Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

David Loeff's musings on books and other topics

4 Stars
What's that awful smell?
The Gilded Age - Mark Twain, Charles Dudley Warner

Can conditions in the United States get any worse? Donald Trump has never achieved as high as a 45 percent approval rating, while except during the first days of his presidency, his disapproval rating has remained above 50 percent .


 Whatever your politics, numbers don’t lie. Too many are displeased. Something stinks in Washington. During the early 1870s, two writers also suffered offended nostrils and together wrote a novel about it. Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner called their era the Gilded Age. That’s gilded, not golden. Their era lacked the solidity of deep values, having instead only a golden coating upon an unworthy foundation.


The book begins before the Civil War but largely details the years that follow. Historically this period marked the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, and some of the book’s characters are among its unwitting victims. This period saw massive capital investment in railroads and machinery as well as massive displacement of small business men and landholders. While the book’s events occur at the beginning of the age, its title lent its name to the era itself.


There are parallels here to our own age. At its height, the Gilded Age brought about massive income inequality. Some grew enormously wealthy while masses of others suffered in dire poverty. Since the 1980s our own society has moved in this direction as well. While the incomes of the top ten percent have stayed even with the living costs, those of the bottom 89 percent have not. The incomes of the wealthiest among us have soared, yet unlike Icarus, they show no signs of falling toward Earth. The technology sector with its high salaries distributed among relatively few workers echoes the effect of industrialization, though some writers fear that this time workers won’t eventually share its benefits after robots and AI eliminate their jobs.


The book touches upon industrialization as several of its characters seek speculative wealth from a new railroad line. However the bulk of the action takes place in Washington DC. Laura and her brother, George Washington Hawkins, as well as the ever optimistic and ever impoverished, Colonel Beriah Sellers, enjoy the patronage of the pious Senator Dilworthy. Since the book contains much satire, the reader is not overly surprised when Laura approaches the good senator in his study as he reads from an upside down Bible.


Washington in 1873, just like today, is a place where corruption prospers. Unlike that of today, however, the corruption is almost quaintly innocent. This book was the first novel from two authors who would subsequently write a good few more. It’s not their best. That said, it’s not that bad. Twain at his worst is better than most and Warner also writes well. However, the work doesn’t flow as well as what one would expect from authors with email and modern equipment. I’m glad I read it though. Along with satire it packs plenty of drama and provides a taste of what life was like in earlier days.

5 Stars
If it moves ... and what doesn't?
Zoom: How Everything Moves: From Atoms and Galaxies to Blizzards and Bees - Bob Berman

Motion is considered in all its aspects in this readable book for non-scientists. You'll know a good deal more after reading this, and more still if you read it again in a few years. 

5 Stars
What you don’t know could hurt you

The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality

Kindle version available now. Hardback available November 3, 2017


In recent years income inequality has soared to levels not seen since the stock market crashed in 1929. In January this year, Oxfam reported that eight individuals owned as much as half the world’s population. A number of books address the problem of extreme inequality, but this one is a bit different. This one focuses on sources of inequality arising from places where others haven’t thought to look. As it examines rent-seeking it finds examples in four areas: finance, intellectual property, occupational licensing and land use. Heretofore I considered three of those areas economically neutral, if not benign. Now I know why they are not. And that’s something the general public should know as well. Highly recommended reading.  

5 Stars
For those who waited
Islanders - Teow Lim Goh

Some people associate Ellis Island with immigrants viewing the Statue of Liberty on their way to debarkation. The words at the statue’s base read, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


On America’s western shore, however, there was no statue to greet new arrivals when they disembarked on Angel Island. Because immigration laws can change, and because they can do so while passengers are still at sea, some Chinese immigrants spent months waiting on Angel Island while their cases were being decided. Some, after their long waits, were forced to return home.


Some Chinese immigrants passed the time writing poetry upon the walls of their prison. Although many of the poems the men’s poems were preserved, the woman’s barracks burned down and none of the women’s poems remain.


Colorado author, Teow Lim Goh, has re-imagined their poetry in her book, Islanders. Her poetry is stark, inciteful, and very sad. Her notes at the volume’s end provide a short history of Chinese immigration to the United States. Recommended.

5 Stars
Narcissist villain creates chaos with hypnotic magic
Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog - D. Roland Hess

This is urban fantasy at its best and most digital to date. The plot unfolds smoothly—it’s not predictable, but it doesn’t stretch the constraints of its trope either.


The hero is a damaged man discovering himself again as he fights for his life. He brings along a scarred woman and an alien It’s a strange trip and when it ends it isn’t quite over.

