Sunday, December 30, 2012

7 Sneaky Habits & Annoyingly Rich (Larry R Flint)

This review covers two books by Larry R. Flint--The 7 Sneaky Habits of Highly Annoying Millionaire$ Next Door (2012) and Think & Grow Annoyingly Rich (2012).

There are two reasons to combine the reviews of these two books. One, I read them back to back on the smae night. Two and most important, my comments apply equally to both books.

The 7 Sneaky Habits of Highly Annoying Millionaire$ Next Door and Think and Grow Annoyingly Rich are spoofs of books such as the Millionaire Next Door, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, and Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

The two books are mildly entertaining in the sense that they are quick reads, and the chapters are thankfully short; therefore if one joke fails, the next joke is not far behind. Humor being a personal standard is hard to judge--the author seems to think that humor is bad punctuation, misremembered references, and bad puns. Sometimes, it worked--sometimes, it didn't. If your eyes bleed when you see commas and semi-colons misused, do not read this book.

The interesting thing to note about these two books is that despite being humor, there are some interesting subjects to think about that these books mention in passing. For instance, I used to know some people who were proud of the fact that they were screwing the tax man by getting paid under the table--it never occured to me that they will end up paying a penalty for this behavior when it comes time for them to collect social security. Nevertheless, these books are humor, and not necessarily humor that is witty.

Personally, I would not pay more than 99 cents apiece for these books; therefore, I find that their regular price to be too much. Still I am going to give them three out of five stars because some of the humor did make me think, or at least smile on occasion.

[Disclosure: These books were obtained on a free day, therefore I did not pay for them.]

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dead is the New Black (Marlene Perez)

It is always interesting to read the first novel in a series. Sometimes in a good way--others times in a bad way. And sometimes, you split the difference.

Part of the reason for the first novel in a series to be such an interesting read is that it is often the set-up for the entire series. So you end up with hints about future books in the series. And in "Dead is the New Black," Marlene Perez is setting the stage for her entire "Black is" series.

The town of Nightshade, California reminds me of the town that I went to high school in: everyone knew everybody, and you could walk from one end of town to the other in about an hour (if you were taking your time). The difference is that it was less "hell-mouth-ish." Honestly, a person was more likely to die of boredom than get munched on by a thing of the night in the town I spent high school in. Nevertheless, the feel of the town and high school felt real to me, provided that one overlooks the monsters.

With the "Dead is" series being written for a female audience (or I presume that it is a female audience), I did wonder if I would be able to associate with Daisy Giordano, the teenage heroine of the series. Much to my surprise, I was quite in tune with her; I guess that the insecurities that plagued me as a teenager are one that plague all teenagers.

Now, I will admit that there were times that I could not figure out how Daisy came to certain conclusions and decisions. I suspect that this is because this was the first book; occasionally, first books have some rough spots. Personally, as a writer, I find it interesting to study those places that other writers fail in--not that it helps me in the least to do better, it just reminds me that I am not alone with my struggles with the art of story telling.

I have mixed feelings about the ending. On one hand, it feels a little deus ex machina. On the other hand, Perez did sat it up to have it resolve that way. There was another solution, and I am glad that she did not use it.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. And promptly started the next one in the series. Of course, the real test will come when my eleven year-old god-daughter discovers that I have some books in this series. We will see how long it is before she borrows them.

[Full disclosure: The copy of "Dead is the New Black" that I used for this review came from the boxed set "Dead a box" which I won in a Goodreads First Reads drawing. This review also appears on the Goodreads site.]

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bad Monkey now available online from B&N

The Bad Monkey ebook is now available online at Barnes and Noble.
The good news is that Bad Monkey--the Collected 2011 Hearthstone Community Church Articles is available for sale online from Barnes and Noble (99 cents). The bad news is that there is no cover image for the ebook. *sigh* Not that the cover would actually help the ebook sell--after all, it is more of a in-joke between my friends and me (shared with those who attended the June 2011 Open Full Moon ritual), but still I can't imagine it doing better without the cover image being available. There is also no product description, and the sample size is so small that you really can not get a flavor for my writing style. Oh yeah, this is really going to sell. Yes, you can file this under "The joys of writing ebooks."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Take Over teh Wurld (flash review)

How to Take Over Teh Wurld: A LOLcat Guide 2 WinningHow to Take Over Teh Wurld: A LOLcat Guide 2 Winning by Professor Happycat
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely love funny cat picture books; they always cheer me up when I have a bad day. This book is one of my favorites for leafing though on those bad days. Furthermore, my goddaughter really likes this particular book.

