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Archive for June, 2012

A Review of Platinum Pohl

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 30, 2012

Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best StoriesPlatinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an excellent collection of short science fiction stories. I’d read some of Pohl’s work and knew he was prolific, but I don’t think I had the appreciation for him that I now have. This is some kick ass work, encompassing decades of writing. Philip K. Dick is probably my favorite sci fi writer because he can do some truly amazing things, but I’d have to say Pohl is probably now my second favorite. Some of the stories which stood out for me were “The Day the Icicle Works Closed,” “The Gold at the Starbow’s End,” “The Day the Martians Came,” “Day Million,” and “Fermi and Frost,” which won a Hugo when it was published. I was worried that such a large collection of short stories might ultimately bore me and become redundant, but that never happened. The material stayed fresh and the editor did a fantastic job at picking out the stories to include in this book. As I’ve learned, Pohl is truly a giant in sci fi circles, and now I know why. Read this book!

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Mac External Hard Drives

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 28, 2012

I’m so ticked at manufacturers of external (backup) hard drives made for Macs! All I want is a portable hard drive to back my system up on. Is that too much to ask for? Macs have Time Capsule, but it’s not really portable, and even though it does backups, it’s more of a wireless router. It’s expensive and heavy. I have one and don’t use it.

Yesterday I went to Best Buy and bought a 500 GB Seagate external hard drive for $90. I brought it home, looking forward to using its built in software to back up my system and do automatic backups whenever changes are made. That’s the whole point. The packaging said it was for PCs and Macs. It also said you don’t have to reformat it for Macs like you do with some products. Well, first, I DID have to reformat the hard drive because it was a Mac! I then installed the software and there was no place at all in the software’s interface which would have enabled me to back up my computer, let alone schedule any, etc. I was ticked. I called Seagate. They told me I needed Time Capsule, that their product couldn’t do what I wanted it to do. Um, false advertising, misleading packaging, whatever — I was TICKED!!! I took it back to Best Buy. I then bought a My Passport from Western Digital. I bought it because it was specifically for Macs. Same size, same price. I brought it home, hooked it up, and looked for a software interface to appear. Nothing. I downloaded the user manual and it said I should have gotten a screen about Time Capsule. I didn’t. I called Western Digital. The person I spoke with barely spoke English and had such a thick accent, I could hardly understand him. I did understand the following though: My Passport only works with Time Capsule — another external hard drive. Why the hell would I need two? I mean, what the hell is wrong with these people? I said that it said nothing on the packaging about that and that if it had, I wouldn’t have bought it. The rep was pretty speechless to that. I mean, what do you say, right? So, basically I have a hard drive that I can drag and drop folders and files onto and it will save them, but it can never update anything on its own and I have no way of tracking this stuff, so I wouldn’t know when to replace a file or folder with an updated one. It obviously can’t automatically back up my system. It’s pretty damn useless. I’ve moved some things on to it today, but really, if/when I ever update the stuff I moved, I won’t know if/when to update the hard drive because I won’t have remembered it. Isn’t that stupid as hell? I swear, isn’t packaging regulated? Shouldn’t both manufacturers have put on their packaging that their products couldn’t work without Apple’s own Time Capsule? What a joke. See if I ever buy another one of their products….

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A Review of Naked Spirituality

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 25, 2012

Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in Twelve Simple Words (Paperback)Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in Twelve Simple Words by Brian D. McLaren

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like Brian McLaren, but I’ve found his books to be either hit or miss and this one seems to be a miss for me. It’s a lightweight, I guess intentionally, but there’s nothing really challenging here, it seems to me. It’s like he set out to write a new book and just phoned it in. Very disappointing. I expected his usually radical approach to religion and spirituality, but felt deflated while reading it. Indeed, I didn’t even finish. Made it halfway through before giving up. Pity. At least I’m confident I’ll find more books of his enjoyable and challenging….

