hankrules2011

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Archive for August, 2014

A Review of The Odessa File

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 26, 2014

The Odessa FileThe Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book by Frederick Forsyth, following on the heels on the Day of the Jackal, which I also really enjoyed. I’ve waited several days to write anything about it because for some reason I don’t feel like I have anything of value to say about it. For some reason, words escape me. But I guess I’ll mention a few things. The book is about a German journalist named Peter Miller who, on the day of JFK’s death, discovers the suicide of a Jewish death camp survivor. He doesn’t think much of it until his detective friend gives him the man’s diary to read and he finds it both compelling and horrifying. The man had been at Riga, in Latvia, one of just a few hundred survivors out of over 80,000 Jews who were killed there. The camp commander was one Captain Eduard Roschmann, aka the Butcher of Riga. He was a horrible murderer. The concentration camp survivor had stayed alive long enough to see this man brought to justice, but when it became apparent 20 years later that he wouldn’t, he killed himself.

Miller made it his mission to find Roschmann. He found the old man’s friend, who confirmed he saw Roschmann leaving the opera just a few weeks previously. Miller started making inquiries and was warned off. He finds out about a secret organization called Odessa comprised of ex-SS men that exists to shepard endangered SS men to safety, to give them new identities, to defend them in court, etc, etc. Miller is contacted by the Mossad, although he doesn’t realize it’s them. They want him to infiltrate Odessa, though they warn him it’ll be very dangerous. They’d already had two men killed who’d tried to do this. He wants to do it though, so they set him up as a fake ex SS man with documents and a fake story that he’s trained on and he’s interviewed and sent to get new ID papers. He does all of this so he can get to Roschmann, who is still alive and living as someone else, rich, and in charge of a factory with scientists helping Egypt discover the means to send rockets to destroy Israel, a side story to the real story. The ending of the book is pretty climactic, although I’m knocking it down from five to four stars because the stated motivation for Miller’s obsessive search for Roschmann hangs on just too much blind luck, in my opinion, and just wasn’t very believable. This book allegedly merges fact with fiction, which makes it all the more fascinating, but this was one instance in which it had to be fiction.

The book had a pretty good pace to it. You got a good feel for Miller and got to know his girlfriend too. You didn’t really get a good look at the other characters, but that’s alright. It’s an exciting book to read with an interesting premise and even though it’s a little dated, it didn’t feel too dated. By the way, they made a movie of the book several years ago and I watched it yesterday. It’s pretty good too. It stars Jon Voight. If you’re interested, you might want to check it out. Recommended.

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A Review of Small Gods

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 17, 2014

Small Gods (Discworld, #13)Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Small Gods is an excellent book, a great stand alone Discworld novel that is hard to put down. It’s a great satirical take on organized religion and it has a lot to say about it. Pratchett handles it as deftly as he handles other serious subject matter, with humor and grace. The man’s a genius!

Brutha is a novice in service of the Great God Om in the land of Omnia. With all of the priests and bishops and forced devotion to Om, along with the evil Quisition, it’s meant to be a satire of Catholicism, as well as probably some other religions too. One day Brutha is gardening when he hears a voice. No one else can seem to hear it, but hear it he does. Where is it coming from? A tortoise. What is the tortoise? The Great God Om. Yep. Everyone thought that when Om presented himself to humanity, it would be in the form of a bull or lion or other fierce creature, since there’s a lot of smiting in Omnia, but nope, he’s a tortoise and none too happy about it. And so an adventure begins. Brutha is the only person who can hear Om and also the only person who actually believes in him, as it’s become second nature to everyone else and they no longer truly BELIEVE. And then there’s Vorbis. Vorbis is the leader of the Quisition and as such is dreaded and feared by all. He truly loves torture. He sends an Omnian “brother” to a neighboring country, gets him killed, and uses it as an excuse to go attack said neighboring country. He takes along Brutha for his fantastic memory. Things don’t go as planned and Brutha is forced to flee along with the other Omnians. He and Om wander through the desert with Vorbis, who knocks Brutha out and carries him into Omnia, where he’s going to be crowned the eighth Prophet while declaring Brutha a bishop. Meanwhile, there’s an underground movement ready to attack, and all of the neighboring countries are sailing to Omnia to wipe it out once and for all. Justice is served when Vorbis dies, but Brutha convinces everyone else to lay down their arms and seek peace. One of the classic scenes in the novel occurs when the dead Vorbis “awakes” to see Death and the following exchange takes place:

Death paused. “YOU HAVE PERHAPS HEARD THE PHRASE, he said, THAT HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE?

Yes. Yes, of course.

Death nodded. IN TIME, he said, YOU WILL LEARN THAT IT IS WRONG.

Classic. Vorbis can’t stand to be alone and now he’s in a deserted desert for eternity. Very funny. There are lots of other funny parts too. One of the songs Brutha sings early in the book is called “He is Trampling the Unrighteous with Hooves of Hot Iron.” Hahahaha! Also, lots of instances of things happening in church history and of certain writings. To wit, “In the Year of the Lenient Vegetable the Bishop Kreeblephor converted a demon by the power of reason alone.” “There was the crusade against the Hodgsonites….” “And the Subjugation of the Melchiorites. And the Resolving of the false prophet Zeb. And the Correction of the Ashelians, and the Shriving –” — well, you get the picture. Utterly hilarious. Makes Christianity look completely absurd, but in a fun way.

