Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Your God is Too Small by the citizens of Atheist Republic

Your God is Too Small: 50 Essays on Life, Love, and Liberty Without Religion, Atheist Republic. self-published: Armin Navabi, 2014, e-book, 300 pages.



Armin Navabi is the founder of Atheist Republic.

     Atheist Republic has blogs, forums, a coming soon podcast, a news section and more on the site http://www.atheistrepublic.com. I didn't know about it until I happened upon the free e-book containing fifty essays by bloggers under the atheist republic umbrella. 

     Published via Smashwords, the common criticism lodged against many of the other self-published authors there does not hold true for Your God is Too Small. I found zero mistakes in grammar and spelling. To anyone who hesitates at the Smashwords label, go ahead and download this free e-book. My only criticism is that the urls to the videos were omitted in the individual essays. I don't know whether that is a stipulation from Smashwords or an oversight by the citizens of Atheist Republic.

     There is a lot to love about Your God is Too Small. I relished the section on Islam. Although some percentage of the populace makes it a practice to not criticize the doings of any religious organizations, the essays included about Islam make it clear that Atheist Republic citizens don't hesitate to take on any topic of necessity. Several essays address the human rights violations and atrocities evident within modern-day Islam as well as the idea that it was not that long ago that mainstream Christian churches also shared in implicit guilt as related to genocide [Rwanda, Hitler, and the Crusades all spring to my mind]. Circumcision of both males [common in Judaism] and females [in some predominantly Muslim countries] is treated as the mutilation that it is. Even slaughtering beef using kosher methods is not given a pass.

     Some of us within the atheist communities who have been experimenting with a "Live and Let Live" laissez-faire approach to more fundamentalist believers have discovered that those believers do not feel bound by the same principle in dealing with us. I don't know of any studies done to support my own anecdotal observations about the clashes on Twitter (tm, no copyright infringement intended) which occur between atheists and believers. Making a statement like "I am an atheist. I don't believe in any gods" or even "Jesus Christ is my personal savior" or "There is no god but Allah" is quite different from "Atheists are scumbags" sort of statements that flow from some Christian and Muslim accounts. Fundamentalism of any variety is dangerous. One only has to research "Charlie Hedbo" to find illustrations of why that is so. Your God is Too Small also reminded me that atheism is punishable by death in some countries today. We atheists cannot afford to sit back and congratulate ourselves on our blossoming presence on social media.

sapphoq reviews says: I have been looking for a new country. I think I will join up at Atheist Republic and observe where the citizenship there takes me. I highly recommend Your God is Too Small to atheists and other freethinkers and to those non-atheists who are interested in an intellectual exploration of what life might be like on our side of logic.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cool, Hip & Sober by Bill Manville

Cool, Hip & Sober: 88 Ways to Beat Booze and Drugs, Bill Manville. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2004. e-book, 705 pps.

     For those who don't know, Chit Chat over in Pennsylvania is officially "The Caron Foundation." Bill Manville refers to Chit Chat in his book. He was doing a radio show at the time that this book was published. Many of the questions included in Cool, Hip & Sober came from callers or are composites of questions phoned in by callers to his show.

     The title of the book is a bit misleading. There are not really 88 ways offered to beat active addiction. But there are 88 questions and extensive answers. Manville proposes the standard route these days to recovery; time in a detox if needed, then a rehab using the Minnesota model coupled with attendance at [primarily A.A.] meetings. Manville includes those who are addicted to other drugs besides the drug alcohol in his use of the word alcoholic. While I am not entirely comfortable with that decision, I don't have to be. The terminology works for the audience that Cool, Hip & Sober is aimed at.

