her books on e-format free.  The Shadow of the Lion was one of those offers and it did not disappoint.

Shadow of the Lion offers an alternative history of Venice, Italy.  There are canals and folks living in the swamps, thieves and princes, barons and sailors, corrupt men far up in the hierarchy of the Holy Roman Catholic Church and corrupt politicians, healers and demons and monsters but-- for those who object to talking "horses"-- no heralds or their companions.

All of the characters in The Shadow of the Lion are expertly developed.  I especially enjoyed Maria, the woman who makes her living on her gondola, the swamp rats, the brothers Marco and Benito, Caesare, and the monster.  I found myself invested in their lives and their outcomes.  Many of them reminded me of facets of the personalities of some of my Italian relations.  I was there in Venice watching the action.  I held my breath as the monster swam around, negotiated the rooftops with nimble Benito, and immersed myself in the intrigues and intricacies surrounding the royal families. 

sapphoq reviews says: The Shadow of the Lion has a grand sense of place and history about it.  The length of the book was needed to tell the stories of the folks in it.  The use of magic in the book was succinct and aided in the tale itself.  Highly recommended for any who enjoy alternative histories and well-done fantasies.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Cult That Snapped, by Karl Kahler

The Cult That Snapped: A Journey Into The Way International, Karl Kahler.  self-published? 1999.  e-book, 410 pps.

Karl Kahler has written a fairly comprehensive book dealing with both some history of The Way, International and his own personal experiences as a W.O.W. [Word Over the World ambassador].  Kahler had dropped out of high school and was seeking his fortune working at his dad's business when a co-worker insisted one day that a hitchhiker be picked up.  Her name was Valencia from Connecticut.  She was cute and sexy and drank and shot pool. It was a walk across the street to meet the rest of the gang, self-styled quasi-teachers of the Bible a la V.P. Weirwille, the leader of The Way. 

V.P. had some erroneous notions-- the biggest one being that the Bible-- the part starting with Matthew at least-- was written in Aramaic, not Greek.  His followers smoked cigarettes, cussed, drank, and were as free with having sex with anyone that moved, just like he was.  His empire fell apart with the advent of his death and L. Craig Martindale's assumption of the mantle of leadership.

Kahler was around for the last part of V.P. and the first bits of Martindale.  [Martindale is out now.  According to the official website of The Way, International, the new leader is a woman who was a vice president when Kahler was around].  Martindale was intent on having his own witch hunt.  So he dumped a bunch of people, including folks who opposed him. 

Kahler had been having doubts about the teachings, lots of doubts.  He studied Joshua and Judges and found internal inconsistencies and stuff not substantiated by the historical record.   A trip to Israel cinched it for him pretty much when he found that the story of Jesus casting a bunch of demons into some swine was cited in two of the gospels as happening in "the country of the Gadarenes" and in "the country of the Gergesenes" were two really different places some miles apart during the tour.

At any rate, Kahler found that he no longer believed the stuff he had been taught in V.P. style classes and biblical study groups.  He left, but Martindale kicked him out officially by letter three years later.

sapphoq reviews says: The Cult That Snapped includes a lot of history of the movement started by V.P. Wierwille and how the cult operated to recruit members.  I applaud Kahler for getting out after he found that he no longer was a Christian.  I suspect that this book won't have the same appeal to others that some of the other "losing my religion/leaving my former cult" books I've recently read because of both the historical content and the scriptural exigeneses in its' pages.  Still and all, The Cult That Snapped is worthy in its' own right.  Recommended. 

The Guru Looked Good by Marta Szabo

The Guru Looked Good: A Memoir, Marta Szabo.  Woodstock N.Y.: Tinker Street Press, 2009.  344 pps., e-book.

Marta Szabo got herself a guru.  Well, two in fact-- one at a time.  The first guy was called Natvar.  He was abusive.  It took seven years to leave him.  But she left her boyfriend, apartment, life, and dreams for Natvar's former guru-- the one he himself had before he went bad.  She was a woman by the name of Gurumayi and she was associated with a large center in the Catskill Mountains of New York State [which I believe has been since sold] and with one in Ganeshpuri, India.  Gurumayi is, as far as I can tell from looking through various Internet sites, the head of the S.Y.D.A. Foundation ®. .  And there are bunches of other ashrams around which are also Siddha Yoga ashrams.  Unfortunately, the guru Natvar's guru-- Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, the Gurumayi of Szabo's book stands accused of improprieties.  Gurumayi Chidvilasanda's guru-- Baba Muktananda-- is dead now but has been similarly accused.  These alleged improprieties are documented on such sites as the one put up by Pendragon and now maintained by Daniel Shaw, the introduction being where a link can be found to more info at .  But Szabo's memoir does not go into the accusations as she has some of her own to make.