There’s a lot about belief in this book, and a lot about God and gods. The more people believe, the greater the god. Brutha finds that his devoted belief is shaken, by his god, no less, as well as other so-called believers. And it does him a world of good. So I guess the lesson is we shouldn’t take everything we’re fed too literally or at face value. The philosophers in this book are the true thinkers and yet they are doubters. Pratchett’s good. This book is both serious and hilarious at the same time. It’s a great Discworld novel and I strongly recommend it.

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A Review of The Third Bullet

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 6, 2014

The Third Bullet (Bob Lee Swagger, #8)The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this book. It was a real adventure to read and even though it plodded along at times (I wouldn’t call it a “thriller.”), I guess it was kind of a suspense novel. Bob Lee Swagger is a former Marine sniper who gained fame in Vietnam. Now, he’s approached by the widow of a writer who was murdered in DC, potentially because he was on to something new with JFK’s assassination. So Bob takes this on, goes to Dallas, and starts snooping around. And almost immediately is the target of an assassination attempt, which he thwarts through some good shooting. Ah, the author is a gun man. He’s knows his guns and even though at times it feels like he’s nearly arrogant about his knowledge, he does make things seem realistic. Since the dead assassin is Russian, Swagger goes to Russia to look into some things and is attacked there. He escapes through some good shooting and the help of a colleague, a fellow sniper. At this point in the book, the author does something odd. He starts narrating chapters through the “diary” of the mastermind behind JFK’s assassination and it adds and takes away from the story. It adds, because we find out how it was actually accomplished and it’s fascinating reading. It takes away because it’s not entirely believable. As we go through the course of the story and Swagger gets closer to the truth, the diarist starts writing in “real time,” which obviously can’t be happening in real time. It stretches the imagination. Oh, there was indeed a second shooter, in a neighboring building. And there was a support team. And Oswald was a puppet. And the author is good. This really reads like nonfiction. Every tiny little detail is laid out for inspection, and then related to the reader as plausible, and it really works. While Swagger is debunking conspiracy theories, the author essentially creates a new one which is the best one I’ve heard/read yet. It’s really possible, or so you’re led to think. Of course, our hero — Swagger — has to track down the culprit and the final pages are action packed, so perhaps it’s a bit of a thriller, but the book has a largely satisfying ending, so that’s good. I’ve read a lot of reviews that say this book doesn’t stack up to other books by Hunter and some that have problems with the mastermind’s diary, like me, but I’m able to overlook that and enjoy, for the most part. Still, I’ve got to knock it down from five to four stars for that. However, it was a very detailed, well thought out book and I heartily recommend it.

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Sports Update

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 2, 2014

I grew up a huge baseball fan. Specifically a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates, as I lived there during the 1970s. I enjoyed seeing the team win two World Series during that decade. I followed the team religiously until the early 1990s, when they broke up a great team led by MVP Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Andy Van Slyke. They stopped winning circa 1992 and went into a 20 year losing streak unseen in any sport. They gave away all of their best players every year and didn’t even try to win. It was disgusting and it really turned me off to the team and the sport. However, last year, the Pirates fielded a competitive team and had their first winning season in over 20 years and made the playoffs — and I suddenly discovered my enjoyment of watching baseball. And I’ve been watching a lot of baseball this year. Currently the Pirates are 57-51 and three and a half games out of first, behind Milwaukee. However, I also enjoy watching the Orioles play, mainly because that’s my wife’s team. When we were in Baltimore in April, we went to a home game there and it was very enjoyable. The stadium’s nice and the fans are great. So I’ve now been to baseball games in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Atlanta, St Louis, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. And I’ve been to minor league games in Knoxville and Chattanooga. Baseball, for me, is still kind of boring, especially compared to hockey and football, but it’s still nice to be getting back to liking it.

Meanwhile, football season is coming up and I’m excited! I’m actually probably more excited about the NFL season than I am college football, which never happens to me. But I’m a Steelers fan and we’ve made a lot of personnel moves during the offseason and had a good draft, so I’m hoping we can improve on last year’s 8-8 record and I think we will. I think we’ll make the playoffs again, which is where the Steelers belong. My college team is the Tennessee Volunteers, as I’m a UT alum. We’ve been down the past few years, which has been tough, especially after seeing a spectacular 1990s decade with Peyton Manning and a national championship. However, second year coach Butch Jones had a good recruiting class and I’m hoping we will be better. Actually, I think we’ll be better, but we won’t have a better record because our schedule’s so brutal. We have to go to #3 Oklahoma for the second game and we’ll get creamed. We have to play Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, etc., etc., and we’ll be lucky to win one or two of those games. So even though we should be better, I think we’ll still have a pretty rough record…. It doesn’t help that we don’t have any decent quarterbacks.

And of course I’m really excited about the upcoming hockey season. I love hockey. I think hockey players are the best athletes there are. They have to be strong, tough, fast, graceful, durable — they’re amazing. And they often play into their 40s. I don’t know how they do it. My team is the Pittsburgh Penguins, led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. We’ve been making the playoffs every year, but ever since we won our last Stanely Cup in 2009, we’ve had great regular seasons and have tanked in the playoffs, so the team fired the general manager and coach and hired new ones. Hopefully this will help. We also got rid of 11 players, including several very good ones I had hoped we would hold on to, and have imported a number of new players, although none that are great, like I had been hoping for. We need a top line goalie, as our goalie is good, but not great. However, we signed a backup goalie, which really ticks me off. We need someone better than that. You can only go as far as your goalie takes you and I’m not convinced with can win with Fleury in the playoffs anymore. Oh well. Still, I’m stoked about hockey season and can’t wait for it to start. Even my wife has gotten into watching it with me, which is very cool.

I guess that’s it for today’s post. Just thought I’d share my excitement with the world. Cheers!

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