     Cool, Hip & Sober grew on me. At first I thought to myself nothing much new here. Yet I kept reading and through the professionalism [which Manville attempts to escape in his answers] quite a bit of common sense shows through. Manville does not pussyfoot around sore subjects. He tells it like it is without giving into that misnamed monstrosity "tough love" that folks not in the know of the history of said phrase appear to relish tossing around.

sapphoq reviews says: Bill Manville's Cool, Hip & Sober holds appeal to a general mixed audience. Recommended for anyone with basic questions about addiction and recovery.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Divergent the movie

Divergent [the movie, 2014], Vanessa Taylor, Evan Daugherty, Veronica Roth.

     I'm frugal and housemate is cheap ergo I didn't watch Divergent until this year and not in a movie theater. Alas, the price for a movie has gone way up. The prices for the obligatory popcorn and other assorted movie foods have done the same.

     I don't know who among you have read or not read the books-- I love all of them-- so I won't be doing any plot spoilers here. Veronica Roth is a fine author and I look forward to more from her. She has created a wonderful dystopia for her series. At first, the society appears to be functioning at an ideal level. People are sorted into groups once they hit the age of eighteen and have taken the required test. The test itself involves the administration of a chemical which induces hallucinations. How the subject responds to the distressing scenes determines where the subject would do best. Even so, once the new adults are informed of their test results, they are allowed to pick which group to join.

     I like special effects. Divergent certainly fills the bill on that one. There was lots of jumping off of moving trains onto buildings and some really cool fighting. In my opinion, actresses Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet stole the show. Their characters were believable and well-played. As for plot and message, they were also satisfying. Although some critics have panned Divergent for plot obscuring the message, I disagree with them there.

sapphoq reviews says: For those who relish the Divergent Series, the movie will not disappoint. For those who don't, your loss. Highly recommended.
     As usual, parents need to take responsibility for what their kids watch instead of griping about cuss words and teenage love. Just saying.

Adolf Hitler by John Toland

Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography, John Toland. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2014. e-book, 1337 pps.

     A good historian is much like a good scientist, following the evidence and being prepared to dump out pet notions when necessary.  I didn't like history much in school. I never understood why I should memorize all those dates when I could easily look them up as needed. Textbook history pales in comparison to the ways in which my dad endeavored to make history come alive to me. I saw all of the places on the east coast that George Washington slept, every place that was someplace in D.C. and Philly, several battlefields, and many history happened here places that escape the common man. As an adult, I discovered history on television. Housemate was quick to point out where Hollywood had gotten things wrong. Gradually, I started reading books by "real" historians which weren't the canned syrupy textbooks of my youth. John Toland is indeed a "real" historian.  Adolf Hitler includes footnotes at the end of each chapter, pages of additional notes, and an extensive bibliography.

     It took me quite some time to plow through Adolf Hitler. 
Toland begs for a careful reading. Soon enough, my top reading speed dwindled to a leisurely pace. And I learned much stuff from this book.

     I knew that Hitler had a dog whose name was Blondi but I didn't know that there was no e on the end of the name. I knew Blondi got the cyanide first but not why or who suggested it. I'd heard the rumors that Hitler escaped to Argentina but not who perpetuated such gossip. I knew that Hitler was a whack-job but not the total details. Adolf Hitler delivered all of the details.

     One of the things that we ought to remember when looking back is that European Jews had a huge problem with p.r. long before Hitler's Nazis came to round them up. In the days of Martin Luther, antisemitism was evident. His own writings reflect seven suggestions on what is to be done about the Jewish population. Martin Luther was a man of his times. The relations between Christians and Jews were not good in the early1500s. Jews were despised as the killers of Christ. Martin Luther used quotes from Scripture to justify his prejudice. His hatred may have bordered upon the fanatical. The seven points of Martin Luther were pretty much the ones that Hitler put into motion. 