Szabo spent a decade on staff at the Fallsburg ashram in the Catskills and chronicles how she had put her writing life on hold in exchange for someone else's "I know better how to do your life than you do."  Szabo's words on page 341 have the ring of truth:
     I began reading books on cults and recognized what
     I saw.  Over and over, people doing what in their
     heart of hearts they didn't completely believe in or
     support, but doing it because they thought someone
     else knew better.  Doing it because they were afraid
     to speak up.

sapphoq reviews says: The Guru Looked Good is an excellent book with a crisp writing style that is authentic and clear.  Highly recommended to those who are in Siddha Yoga, were in Siddha Yoga, survivors who have left cults, and anyone who is comtemplating "finding a guru."  I am looking forward to reading more from Marta Szabo.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Adele, et. al., by Adele R. Fors

Adele et. al.,: Jehovah's Witnesses, Hells Angels, Serial Killers, Dissociative Identity Disorder... and a 14-year-old Run-Away.  2011: Smashwords Edition ebook, 165 pps.

Adele grew up in a Jehovah's Witness family.  There were problems.  Her father was undemonstrative and pre-occupied with Kingdom Hall Elder matters.  Her mother was unhappy with this and also unable to reach Adele emotionally.  When Adele was fourteen years old, she was disfellowshipped.

For several years Adele hung out with various outlaw bikers, hooked up with a few men, and became a prostitute of her own volition.  At seventeen, she turned up pregnant and went crawling back to the Kingdom Hall to beg forgiveness.  She progressed into adulthood and pointedly identified that she had other personalities inside of her.  She got into psychiatric treatment and a bad marriage, had jobs and lost the last one, was in University.  And she was once again disfellowshipped.

sapphoq reviews says:  I've known a few folks who were diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder [what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder].  Although Adele alluded to this diagnosis in her ebook and named several members of her system, I was unable to get a good feel for what her different personas were like nor for the transition between them.  This is vastly different from my experience with D.I.D. acquaintances.  Their personas had distinct personalities and not just distinct ages.  The other memoirs that I've read about D.I.D. folk were convincing in their descriptions of their alters.  Adele's descriptions were not.  
     At the same time, I must admit that I have zero professional qualifications in respect to dissociative disorders and I've never met Adele.  After M.P.D. became a controversial diagnosis, its' name got changed.  Even so, the arguments over it did not cease publicly or privately.  Forgive me audience if I am somewhat skeptical over the whole D.I.D. thing.
     I do know that it is an act of bravery when anyone talks about their psychiatric symptoms.  Adele certainly is brave, and a survivor of a bunch of really traumatic stuff like multiple rapes.  I was saddened to discover that she was disfellowshipped [the first time] at the age of fourteen and therefore effectively thrown out of her parents' home.
     Adele et. al. did not totally sustain my interest.  Thus I find I cannot recommend this book.

The Day My Mother Snapped by Jeff Graham

The Day My Mother Snapped, Jeff Graham.  No identifying data as to year or publisher, probably self-published.  e-book, 5 pages.

I was quite taken by The Day My Mother Snapped.  The young boy in the story is named Andrew and one day his mother goes bonkers.  She suddenly believes that he is an imposter of her young son Andrew.  She is diagnosed with Capgras Syndrome [also called Capgra's Delusion in a few places on the Internet].  There are consequences for the young boy as a result of his mother's illness.

sapphoq reviews says: To my knowledge, I've never met anyone with Capgras.  The websites that I looked up all reference Capgras occuring along with a primary disorder such as schizophrenia or brain damage.  Although the writing in The Day My Mother Snapped is not the work of a professional, I was startled by this short story.  I am looking forward to more by Jeff Graham.  Recommended. 

The Cult Next Door by Elizabeth R. Burchard and Judith L. Carlone

The Cult Next Door: A True Story of a Suburban Manhattan New Age Cult, Elizabeth R. Burchard and Judith L. Carlone.  Bergenfield N.J.: Ace Academics, Inc., 2011.  ebook, 345 pps.

Elizabeth R. Burchard grew up in Manhattan.  Her parents divorced.  Her father was stable but died when Liz was twelve years old.  Her mother was whacked out and verbally abused Liz frequently throughout her childhood.

