Book Review: Dan Brown’s Origin

Getting in lots of reviews while other challenges keep serious writing at bay.

Speaking of both, a review of Anne Applebaum’s The Twilight of Democracy : The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism is coming soon–along with more analyses of current political issues America faces. 

Origin (Robert Langdon, #5)Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One thing you can count on from Dan Brown in his Robert Langdon series is a plethora of references to scenic locations, art, history, etc. After a while, it does get tiresome. In most cases these settings have some connection to the plot so it’s not all for naught. I excuse these excursions for the sake of tracking the intriguing plot twists. Origin saves the biggest for last but no spoilers here.

As always, it’s Brown’s preoccupation with peculiar attributes of the Catholic Church that dominates. Never having been a Catholic and having no particular opinion of the foibles any millennia-long organized religion has, it’s one more thing to finesse for a reader like me. Like any other thriller/suspense story it’s really about who did what to whom, why and when. Brown dots the i’s and the t’s of those.

The other thing he does differently with this story is to raise a somewhat different issue than does the various Terminator-related stories on AI and where its connection to humans is headed. Can’t say more without getting into spoilers. But that’s what makes this worth reading, even if it’s not the best examination of the subject.

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Review of Death in Panama

Death in PanamaDeath in Panama by William Venema
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brings back not-fond memories of the military. Since the author based the story on his own experiences as a JAG lawyer in Panama, it rings true. I’ve never been to Panama before or after my Vietnam era service (including Vietnam) and I was enlisted not an officer. Still, enough there to identify with–lots of drinking, whoring, misogyny, racism and condescension toward the locals. Yes, lots like Viet Nam.

On the legal side, as a guy with a JD, I know the lingo and the judicial process that the author puts forth–except that proceedings in Courts Martial are more than a little different than civilian criminal courts. The author does a good job of distinguishing and explaining those differences along the way so no one will miss the issues that unfold.

Military or not–evidence is what it is. Inhumanity and adultery are what they are. Crime is what it is. So if legal drama, conflicted and flawed characters are in your reading repertoire, you will find this satisfying.

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Review of Coelho’s The Alchemist

The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that once I read it, I had to wonder–how did I overlook it? It takes me back to a whole host of other books which share the inspirational aspects as well as some elements of style. Mostly, it shares profundity. Books like Candide–to which this book’s main similarity is an innocent on a journey of discovery. Candide is a savage satirical attack on philosophical foibles of the time it was written. In the end, he dismisses “best of all possible words” view of suffering offered by Pangloss with the realistic perspective “That’s well said,” . . .”but we must cultivate our garden.”

It also reminds me of both Cervantes and Lewis Carroll. As with the Alchemist, (more so than Candide), it is quite useful for youth. Alice and Through the Looking Glass offer much in wordplay to the writer and clearer understanding for anyone in communicating–“Say what you mean,” says the March Hare to Alice. “I mean what I say,” Alice replies. Clearly she doesn’t understand. I used to read those books every several years. It’s been decades now. Perhaps it’s time again.

As for Cervantes, Don Quixote is on a quest like Santiago, the Andalusian shepherd in the Alchemist. Quixote, the dreamer is counterbalanced by his realist companion Sancho Panza. Eventually, they come to exchange perspectives. Santiago does a bit of that as well with the various people he meets. Like Candide, he too suffers losses–not quite as severe but nearly as surreal as Voltaire’s protagonist.

Finally, I found a lot of Buddhism in the Alchemist. Seeing and understanding omens for one. A capacity that anyone can acquire but few have. For the Catholic Coelho, it perhaps came from a pilgrimage he made two years before the publication of this book. He explains the realizations that Santiago comes to through his experiences and through the interaction with the various teachers, of sorts, that he encounters. It reinforces my faith and determination that following dreams is essential but happiness lies as much in the process as the result. It’s all there in the effort–remaining undeterred by the obstacles one confronts.

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From Great Evil Comes Great Good–Eventually, If We Do Our Part

“Great events never have minor omens. When great evil occurs, great good follows.” So says Nichiren, founder of one of the largest sects of Buddhism. The Buddhism that this writer has practiced for 43 years.  That great good doesn’t come automatically.

We’ve said it before. We say it again with more confidence, as people are changing not just in America but around the world. We’ll stick to what we know best, America, in commenting on this principle.

