Thursday, August 29, 2013

Guerrilla Gardening by David Tracey

Guerrilla Gardening: A Manualfesto, David Tracey.  Gabriola Island BC Canada: New Society Publishers, 2007.  e-book, 226 pps.

Guerrilla Gardening: A Manualfesto is not a new item for me.  I love it and since I've recently re-read it, I thought I would share its goodness with you.  I like gardening.  I like direct action stuff.  I like making a difference.  Guerrilla gardening is a movement to green up the urban sprawl by organizing a community garden, throwing seed bombs into vacant lots, planting a dwarf fruit tree in the park at midnight, and other happy stuff.  The book includes some charming black and white photos from around Vancouver but the information can be and has been applied elsewhere.  

sapphoq reviews says:  If you live within the urban sprawl and long for some community green, Guerrilla Gardening is the book for you.  After all it takes one person to start a revolution; one and a friend to gain momentum.  So yeah, get this book.  And then do it!

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of New York by Roger Tory Peterson

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of New York (PagePerfect NOOK Book), Roger Tory Peterson.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.  e-book,  500+ pps.

Roger Tory Peterson is a name that ought to be familiar to any serious birder.  In my early birding days, the Audubon birding books with their glossy color photographs were easier for me to identify most birds with.  The Peterson birding books taught me to look for field marks but the pictures were not as attractive to me since they weren't photographs.

The folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt came out with a bunch of e-books for the Barnes and Noble NOOK e-readers last year which were state-specific:  New York, Ohio, California, and Arizona were among them.  I glanced at the one for New York State that a buddy of mine had.

What I found was disappointing.  There is no working index.  An unlinked index in an e-book winds up being a mere dull list.  Not useful at all.  As is, one has to scroll through pages and pages in order to locate a bird.  This would be tedious in any birding setting.  Even knowledge of how birds are grouped together in such a bird book does not relieve the doldrums.

sapphoq reviews says:  The Peterson state-specific e-books require a linked index and delineated chapters in order to live up to the hype of being an "easy-to-use mobile guide".  Take a pass on these until this critical issue is fixed.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Happy Atheist by PZ Myers

The Happy Atheist, PZ Myers.  New York: Knoph Doubleday Publishing Group, 2013.
e-book, 167 pps.

The book is called The Happy Atheist but I keep wanting to turn it into "The Happiest Atheist" instead.  Go figure.

This is a picture of a cartoon-ized fish with a background suggestive of sand and sky.  The fish bears three stubby legs complete with the suggestion of shoes-- something that is not present in the original plate.  The fish was a derivative work based on a singular plate hanging on someone's Maine kitchen wall.  The original artist is unknown to me.  This picture actually resembles the original very very little.  The background was legally included in my legal copy of PaintShop Pro 10.

The Happy Atheist was published in e-book format on August 13, 2013-- just several days after the PZ Myers / Michael Shermer fiasco which erupted over at P.Z. Myers' blog Pharyngula-- a slim volume chock full of atheist goodness.  For posterity's sake, the post in which PZ brings to light accusations of sexual assault/rape/misconduct by several women currently exists at: : at least until a take-down notice is activated.  [Mirrors of the post and comments probably already have been made all over the Interwebz].  This bombshell has all the appearance of an ensuing court battle between the two of them.  Some guy has organized a raise finances for Michael Shermer's legal services campaign.  PZ reportedly has employed the assistance of blogger Popehat in procuring his own legal representation.

PZ Myers is no stranger to controversy.  I do remember with clarity the university student who carried his Jeebus cracker back to his church pew instead of ingesting it and the outrage that caused.  P.Z. was along for the ride.  And so was I...

 This is a picture of the white paw with orange kitty stripes at the "ankle" of the late great Twinkle reaching for what appears
to resemble a white unmarked Jeebus Cracker which has been laid to rest on one of my black pocketbooks.  Twinkle is dead but he was mine and I was his for way too short a kitty life.  The props in the picture are things that I own legally.  The picture frame came from my legally owned copy of PaintShop Pro 10.  The fonts were also included legally in said legal copy.  Fuck off copyright terrorists and information monopolizers.