     Hitler started out as an art student in Vienna. After serving a tour and being wounded, his meglo-mania took over and he started delivering speeches. Germany fell under his spell in spite of his known proclivities to sudden outbursts of rage and (at first) his dismal clothing. The irony that was Hitler dictated that he not marry and not appear to be carrying on with Eva Braun because such things would not be seemly yet his direct orders delivered Jews to resettlement ghettos and then to the death camps. Hitler's hatred of the Jewish population was fanatical, although there is some question as to how much of that particular hatred was at the core of Hitler the young man and how much developed in the aftermath of his political meglo-mania. Hitler really could have been someone great. Instead, he is a mark of shame in the annals of human history.

sapphoq reviews says: John Toland's Adolf Hitler is a careful and exacting study of Hitler. For history buffs and those who appreciate detail, highly recommended.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Son of a Grifter by Kent Walker with Mark Schone

Son of a Grifter: The Twisted Tale of Sante and Kenny Kimes, the Most Notorious Con Artists in American; A Memoir by the Other Son, Kent Walker with Mark Schone. New York: HarperCollins e-books, 2001, 2006, 464 pps.

     There's bunches of people that I am happy not to share any blood with. Sante and Kenny Kimes are two of them. Kent Walker is Sante's older son by a previous marriage. Sante married three times. The third time was to a millionaire. That union produced Kenny Kimes.

     Kent Walker grew up in a chaotic household. Even back then, Sante was involved in procuring Mexican women off the streets. Whatever salary she promised, she never delivered. They would work as her slaves. She was caught and convicted but that didn't stop her. She switched her sights to using people from a nearby homeless shelter. 

     Kent Walker was caught in a petty crime as a young teen. His experience with this led him to the decision not to follow in Sante's lifestyle examples. But like the victims of many others who possess a certain sick slick charm, Kent found it difficult to break away. Even as an adult, Kent went running to his mother's aid when she created crises. Her problems frequently led to a demand that she and Kenny move in with Kent, his wife, and his children.

     Even so, I found it impossible to "hate" Kent Walker. He was able to become his own man and for that I salute him.

     Sante Kimes died in Bedford Hills in her cell in May of 2014. At least now, it will be more difficult to impossible for her to hurt anyone ever again.

sapphoq reviews says: Sante Kimes' older son Kent Walker has pretty much been ignored by the media. He has been described as being dumped on his father or not mentioned at all. Son of a Grifter gives pretty good insight into what it might be like to grow up in a family where crime is a lifestyle. Highly recommended for those adults who relish a good true crime story.

Friday, January 02, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

     I'm pretty sure that J.R.R. Tolkien would be spinning in his grave in protest against an elven/dwarven dalliance of the love kind. That sort of thing just isn't done. Elves and dwarves do not fall in love. They are not capable of true attraction to each other. They just don't do that. Hey, Hollywood, you fecked that up rather badly. Fortunately, the love affair between the elven maiden dressed in green [with red hair] and the dwarven male was short-lived.

     Other than the stupidest idea going regarding inserting romance into an otherwise pretty cool movie, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies was worth viewing. I like special effects and there were lots of those in this movie. Smaug is totally awesome and his flying around and voice were both spectacular. I think Orlando Bloom is one of the hottest looking actors going these days-- total eye candy-- and his presence heated up the screen.

sapphoq reviews says: If you like the other hobbit movies, then you will like this one too. Highly recommended except for the elf/dwarf love thing.

Canada by Richard Ford

Canada: A Novel, Richard Ford. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012. e-book, 423 pps.

     Dell-- the narrator-- and Berner Parsons were twins who lived with their parents Geneva and Bev in Great Falls, Montana at the beginning of the book. The family had a series of financial reverses which caused Bev to make a decision that also did not work out well. Neeva went along with it but fought not to have their son Dell included. Then some bad things happened which profoundly altered the lives of the family members. Although Neeva had a Plan B for both Dell and Berner, those plans also blew apart. Dell learned some hard lessons along the way but through the kindness of strangers made out alright.

sapphoq reviews says: Richard Ford's Canada is a haunting book. The narrator was deliberate in explaining his observations of each character in the book. The settings in the United States and in Canada were essential to creating the mood of the narrative. Canada is a worthy addition to any thinking adult's library and a classic in its own right. Highly recommended.