Oh, the one thing I really did appreciate about the book came at the very front where McLaren described his evangelical/fundamentalist upbringing. It mirrored my own about 100%. Eerie. I feel sorry for him, as I’ve been tormented by my own stringent upbringing throughout my entire life. Unfortunately, the book lost any edge it may have started with shortly after.

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A Review of The Gospel of Judas

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 22, 2012

The Gospel of Judas: Critical EditionThe Gospel of Judas: Critical Edition by Rodolphe Kasser
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have to confess I started this book out of sheer interest in the subject matter, but I couldn’t finish it — I just thought it was too silly to believe. Maybe I’ve got too much of the traditional four gospels ingrained within me, but for Judas to be portrayed as the favorite and best disciple of Jesus who only did what he was told by Jesus to do and was therefore a hero as he brought about the crucifixion and resurrection strikes me as totally absurd. Not to mention that it was hard to read with all of the missing text that was skipped over and omitted. That was distracting. I couldn’t buy the notion of Jesus appearing to his disciples in the form of a child. You’d think that would have been mentioned in another gospel. And here’s one thing that might seem trite, but it bugs me nonetheless — apparently this gospel was written in the second century. Well, who wrote it? It follows Judas for just a brief period of time up until his suicide, I believe. Well, if he killed himself, how did he communicate the secrets of this text to the ones who would ultimately write it? He was DEAD for Pete’s sake! Isn’t this just some second century made up gnostic tale by people wanting to stir things up? That’s ultimately what it strikes me as. So, yeah, I probably should have finished it and maybe one day I’ll return to it, but I just thought the premise(s) was too absurd to continue reading the book.

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A Review of The Underground Church

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 20, 2012

The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of JesusThe Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus by Robin Meyers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really liked this book even though its idealistic vision is so utopian that its recommendations can surely never be acted upon by most Christians. It’s a heartfelt book with a vision — one of love and caring for all. I like that. Even though he separates himself from the emergent church group, there are some similarities. I’ve read other Meyers books though, and sometimes he comes across as really ticked off. In this book, he really tries to balance his insights and comments between conservative and liberals in the Christian church, although it does finally lean somewhat to the left. That’s fine with me.

In the book, he takes issue with war, calling it a sin many times over. I’m not certain if I buy that since the God I read about in the Old Testament seemed to love war, but maybe he’s right — I’m no expert. He also feels Christians should actually be conscientious objectors, environmentalists, and frankly, socialists. To back this last claim, he cites Acts 4:32-35, which says

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostle’s feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

Interesting. And thought provoking. And quite possibly dead on. Again, I’m no expert. Toward the end of the book, though, Meyers starts making some recommendations of what people in the “Underground Church” should and will do and it’s really overly idealistic. For instance, start up church-sponsored interest free banks. Developing private economic systems within the church. Have pre-church communion meals. All of this he marks as Biblical and it might be so, but I can’t see conservatives (or even some liberals) as going for any of this. Indeed, the book is an appealing read, but as to its practicality, I would say I don’t know of too many — if any — churches that would follow through and become an Underground Church. It just isn’t going to happen in Protestant (evangelical) America. Which is a bit of a shame and shows you how off evangelicals are in general. When they should be concerned about feeding the poor, they — with their Republican politicians — are cutting food stamp programs even now as we speak. It’s truly appalling. Another book by Robin Meyers talks about how the right wing in this country is wrong, and it ties conservative politics to evangelicals and I think it’s a fair point, and as I grew up a strong Calvinist but have since moved on, I’m continually appalled by the Republicans and religious right’s polemics of hatred and greed. Prosperity gospel my ass!

If you get a chance and you’re remotely interested, you should read the book. It’s a well written, well intended, moderately well thought out book. It just won’t be taken seriously by conservatives or most Christians in general, and that’s a real shame.

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New Issue of Rays Road Review is Out

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 20, 2012

Hey there! The new Summer 2012 issue of Ray’s Road Review is out. You can find it at: http://raysroadreview.com/. We’ve got some good fiction, poetry, nonfiction & photography to check out. As the poetry editor, I’ve got to give shout outs to poets Jessica Tyner, DA Spruzen, Tim Suermondt, & Amanda Rachelle Warren. Please read & submit. Cheers!