"The Great Desecration" is humorously recounted beginning on page 20.  I stand by my original opinion.  The student did not steal the Jeebus cracker.  Once the priest or lay clergy handed the thing to him, the student was perfectly free to do with it as he wanted to.  I've yet to see a church setting where the mouths of parishioners are checked to ensure that vigorous swallowing of the Greatest Offering on Earth has occurred.  But yes, I digress.

One of the things that I like about the stuff I've read that PZ has written is his willingness to take on the issues of the day as related to religion-- all religion-- in his blog and in The Happy Atheist.  The chapter titles are darling and curious.  The writing is pithy and delicious.  I appreciate expertly applied snark.  After all, why should the fundamentalists have all of the fun?  Here is one such gem lifted from page 125:
     Perhaps the cruelest aspect of conservative 
     religions is their insistence that all people 
     must follow one straight and narrow path...
     By fostering fear of deviation, they impose 
     endless misery on so many people.  It's the 
     Chinese foot-binding of the human mind.
And another from page 126:
      I'd like to see the hippies win.  Peace and freedom, man...
     Besides, it makes the fundies and Republicans freak out.

One of the things that all of us ought to keep in our brains, readily accessible when we need any such reminder, is that it is not only the Republicans and the fundies "freaking out" these days.  Over on Twitter, the Unite the Blue crowd have regular twitniptions along with everyone else over well, pretty much everything everywhere.  PZ does well to mention that some folks in the less literal religions also have some batshit ideologies.  The line is crossed whenever anyone anywhere begins to loudly proclaim that there is only one way to view things, think about things, experience things.  Suddenly, a bunch of religious folks has become mystical and magical.  Because it is not enough to believe that some deity or deities somewhere dictated stuff to human beings to write down a long time ago.  The mystics among us demonstrate our willingness to do whatever we have to in order to make old time religion appetizing to the masses.  We've become evangelical in our delusions that said deity or deities communicate with us directly as if we were all secretaries waiting for the latest and greatest jibberish to arrive over the live wire.   

The ugliness of religious belief occurs when people decide that religion, religious traditions, and religious mysticism ought to dictate political policy.  To state, "This is what I believe and I believe it regardless of the scientific canon, dammit" is quite different from the twisting of science to fit a religious mold.  PZ covers the dilemma that some folks feel regarding the science / religion split in a chapter titled "Science is What We do to Keep from Lying to Ourselves."  I am free to believe whatever I want to.  If I want to believe that there is a tree spirit residing in the crab apple tree, I'm free to do so.  Involving others in my belief system and then lobbying so that my idea about a tree spirit out back is included in science textbooks to be taught in public schools is a bit over the top.  [N.B.: By the way, the Lemon Test is what is currently supposed to guide public school education policies, not decision-making strictly on the basis of what belief systems the majority of public students in public schools-- or their families-- hold.  This is part of why home-schooling is a viable choice for some percentage of families.].   We have a past president who supposedly ordered an invasion based on a sincerely held belief in end time theology and biblical prophecy.  We have a current president who attends church services on Sundays and spits out the most errant nonsense concerning his belief that we all ought to bend over and take willingly up the ass what the N.S.A. is doing to us and in our name because privacy is the direct opposite of security.  