Along the way you’ll meet a villain that thrives on spewing chaos out into the world. He’s a megalomaniac of grand proportions. I find parallels in current political trends. But since it’s too early to see how those trends will play out, this book offers an alternate ride.



What's in a name?
YES, I NAMED MY DAUGHTER GAYLORD FOCKER. SO FOCKING WHAT!: (OVER 1,000 REAL NAMES OF REAL PEOPLE, ALL WEIRD)  By Joseph Joel, no kids. Don't want little ... I was just kidding. (The unbook series) - Joseph Joel

Here's something that looks like it might be interesting. How many strange, but real, names have you run across? Every one of these belongs to a real person.

The message is love

I saw the Dalai Lama speak in Boulder, Colorado this morning. I couldn’t hear well and it seemed like every time he made an important point I only heard the grinding of an ice machine in the concession stand. Even so, I feel fortunate and grateful that I was able to attend.

Before he began, the city of Boulder presented him with a bicycle helmet—an appropriate gift for that college town. He put the helmet on, then he said it could represent protection against affliction on one’s life journey.

He spoke both in English and Tibetan (through his interpreter), and impressed me as both erudite and humble, both knowledgeable and inquisitive. He urged his fellow believers to practice a 21st century Buddhism, rather than one appropriate to the past—a very contemporary idea from a man born 81 years ago.

I won’t be lengthy and conclude with these words which I hope I took down correctly, “It is very important to understand that all world religions have the same message, and that is love.”


I got sick watching this video after a minute, but at least my close ones are still alive.

Review Video
3.5 Stars

When I'm not writing fiction I'm often out walking and pondering the nature of consciousness. This video makes the point that Quantum Physics proves that consciousness brings material reality into being. It then hodge-podges its way into a discussion of how the brain creates consciousness. So how can material reality and consciousness mutually create each other? 

Review Reblogged URL
0.5 Stars
Global warming denier published crap book
Global Warming False Alarm: The Bad Science Behind the United Nations' Assertion that Man-made CO2 Causes Global Warming - Ralph B. Alexander

I read somewhere that there are deal breakers when it comes to finding a blog to follow.


At first, I dismissed it as a non issue.


But then when I read a reviewers giving this piece of crap 4 stars and said it was informative. Inform about what?  I know it is either a fake,or I am reading a global warming denier's blog. 


Click to the link to see a long list of global change deniers who wrote crap books. 


My feeling when I see that book is like.... 




Reblogged from XOX
3 Stars
Not yet convinced
The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World - Amit Goswami,  With Maggie Goswami,  Foreword by Fred Alan Wolf

Here's a dilemma: Most psychologists are materialists and consider thoughts and consciousness to be epiphenomena. An epiphenomena is one that occurs parallel to the phenomena under study. It's there, but psychologists can't measure it like behavior, or treat it like a physical object. It's ephemeral, and undescribed. Materialists deal with matter, and thoughts aren't that. Whatever thoughts may be, they are not something that materialists are comfortable with examining.


Quantum physics presents a picture of reality that is very different than the one   presented by classical, Newtonian physics. Although quantum physics was born over a century ago, some scientists cling to the materialism that grew out of pre-quantum, Newtonian physics. This works well for describing reality most of the time, but occasionally it biases what we consider possible, or restricts our methods of inquiry.


Quantum physics has called traditional materialism into question, and Amit Goswami questions materialist explanations of consciousness as well. Quantum physics proves that observers can't be separated from observations. Before an observation is made, little can be said about atomic particles--they only exist as probability waves. Only when observation collapses a probability wave, creating a measurement, can anything certain be said about particles. This finding has baffled many and continues to do so. Goswami believes it implies that consciousness is a force in nature. As such, consciousness is unitary in nature, however people experience themselves as individuals and only occasionally become aware of the One that they are expressions of. For hundreds of years religious mystics have sought direct experience of the One through prayer, meditation, fasting, sitting vigils, etc. For mystics, direct experience constitutes proof. For scientists, experimental results are required.


Goswami provides no experimental proof. He doesn't even suggest an experimental path to test his theory. Physicists critical of String Theory acknowledge its elegance, but complain that it lacks testability. Goswami's theory is likewise elegant but lacking testability. He suggests that proof may come through paranormal research, but much of that research is highly controversial. Too many paranormal-leaning scientists have accepted results that stage magicians have easily refuted. In the end, Goswami's ideas are more suggestive than explanatory. I'd recommend another book with a more convincing explanation of consciousness, but I haven't found it yet.

Reading progress update: I've read 33%.
Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog - D. Roland Hess

Slickest piece of writing I've read in a while. Interesting ideas.