America’s president, celebrated the nation’s independence by declaring “Black Lives Matter is a symbol of hate.” This, from a man who is hate personified. Click To Tweet

While others might recount the founders of the United States, he extolled as heroes, those who sought to divide it. Confederate generals that seceded in rebellion against the union. All in the name of maintaining their right of dominion over other humans–unwilling people of African descent first as slaves then as lesser beings not entitled to the privileges of whites.

He castigated those who would have torn down a statute of President  Andrew Jackson as ignorant of America’s heritage. Hardly, they knew full well Jackson was the one to  who forcibly removed Native Americans from  their historic lands to arid lands two-thirds of a way across the country. All so that Whites could settle in their verdant land. Thousands of the Cherokee died on that “Trail of Tears.” People who had a higher literacy rate than those whites who were freed from English prisons to settle in Georgia.

As we’ve said here before, Biff [AKA Trump] is the divider-in-chief. He want’s no “perfect union”—he wants a people filled with contempt for those different from themselves. His notion of making America great again is restoring those times when white supremacy was the law and the dominant culture of America.

Rather than honoring those who gave their lives in defense of the US against foreign adversaries, he and his minions ignore the payment of bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan by Russia. We still don’t know what hold it is that Vladimir Putin has on him, but it’s clear that Biff owes his allegiance to Russia, not America. Continue reading From Great Evil Comes Great Good–Eventually, If We Do Our Part

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#Book Review–The Forever War

Had this one on my list TBR. When the local library reopened (30 minute limit per person) I got my chance to get this classic, multi-award winner.

The Forever War (The Forever War, #1)The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book already has more than 134,000 reviews. It really doesn’t need another one. It clearly deserved all the the awards it got. Initially, I laughed a bit at the notion that the military would not only sanction but encourage sexual encounters among combat troops of the opposite sex. That said, Haldeman had the prophetic sense to have both men and women in combat roles. That wasn’t close to being so when he wrote the book.

While the military is resistant to change, especially regarding men and women in combat together (earlier about race), once the chain of command says go, all will eventually follow–grudgingly for some time, of course. Like Haldeman, I too spent a year in Vietnam; not too far removed in time from him. I know the nonsense that goes on. Although the “f*** you sir” sir, like the sex, seemed more than a little unlikely. Probably intended as a satirical jibe–maybe.

The main takeaway for me as a budding sci-fi writer (in my Third Age of life) is this: Be very careful in putting in near-year dates in your stories. Best to avoid dates of future events less than fifty years away. The same problem happened with Philip K. Dick’s famous novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, made into the now classic Blade Runner movie.

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America First–The MOST COVID-19 Cases and Deaths!

The US leads the planet in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Yes, with only four percent of the world population, it’s America First. That’s probably not what Biff (AKA, Donald Trump) meant when he adopted that international perspective. But he earned it.

Currently, twenty percent of new cases are generated in America. Five percent of those who contract it die–here and around the world. Over 125,000 dead so far–more than all military engagements since WWII.

Meanwhile, the Coronavirus Task Force held its first briefing–in two months! Here’s what VP Mike Pence, leading the briefing spoke of Americans “seeing encouraging news,” and said.

“all 50 states and territories across this country are opening up safely and responsibly”

Seriously? 

If America leading the world in COVID-19 Cases AND Deaths, is encouraging–what the hell would he find discouraging?

GOP means: Gaslighting Offenders Party

More than half the states have surging cases of COVID-19.  Few, if any, reopened safely and responsibly.  Most of the cases in those states weren’t declining AT ALL .  Like Biff, Pence, Trump TV (AKA Fox News), all were pandemic deniers and/or gaslighters. Those red state governors had to dutifully, lemming-like, let people go wherever they wanted without any restrictions on social distancing or wearing masks. Continue reading America First–The MOST COVID-19 Cases and Deaths!

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The Times They Are a-Changin’

Change is in the air–on the TV, the web, your town and around the world. That’s what this post is about. We will will get there shortly. Black Lives Matter.

November 3rd is less than five months away. The current poll numbers show Trump losing the election to Biden in a big way. Neither Mueller nor impeachment could put him away. COVID-19 and now Derek Chauvin, George Floyd’s killer are bringing him down. Well, actually, it’s his own ineptitude—his own incompetent impulses to crises way over his capacity.

That’s a discussion for another post. Today is about the changing times. To the rapidly evolving response, finally, to one more killing of an unarmed Black man. But first a brief explanation of a style change at Views.