Reality and truth are objective, not subjective.  Science serves to reign in the worse of the cray which is sleeping beneath our feet.  Calling on the Invisible Pink Unicorn, bless her holy hooves, to save us when we are required as adults to save ourselves from our own stupidity is bad form.  Yet, religion comforts many people who are not looking to some hereafter in order to escape current adult responsibilities.  At one time, it comforted me to some degree.  Visualizing "eternity" or "nothingness" or "ceasing to exist in any form" is mind-blowing.  My knowledge that it is almost certain that I will never be re-united with Twinkle across some fabled rainbow bridge forces me to appreciate the happy memories that I do have of him rather than look to the relief of my grief in some fictional future after I also expire.  Most of us are free to hold contradictory opinions about nonsense.  As long as we also take on the mantle of our adult responsibilities instead of holding out for hand-outs, we are probably satisfactory human beings.  Yet, ancient tribal identity required a certain amount of imperialism.  Our brains are not entirely modernized.  It is indeed our brains that inform us that the fables we grew up with are superior to those of our neighbors across the ocean, desert, or mountain range.  The shrill screaming that "My god or gods is or are better than your god or gods" is the stuff that has to stop if we are to survive well on Space-ball Earth.  There is no mothership waiting to blast us away to a new home once we nuke this one.  If only the whole lot of us can advance enough to learn how to stop endeavoring to kill each other off.

sapphoq reviews saysI like P.Z. Myers and I don't give a damn about the controversy regarding his latest remarks concerning what women have alleged regarding Michael Shermer.  Actually, I support PZ's exposure of what women have alleged, even if I fear that the involvement of the legal system will make things end rather badly.  Fact:  Reporting a rape, sexual assault, or other to the authorities does not always result in justice or even in relief for the victims.  Been there.  Done that.  Got the t-shirt. 
We have all become too nice in the arena of civil discourse.  We are hawks at war but chickens in public.  Disagreement is now a sign of trolling.  Trolls are bad, m'kay.  And of course we ought to be willing to hand over our wallet info to any jackass interwebz service that comes along.  And these new atheists are big meanie poo-poo heads.  Sigh.
     The Happy Atheist is a pretty good collection of PZ Myers' writing that is representative of his clear-headed thinking about stuff.  The only criticism I have is that it is individuals on all sides [not just the Republicans] who are guilty when it comes to politicking for inane bullshit.  So yeah, get hold of the book and read it.  Yeah, and read it before writing your "reviews" on the book sites offering the startling revelation that PZ is going to your version of Hel along with the rest of the heathens in your glorious hereafter.  As always, the salt pits are most dangerous to those that show a predilection toward a type of high blood pressure that is sensitive to salt.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Made Men by Greg B. Smith

Made Men:  The True Rise-and-Fall Story of a New Jersey Mob Family, Greg B. Smith.  New York: Penguin Group, 2003.  e-book, 240 pps.

It didn't really take the HBO series "The Sopranos" to call my attention to the goings on of the New Jersey mafioso, in spite of what the book claims.  Some of us knew that the Mafia was alive and doing well in Jersey and the rest of us were in serious denial.  Made Men offers a time-limited slice of the Jersey mob.  The thing is, I have no recall of any real-life reference to the fellows as "farmers."  I'm not saying that wasn't a true nickname.  I'm just saying that I've never heard of the Jersey guys referenced that way before I read Made Men.

I don't know what took me so long to find this book.  We've got lots of other histories of various crime personalities and organizations laying around the house.  At any rate, I did find it.

sapphoq reviews says: The book Made Men is notable for what was left out as well as for what was included.  There is no or very little mention of a problem with the State Troopers, counterfeiting, or corrupt Newark officials.  Also not included was the splitting of the guys into several locations besides Newark-- Atlantic City and Philadelphia to be specific-- and the in-fighting which resulted in that split.  I noted with some amusement the claims that the Jersey Mafia is dead, wiped out, gone.  Those claims-- as well as the claims that the Mafia on the whole is on the way out thanks to the F.B.I. and a bunch of turncoats-- are inaccurate.  
     Made Men is a severely limited snapshot of the DeCavalcantes crime family.  Certainly, a sequel covering the trial and afterwards would have been welcome.  As it is, I cautiously recommend Made Men to those with lower reading levels and to those who read all Mafia histories regardless of quality.  Actually, perhaps I don't recommend it at all.  There is a slew of other books which cover the same period of time with grave attention to much more detail. Go find yourselves one of them to read instead.

Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende

Maya's Notebook: A Novel, Isabel Allende.  New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.  e-book, 315 pps.

Maya Vidal is a teen who got into big trouble after the death of a beloved family member.  The bad guys-- along with the F.B.I.-- were after her and this necessitated her escape to a small island off of the coast of Chile.  While there, she discovers a different way of being.  The title refers to a notebook or a journal that Maya is keeping while she is on the small island.  Maya's entries at first are much like those that I would expect from a recently traumatized victim-- detached with evidence of hyper-vigilence peeking through.  As Maya heals, her entries reflect this healing and become more colorful and emotional.

sapphoq reviews saysI found Maya's character to be likeable and the novel to be accurate in its' depiction of island life within a somewhat insulated yet deeply caring society of residentsThe writing is lyrical and this is a book not to be rushed through.  I relished every word of Maya's NotebookHighly recommended.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling, J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith.  New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2013.  e-book, 453 pps.

By now, the grand secret is out and anyone with a computer surely must know that J.K. Rowling wrote a murder mystery under an assumed name.  She was duly pissed when the secret leaked out.  J.K. wanted to know if she could make it as a writer without resorting to her own name.  Truthfully, she has nothing to worry about on that score.  The Casual Vacancy  is more than credible evidence of her writing talent.  The Cuckoo's Calling is further evidence of her versatility as a writer.

There is a private dick by the name of Cormoran Strike, a pretty engaged secretary sent over by the temp agency who is known as Robin Ellacott, a dead starlet, the starlet's mysterious brother and tempermental photographer and a street bud, and some other people.  The novel opens with the aftermath created by a pretty model plunging to her death off her balcony and the crowd that assembles afterwards. 

Comoran Strike, the private investigator, has just been booted from his living arrangement with a soon to be divorced wife.  He is in desperate straits and his business is going down the flusher.  The temp secretary arrives in the midst of the mess.  Strike is less than pleased to see her but eventually adjusts to her presence.  Robin proves both resourceful and valuable to his office.  The dead woman's brother shows up and Comoran begins to investigate although the death was already ruled a suicide.  The story unfolds and Comoran, with the help of his trusty temp secretary. solves the crime. 

sapphoq reviews says:  Although some reviewers have complained about the frequent presence of the f-bomb throughout the pages of The Cuckoo's Calling, the fact remains that J.K. has written a book for adults and it is clearly labeled as such.  I found the cursing to be believable.  The characters were multi-faceted and likeable.  The storyline kept my interest.  J.K.'s in-depth descriptions added greatly to the book.  This one's a keeper.  Highly recommended, especially to those who like Agatha Christie and other crime fics.

Finding Harmony by Sally Hyner

Finding Harmony:  The remarkable dog that helped a family through the darkest of times, Sally Hyner.  New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.  e-book, 224 pps.

Sally was a nurse in her twenties when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  She was married and had been used to hiking about the mountains with her husband Peter.  There was enough money to be had.  They'd taken some exotic trips to Morocco and to China.  They were living in London but later moved to Scotland.  After diagnosis, Sally went on to have three children-- a boy and two girls-- and the youngest named Melissa was diagnosed with autism.

Sally's M.S. spiraled and she needed the use of a wheelchair.  She wanted to maintain her independence and so she was accepted to get a service dog.  Harmony was that dog.  Harmony was a retriever with freckles and a delightful personality.  Harmony took to Sally and also especially to Melissa.  Sally was able to acquire a chair scooter and later on she got a sort of off-road rugged terrain wheelchair.  She and Harmony were able to climb mountains together.

sapphoq reviews says:  This book is a nice book about a service dog and a woman who did not give in easily when confronted with the great crippler of young women.  It was a bit slow-moving but an easy to read book.  Finding Harmony was not the best dog story I've ever read but it was not the worse either.  Recommended to those teen and adult readers who like dog stories.