4 Stars
Can you keep a secret?
The Initiate (The Rifters Book 2) - M. Pax

They say it's tough to keep a secret in a small town, but in Settler keeping a secret is a matter of life and death. That's because of the rift between the two obsidian columns. Unearthly things come through the Rift. The Rifters protect us from those nasties while keeping their existence secret.


Although she's a newcomer to settler, and hasn't even drawn her first paycheck as town librarian, Daelin is not only a Rifter but has also been recently promoted to Initiate. A lot has happened to her since losing her job and personal goods in New York. There, her boss betrayed her. Here, she's asked to trust the Rifters. It bothers her to be keeping secrets from her new teammates, but her life is full of uncertainties and it's difficult to know where to place her trust. Unresolved issues with family, friendships and teammates fill her head when she's not fighting for her life.


One thing I like about this story is the way it explores the main character's personal issues and back stories. Another thing I like is its location. If you've ever wondered what it's like to live in a small western town and about the secrets that small town people keep, you'll find out here, at least

fictitiously. It's a story filled with goofily repurposed gadgets, missing and temporally misplaced persons, and lots of sandwiches.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
Creeped Out
No Dogs in Philly: A Lovecraftian Cyberpunk Noir (Special Sin Book 1) - Andy Futuro


I picked up a copy for free on Amazon.  This book has more than 50 reviews, many quite positive. It's the author's only Amazon entry and the first of a series.


It lives up to its claim of being Lovecraftian cyberpunk noir. The detective noir is well realized, the cyberpunk, appropriate. As for the Lovecraftian bits … well, they creeped me out.


Our heroine, Saru, like many noir detectives, makes steady use of whatever alcohol she carries or comes across. She thinks this makes it more difficult to hack her implants. But it doesn't work. She's prone to odd blackouts and dysphoria. But that's understandable. What's attacking her is not of this world, and it wants to incorporate her, along with the multitude it already has.


This dismal dystopian story is creepier than a Bosch Hell and as conventional as psychotic delusions:


"Looking at his kindly old Santa Claus face it was almost impossible to imagine that he had just shot wires into her neck and sucked out her blood, that he was talking to her above a pit full of thousands of bodies in front of the cathedral of an alien death cult … "


If you like this sort of thing, you'll probably enjoy this book. SPOILER ALERT: It doesn't end like a detective story but in a literal Deus Ex Machina.

(show spoiler)


0 Stars
Ideas, yes. Coherence, no
Quantum Creativity: Think Quantum, Be Creative - Amit Amit Goswami

Just as an electron leaps from an atom's inner orbital ring to an outer one, creative ideas occur just as suddenly. Such quantum leaps inspire this book's title.


But it's a mish-mash. True, there's some physics in it. There's also ideas from Hinduism, Jungian Psychology, and some others that are the author's own. However, the book lacks a coherent theory or argument. And that's why it doesn't work for me.


I didn't finish this book, but I did read enough to know it wouldn't provide the answers I sought. This is the paradox I want to solve: Quantum Physics proves that observers can't be separated from observations. This implies, as Goswami believes, that consciousness is a force in nature. Yet psychologists treat consciousness as an epiphenomena. An epiphenomena is one that occurs parallel to the phenomena under study. This means one can study activity within the brain and the behavior it creates, but one can never say anything about consciousness. So, what is consciousness?


Goswami addressed this more thoroughly in a previous book, The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World. When I initially read this book I knew less about physics than I do now. I'm currently re-reading it. I wasn't convinced by Goswami's argument the first time. I'll let you know if a second reading changes my mind. 


2.5 Stars
I robot. You robot?
Chinese Room - Martin Chu Shui

Although this interesting story is readably told, I didn't enjoy it much. I found the dialog unconvincing and several points overstated.


The title refers to a hypothetical method by which an artificially intelligent machine could convince a human that its intelligence was natural. In the book, robots were indistinguishable from humans because some humans had embedded chips enhancing their abilities. This seems unconvincing to me since it overlooks other ways of telling humans from robots.


I recently re-watched the movie, Blade Runner. Although it was made years ago I still find it convincing despite the cheesy way in which it presents genetic engineering. I had no difficulty believing that Replicants are intelligent engineered beings which exist in the distant future of 2019.


What makes Blade Runner believable is good world building. It's inadequate to simply state that the climate is over-heated and human extinction imminent. A reader must be shown, and not with garden parties that are indistinguishable from those of the present day. Better world building would have improved this book.


A final point: Although the author sometimes gets it right, he sometimes confuses intelligence with consciousness. This is forgivable because some scientific writers have made the same mistake. However, the two are not the same.