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Obama and Gas Prices

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 17, 2012

Hi. This is my 100th blog post here. Just thought I’d mention it.

Here’s something else I’ve got to mention. Remember last month when Republicans and most of the media were bashing President Obama for high gas prices and the public bought it and his approval ratings dropped? Yeah, I remember that too. Well, now that gas prices are probably close to being a dollar a gallon lower than then, where’s the overdue praise for Obama? Why aren’t the conservatives lauding our president for his great achievements? Why isn’t the press all over this? Is it because our allegedly “liberal” media is actually quite conservative, save MSNBC? I know this — it’s utter hypocrisy and it makes me sick to my stomach! Obama wasn’t the reason gas prices were high in the first place — no president is — and he’s not the reason they’re so much lower now. But I really do think Republican owe Obama an apology for the utter crap they put him through on this.

I guess that’s all for now. I don’t know what my 101st blog post will be yet. Cheers!

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A Review of More Ready than you Realize

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 14, 2012

More Ready Than You Realize: The Power of Everyday ConversationsMore Ready Than You Realize: The Power of Everyday Conversations by Brian D. McLaren

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I usually like McLaren’s books and I wanted to like this one, but in the end, I didn’t finish it because I just couldn’t buy the primary premise. It’s a book about how the Christian church needs to revitalize its efforts at evangelism to a postmodern world by changing guilt inducing preaching to a series of conversations. Fine. I’m OK with that. However, McLaren constructs the book with the skeleton of a series of emails, allegedly legitimate, from a woman he calls “Alice” in order to protect her identity. Alice is a college student who, for reasons that are never clearly explained, WANTS to become a Christian very badly but is turned off by the intolerance, judgmental attitudes, etc., etc., of contemporary evangelical Christianity. Why she’s so desperate to become a Christian eludes me. Anyway, they meet at a book signing of his and he helps her pack some stuff while during which time she admits to having glanced at his book and found it interesting. So she starts emailing him. He claims to include the emails in their entirety, misspelling and all, for authenticity purposes. OK, this girl might be a smart college student for all I know, but the emails are absolutely insipid! Just trite ramblings. And then McLaren gleans somehow “meaningful” elements from them, stretching to in some occasions it seems to me, and he apparently responds to her emails so as to answer the various religious/theological/spiritual questions she has. But while he’s apparently saved ALL of her emails to him, he saved NONE of his to her (ever heard of checking your Sent Mail outbox Brian?), so we can only go on his word that he made a brief comment or two addressing her concerns. I found this profoundly disturbing. I mean, it feels like he’s trying to hide something! What’s going on here? And as this woman draws closer and closer to God and Christianity, he continues to encourage her through these email “conversations” all the while printing her emails in their entirety and none of his. What teachings is he sharing with her so that she grows? We’re never told. I made it to page 95 before giving up in disgust. I think it’s largely a useless book, which perhaps had some promise in its premise, but is ultimately insipid. Pity.

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A Review of A Complicated Man