Hereinafter, Trump shall be known here as “Biff.” Biff was Marty McFly’s primary antagonist in the Back to the Future movie trilogy. Search your recollection or the web for the physical resemblance. What urges the change are the character traits. Traits they share, like being a bully, dumb and good for nothing.

Biff’s tweets are typically false, insulting, vulgar, and sometimes libelous. We will call them Drumpf Droppings. (Biff’s grandfather Friedrich Drumpf, changed his name sometime after coming to America). Droppings are what birds leave everywhere. Drumpf Droppings extend the analogy—befouling America with their filth.

We’ll talk more about Biff’s declining election prospects another day. Today it’s all about what’s happening in America’s racial attitudes.

The Times They Are a-Changin,’ was a Bob Dylan album from 1964. There were indeed lots of changes in the sixties. Among them, a variety of laws were passed protecting the civil rights of African-Americans. Laws tell people what they should and shouldn’t do. They provide punishment for infractions. What laws don’t do is change people’s attitudes. That takes time and some intervening events.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. That’s how the beginning of a verse from Ecclesiastes goes. The reverend Al Sharpton cited the Bible passage at the first eulogy he gave for George Floyd. Pete Seeger wrote a song based on the entire passage. The Byrds version of the Seeger song was titled Turn! Turn! Turn!—an oft repeated refrain calling for change.

Change has been a long time coming.

Blacks have been killed in America since they arrived as slaves in 1619. They’ve been killed at the hands of police for nearly as long. Why is real reform on the table now? Was something special about George Floyd? Certainly special and loved by family and friends. Not the first unarmed Black man killed by a cop. Not the first on video either. What changed since Eric Garner’s death in New York City? What since events in Ferguson, Missouri?

Maybe it is the season. Maybe the time to turn. Continue reading The Times They Are a-Changin’

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The George Floyd Saga is being hijacked–take it back

We understand rage. Rage that can lead to violence. Violence doesn’t encourage change–it distracts from the message that it’s police behavior needs changing.

NOTE: Since 2015, Minneapolis police rendered 44 people unconscious by neck restraint. That practice needs to stop right now! That’s how George Floyd died.

Who are the looters, the rock and bottle throwers, the fire starters, etc.?

Don’t be taken in by them–they are NOT protesters. They are people with a different agenda. 

Continue reading The George Floyd Saga is being hijacked–take it back

Review of Watching Glass Shatter

Watching Glass ShatterWatching Glass Shatter by James J. Cudney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Liked it, but I’d have given it a 2.5 if that were possible. That’s not so much the author’s fault as my expectation of a little more suspense/mystery and not almost entirely a family drama.

That said, the author does well at overcoming another bias of mine–not crazy about stories of the wealthy. Oddly, just read another one recently so maybe that annoyed me again. The same stresses and strains could be found in any family, rich or poor. It’s interpersonal issues that are the story–with wealth being nearly an incidental element.

Cudney does a good job of depicting the flaws of the various family members, especially the overly controlling mother, Olivia. He wraps it all up, neatly with a bit of melodrama. Unfortunately, it’s nearly with a deus ex machina that I won’t reveal because it would be a spoiler–identifying the adopted son.

Bottom line, if you like family sagas, this book will probably fit the bill for you. Just not my thing; not the author’s fault.

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Transcending Hate; Creating Value

Seeing things as they really are, without the illusions or delusions.

That’s the tagline for Views from Eagle Peak.  It’s a little long, but it’s what it is.

George Floyd. Cops. Minneapolis and more. Protests–peaceful and violent. Us and them. Self-identity–race, sex, job, age and much more. Attitudes and beliefs. Norms and Values. Hate.

We’re all human. That’s the race I put on those forms that ask for it. You can see from my profile picture I’m White. My wife of nearly 40 years is African-American. Her father wanted to kill us if we got married. Later he just said, “call me Dad.” That’s because, in the words of Daisaku Ikeda,

A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.

I prayed for his happiness and accepted responsibility for his attitude toward me–expecting to change myself and thus his perspective. Those things happened.

Blacks are seven times more likely to be killed by police gunfire than Whites are.  I don’t have statistics for death by other police behavior. When charged (rarely) and tried (more rare), few cops are convicted in the death of Blacks.

Racism is learned, not something people are born with. But, when growing up in whatever family and community one lives in, beliefs gradually accumulate. Continue reading Transcending Hate; Creating Value

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