Liz was smart and was in college pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a shrink when she met George Sharkman, a biofeedback technician during the course of his work.  He was a charming talker and roped both Liz and her dysfunctional mother in with his words.

He started what is referred to as "The Group," a quasi-therapy group at his home.  He had a bunch of women there and a few men, and his two kids and a dog named Ben.  He charged the women and the few men forty bucks an hour and his form of therapy devolved into mass marathons and his pick of sex partners.  He encouraged everyone to have sex with each other.  The author found herself married to a man that she didn't care for.  After that broke up, she still stayed in The Group.  George Sharkman began to channel "God's Light" but then he began to refer to his own self as God.  He started doing a lot of shaking so the group did too.  The dog died and George got the group to hang around and sort of hope for the dog's return to life.  Ben's decaying maggot-infested corpse was hidden behind the couch and brought out when The Group was in session.  The Group was in session as often as George could arrange it-- at forty bucks an hour per participant for as many hours daily as possible, it was worth his while to make it so-- and George also offered individual therapy as he saw fit to add to his income.  One day, the Black Dog Cult members were presented with a bunch of pebbles laying on Ben's body and told that Ben had birthed these stones.  This started The Group on sucking rocks.

Liz began a photography business as she had become a college dropout and her inheritance from her father went to George Sharkman.  She was hoodwinked into taking on George's daughter as a partner and also lived with her for awhile as roommates.  She met Judith L. Carlone and Judith's husband.  With Judith's gentle questions and friendship, Liz made her escape from all things Sharkman good.  Unfortunately, her mother remained behind.  George Sharkman died.  The dog never was brought back to life.  He was returned to his grave near the woods.

sapphoq reviews says: The Cult Next Door shows how easily it is for someone to decide to join a cult.  Liz was highly intelligent but she capitulated.  Her writing is crisp and she keeps her memoir moving.  Highly recommended to any who wish to understand more about how a talkative con guru can seduce folks into joining up.

Blown for Good by Marc Headley

Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology, by Marc Headley.  Self-published, BFG Books Inc., at Smashwords, 823 pps. on e-reader.

 It is because of this book that I recently refused to attend a talk by an inspirational speaker that some of my TOPS [Take Off Pounds Sensibly] pals were waxing enthusiastly over.  I looked up the speaker's name on the Internet.  When I found that he listed himself as having worked "in the film industry in Hollywood" for some years, I became suspicious.  The clincher was the overflowing with happiness tone to his writing on his website.  Is he a Scientology?  I don't know.  Blown for Good informed me that Scientologists who worked for the Headquarters were told to say they worked in film if asked by outsiders what they did for a living.  I wasn't willing to take a chance that the speaker might be a sneaker stumper for Scientology who just might have worked at Golden Era Productions just as Marc Headley had.

Marc Headley grew up in a Scientology family.  His parents got divorced and remained Scientologists.  His mother's steady stream of new boyfriends were Scientologists.  Marc attended Scientology schools as a kid-- with an occasional break of public school or no school at all if his mother couldn't afford the tuition at times-- and hung out with other kids also growing up in Scientology.  After his living arrangements repeatedly fell apart, Headley signed up to work for Sea Org.  He was sixteen years old.  There were kids in Sea Org who were even younger than he was.

During his initial training in Sea Org, Headley first ran into a crew of folks who were being punished and were doing indeterminate stints on the Rehabilitation Project Force (R.P.F.).  The folks assigned to R.P.F. got the nastiest foulest jobs, went everywhere at a run, slept in separate R.P.F. "dorms," and were threatened with being assigned to the R.P.F.'s R.P.F. which was even worse.

Headley passed his training and then spent fifteen years working at Scientology Headquarters in Gilman Hot Springs, California-- also called Gold, for Golden Era Productions.  He had enough contact with Scientology's leader David Miscavige to recognize that Miscavige seemed to get pleasure out of humiliating and punishing people.  Headley even had a punching session with Miscavige in which Headley's face served as Miscavige's punching bag.

Headley had worked for Headquarters for fifteen years when he was falsely accused of embezzlement.  He was sentenced to go to R.P.F.  He decided to blow [leave].  Some folks tried to get him back and even ran his motorcycle off the road in the process.  The upshot was when Headley began to make a scene in the road, they backed off and left.  He was escorted to the town and made his break.  His wife blew shortly thereafter.

sapphoq reviews says: Blown for Good is an excellent book for anyone interested in this subject matter.  Most highly recommended.  I wish Marc Headley, his wife Claire, and his children much happiness as they walk in true freedom.