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 11, 2012

A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know HimA Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him by Michael Takiff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I generally enjoyed reading this comprehensive book on Clinton, ranging from his childhood to his post-presidential years. The author had quite an undertaking, interviewing more than 170 people who knew/know him and getting insights and opinions that vary wildly, ranging from total devotion to abject hatred. I learned that Clinton’s greatest strength was perhaps his empathy toward others, followed closely by his incredibly high intellect. His weaknesses? Perhaps some arrogance. A bit of a temper. Oh, and women. Yep. There’s quite a lot about Paula Jones and Monica Lewkinsky in here. Perhaps a bit too much, but that’s just my opinion. I’ll be honest. I’m a huge Clinton fan. I think he’s the best president I’ve seen in my 45 years on earth. He oversaw an amazing time during American history, presiding over the greatest economic boom ever. He sought Middle East peace accords, fixed the Bosnia and Kosovo crises, enacted controversial welfare reform, and so much more. I love the man. So it hurt me when I saw some of the really overly dramatic criticisms leveled at him by haters. Some people just genuinely hate him more than anyone on earth and make no bones about it. While the book is fairly balanced overall, I do think it spent quite a bit of time on his weaknesses and failings and not enough time on his successes, but as I said, I’m biased. I would have given this book five stars, but the final few chapters encompassing his post-presidential years basically trash him to hell and back and that really pissed me off royally. Very jaded. It ends with a couple of questions and an odd statement: “Can he overcome his outsized flaws so that his outsized talents can work to maximum effect? … Maybe now Bill Clinton will finally live up to his potential.” I didn’t like that. So Clinton didn’t end a world war. That’s really not his fault, and yet that’s actually held against him in this book. He never fulfilled his potential because there was not a major war or depression to fix — this is actually said in the book. That irks the hell out of me! He did a damn good job under the worst possible personal circumstances with a rabid Republican Congress and hateful media out to destroy him daily. I admire him for that. So, anyway, overall a pretty good read, yes, but like I said, the final few chapters leave me with a sour taste in my mouth. Pity.

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A Review of Bad Religion

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 6, 2012

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of HereticsBad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has strengths and weaknesses. One thing that was an initial turnoff to me, although I got used to it, is it’s quite dry and has an almost textbook feel to it, particularly the first half which consists of a history lesson of how the Church (Protestant and Catholic) has come to its present state dating back to the late 1800s. I mean, it’s somewhat interesting, but there’s only so much about 1920s fundamentalist preachers I want to read about.

Douthat’s premise is that we’ve fallen off the wagon as a Christian nation, and he highlights three main areas where this has happened. One is the “name it and claim it” prosperity gospel preaching that seems so prevalent these days, and he particularly takes Joel Osteen to task. I got into this chapter, because I utterly despise this type of preacher. I think they have nothing in common with the can’t serve God and Mammon instructions found in the Bible. I think they’re frauds. Apparently Douthat does to. He then moves on to New Agers, like Chopra, Dyer, etc., only he doesn’t call it New Age. Instead he refers to this movement as the God Within movement. Call it what you like, but it’s a watered down, Eastern influenced form of pseduo-Christianity at best, and he calls a spade a spade. The third primary heresy here is the current politicization of Christianity, most notably contemporary Evangelicals and how they’ve hijacked the Republican party. I have much to say about that, but I’ll resist the temptation for the time being. In my opinion, Douthat didn’t spend enough time on this one, because I think this particular heresy is the one that is poisoning American society and politics and it makes me ill.

Here’s where the author loses me though. His last chapter is called “The Recovery of Christianity,” and he gives a series of examples of what he thinks needs to take place to bring the religion back to sanity and the masses in general. (He’s a Catholic and spend a lot of time on Catholicism in this book.) Here are his theories:

1. Christianity should be political without being partisan.
2. Christianity should be ecumenical but also confessional.
3. Christianity should be moralistic but also holistic.
4. Christianity should be oriented toward sanctity and beauty.

And then he goes into minor detail on each topic. And forgive me if I misread this, but it seems to me that he’s arguing for an early 20th century Catholicism returning in order to get things back on track. His ideas, the terminology he employs, his pleas all ring of a stern yesteryear, and it’s beyond odd to me that he’s arguing for a return to the roots when he just wrote an entire book criticizing how Christianity has been full of charlatans and frauds and how it’s gone uphill, but mostly downhill for decades, and now he wants a return to the Middle Ages. OK, harsh assessment, but perhaps you get the picture. It just didn’t jibe with the rest of the book, and while I thought the bulk of the book was well researched and written in a civil, even way (I would have hated to see a Baptist write this!), the last chapter just kills off everything he’s said for me. It’s blotto. Utter crap. Maybe not everyone will agree, and I do think the book is worth reading while skipping the final chapter, but I can’t get over that last chapter. I cautiously recommend this to anyone interested in seeing what has happened to the Church over the last century and what it means for today.
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