View all my reviews

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Book of Answers (Carol Bolt)--flash review

One of the silliest things to come out of the field of bibliomancy is "The Book of Answers" by Carol Bolt (1999). It is bibliomancy using a book that is the paper equivalent of a Magic Eight-Ball. Each one of its pages has a short answer such as "You'll have to compromise" or "Don't doubt it." Just like a Magic Eight-Ball, it works better if you are either an initiate or believe that it will work.

[This flash review was part of an Associated Content (Yahoo Voices) article on bibliomancy. The copy used was brought and paid for by myself.]

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Ritual Magic Manual (David Griffin)

Is the Ritual Magic Manual Really Worth the Cost?

There are some books that are hard to judge properly; David Griffin's book, The Ritual Magic Manual: A Complete Course in Practical Magic, is one of them. The problem lies in the very format of the book.

This book is not a regular book; it is not meant to be read cover to cover. Instead, it is a set of instructions for several rituals with all the possible variations for them written out, so that the student does not have to work them out for themselves.

This format has resulted in a lot of bad book reviews for The Ritual Magic Manual. I must admit that I was disappointed when I brought the book sight unseen in December 2001. Most of the time since then, the book has set on the bookshelf gathering dust.

But does the book really merit such bad reviews? Perhaps, perhaps not. To say that I have mixed feelings about the Ritual Magic Manual is an understatement.

Part of the venom in other reviews of this book may be directed more at the author than the book itself. David Griffin is the Head (Imperator) of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis, Alpha et Omega; this Order has been one of the parties to a rather nasty set of legal and internet battles.

So is this book really bad? If you are looking for a book to read about ritual magic, this is not the book for you. As I stated it is a set of instructions for several rituals dealing with elemental, planetary, zodical and sephirothic energies.

The idea behind the book is to get people to do the rituals, and the author believes that more people will do so if they can just open up a book to the desired ritual without having to learn all the possible variations first. Unfortunately, during my first perusal of the book, I noticed several rituals that had flaws in their instructions (hexagrams and pentagrams with their lines of direction drawn wrong, etc.); if the book is judged on this standard, it must be given a failing grade.

Because of this, I must ask what the real purpose of this book is. As it stands, the student needs to double check all the ritual instructions; one must treat the book like it is "blinded."

Yet the ritual instructions are worth having provided that one knows enough to be able to spot the occasional error. Even so, the book is not worth the amount that some profiteers have tried to sell copies of The Ritual Magic Manual on the internet for.

Overall, I have to say that the book only merits two or maybe three stars out of five. As I stated treat the book as if it is blinded if you do decide to get it; double check everything; of course, if you know all the information necessary to do that, then you definitely do not need this book.

The Ritual Magic Manual: A Complete Course in Practical Magic by David Griffin (1999).

[This review originally appeared on Associated Content (Yahoo Voices) and Helium on 3/7/2009. If I was to review the book today, the review would be even harsher--one of the rituals described in the book leaks like a sieve, and I had a nasty political run-in with members of Griffin's Order which resulted in one of its members telling me openly that it was ok to destory my reputation because I was not a member of his Order which is the only true GD Order. And so it goes. The copy used for this review was brought and paid for by myself, and I have never been offered more than I paid for it.]

Watchmen (Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons)

The 1986 Graphic Novel that is the Basis of the 2009 Watchmen Movie

In 1986, Alan Moore (writer of "V For Vendetta" and "From Hell") teamed up with graphic artist Dave Gibbons to create the graphic novel Watchmen. This was the graphic novel that showed many that comics could be more than four color superheroes, who were little more than glorified boy scouts; it revealed the fact that the graphic novel was a legitimate form of the serious novel.

The world of the Watchmen is one like our own with some minor differences. It is a world where crime exists and so does mental illness. It is a world where the American President is willing to bully the rest of the world into submission. It is a world where some criminals and vigilantes decided to don masks and dress in gaudy costumes.

Much of the novel is told though the journal of the masked vigilante known as Rorschach. One suspects that he donned his mask, for which he is named, because of a deep-seated mental problem. He is a hero quite willing to inflict pain to get information out of criminals, and kill them to bring them to justice.

When the novel opens, we learn that one of the old heroes, the Comedian has just been killed. Rorschach remembers him from the old days when costumed heroes roamed the streets at will before the government cracked down on them causing most of them to go underground and retire.

The heroes and villains of this world, for the most part, have no superpowers. There is an exception, Doctor Manhattan. Once an ordinary man, Doctor Manhattan got caught in an accident at a scientific research facility. Now he has control over atoms and can teleport himself and others. The American President Richard Nixon uses him to keep the Russians in check.

As the story the Watchmen progresses, one realizes that the world is marching steadily towards the hands of midnight, the hour of nuclear war. One of the big questions that the graphic novel asks is: Do heroes have the responsibility to save the world? In the end, the answer given is uncomfortable; one ends up wondering if the world of the Watchmen is so dark and disturbing because of the existence of the costumed heroes.

And the world of the Watchmen is disturbing sick twisted version of our own. Perhaps it is that way because of the psychological reality of Rorschach twists our view of it, or perhaps the world has always been that way and we have never noticed it due to the fabric of our own mask of normality.

Watchmen is a must read for those interested in the development of the graphic novel. 5 out of 5.

[This review originally appeared on Associated Content (Yahoo Voices) on 2/14/2009. The copy used was brought and paid for by me.]

The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! (Harry Harrison)

Review of the Fourth Book in the Stainless Steel Rat Series

The fourth book in the Stainless Steel Rat series, The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You!, continues to follow the adventures of Slippery Jim deGriz, the master criminal turned secret agent. The book starts off with his wife and fellow criminal, Angelina, being arrested by the Interstellar Internal and External Revenue. It is comforting to see that even in the 30th century that some things never change; people still dislike the IRS and paying taxes; though Jim deGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat, is a crook and did engage in some creative bookkeeping, something that no one should actually do.

Jim deGriz joins forces with his twin sons, James and Bolivar, who had been serving time in the Dorsky Military Boarding School and Penitentiary, to free his wife and cause trouble for the taxman.
But this is not the main twist of the story, just the opening credits. The real thrust of this book is the start of an interstellar war with what can be best described by bug-eyed monsters who have decided that humanity is just too ugly to continue to exist. Outgunned and outnumbered, humanity needs to find a way to stop the alien menace.

And their agent of choice is the Stainless Steel Rat, who works for the top secret government agency, the Special Corps, an agency that employs the best criminal minds in the galaxy. So the family is off to infiltrate the alien forces.

As typical of the adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat, there are setbacks. Angelina and one of their sons are captured by aliens. There are also the miraculous solutions to the problems encountered.
Harry Harrison, author of "West of Eden", actually makes fun of the use of the deus ex machina. When the use of the simple solution is considered, the author has first the Morality Corps show up to stop the use of the solution, and then the Temporal Constabulary (Time Police).

It is an interesting concept of a government agency whose purpose is to stop other government agencies from doing immoral deeds. Considering that this book was written in 1979, it is obvious that some things just don't change; governments and their secret agencies have always done dubious deeds. Imagine trying to prevent that.

In the end, the only solution available to Jim deGriz is to address the real cause of the war. The author though the surprise intervention of the Morality Corps and the Time Police prevents the Stainless Steel Rat from taking the easy way out. This results in the author being able to wrap up a few loose threads left over from one of the earlier books of the series.

Overall, I would give this book 3 out of 5 stars. It is a light read, but still a fun evening's entertainment.

[This review originally appeared on Associated Content (Yahoo Voices) on 12/18/2008. The copy used was brought and paid for by myself.]

The Complete Magician's Tables (Stephen Skinner)

Stephen Skinner Outdoes Aleister Crowley's Liber 777.

Stephen Skinner's book, "The Complete Magician's Tables", is essentially an expansion of Aleister Crowley's "Liber 777." Skinner is not the first person to expand Liber 777, but this is the most extensive expansion of that work I have seen. Liber 777 was based on a Golden Dawn document, "Book of Correspondences"; in modern times, students of the Golden Dawn tend to consult Crowley's work (which was reprinted in 1973 along with "Sepher Sephiroth" as "The Qabalah of Aleister Crowley"), rather than the original document assembled by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers and Dr. William Wynn Westcott for the Esoteric Order Golden Dawn in the Outer and its Rosicrucian Second Order, the Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis (Ruby Rose and Golden Cross). Skinner quotes Gerald Yorke, who stated about Liber 777:

"Ninety per cent of the Hebrew, the four colour scales, and the order and attribution of the Tarot trumps are as taught in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn with[in] its inner circle."

As Skinner notes, "Crowley's work was basically a light edit of the original..." Skinner's work is not a light edit. He expands the 194 columns (some of which were nothing more than place markers), keeping the essential information, into 801 columns. Much of the additional material is drawn from old grimoires and other difficult to read works. Skinner reorganizes the material that he copies from Crowley; there is actually a pattern to how the Tables are laid out, unlike Crowley's work which was based on how the information tended to be issued in Golden Dawn (it tended to be handed out piecemeal, rather than as a whole document, which is one of the reasons that students tend to consult Crowley rather than Mathers).

While The Complete Magician's Tables is organized better than Liber 777, there is one drawback that a student of Golden Dawn needs to be aware of when consulting Skinner's work. Stephen Skinner, along with Francis King, in "Techniques of High Magic", decided that the Golden Dawn attribution of the Wand to Fire and the Dagger to Air was wrong. Not only did he continue with this assumption in this current work, he changes several other "obvious blinds."

Several times while going though this book, I found myself wondering if Skinner understood Golden Dawn system of magic and initiation, and knew anything about its history. I presume that he has access to the same published sources that I do, and probably access to more of the unpublished material than I do, so I am not sure how he draws some of the conclusions that he does. For instance, he says that Mathers made changes to the planets associated with the seven double Hebrew letters (those letters that have both a hard and soft pronunciation that traditionally are associated with the seven classical planets); yet if he knew the history of the tradition, he would know that these changes were present in the Cipher Manuscript and that it is unlikely to be the direct work of Mathers.

Plus, he is willing to believe that the leaders of Golden Dawn would purposely "blind" (change the correspondences of the symbols) documents that were meant only for the eyes of members of the Order. I find it unlikely that Golden Dawn would blind its own set of correspondences in papers meant solely for its own members. For instance, the changes of the letters associated with the paths of the Tree of Life is present in the Cipher Manuscript (the Tree of Life that he shows from the Cipher Manuscript is actually for the Philosophus [4=7] ritual, the Perfected Tree, and is not the Tree of Life that the member uses in their daily magical work) he considers to be a mistake. From personal experience, I know that the changes can only be understood properly if one accounts for the fact that this non-orthodox Kabbalah arrangement is actually the plan for one of the layers of the initiation rituals, and is meant to help keep the initiate energetically balanced during the initiationary cycle.

But his lack of understanding about why Golden Dawn uses the set of correspondences it does is really the only problem I have with this sourcebook (sourcework is the term he uses). This is truly an impressive expansion of Liber 777 and the original Book of Correspondences that it was based on. The Tables are organized in a reasonable manner; it is easy to find the proper row thanks to his ZEP system (Zodiac, Element, Planet) which is easier to use than the path numbers that the original works used. Skinner brings in a score of subjects that I have never studied.

This book promises to be used as much use as Liber 777 from students of the magical arts, perhaps more due to the additional information it contains. And if the practitioner of the craft remembers that all systems of correspondences are the opinion of their creator, they will have no problem using this book in their spiritual work.

Stephen Skinner. "The Complete Magician's Tables" (Second Edition). Llewellyn (2006).

[This review originally appeared on Associated Content (Yahoo Voices) on 7/29/2008. The copy used was brought and paid for by myself.]

Secret Societies (Sylvia Browne)

Does Sylvia Browne Know the Truth About Secret Societies?

Many people believe in the abilities of Sylvia Browne, world famous psychic medium, and treat her every word as gospel. But does she know the truth about secret societies? In her book, "Secret Societies...And How They Affect Our Lives Today," Sylvia Browne claims to reveal the truth about secret societies and what they are really up to.

Secret societies have been around as long as human civilization. They were present in Ancient Egypt and Greece, the Roman Empire, with significant flare-ups throughout history to the present day. Many secret societies, mystery cults and schools, have died out and completely disappeared because their members took the concept seriously, leaving us guessing what their rituals, mysteries, and motives were.

Most people assume that any society that keeps secrets is up to no good. Sylvia Browne explains why this assumption happens:

"Most of us would logically deduce that if these organizations' purposes were for the betterment of humankind, then they wouldn't feel the need to be so cryptic. In fact, just the word 'secret' tends to have negative connotations for us. In our minds, the term is the same as 'hidden,' 'mysterious,' and 'unknown'- -and is generally associated with lying, terrorism, and plotting who knows what against others. 'Secret' also conjures up all sorts of others 'bad things,' such as cults, government cover-ups or covert operations, devil worship, spying and intelligence, and power- and money-mad syndicates that want to rule the world."

Browne also notes that people resent having secrets kept from them, but if secrecy is maintained long enough, people eventually accept it and become disinterested.

According to Browne, her interest in secret societies came about though predictions that her spirit, Francine, made during a session with her research group. Some of the information in Browne's book comes from Francine.

Using a spirit guide as an authority and expert, in my opinion, puts some of the information in the book on shaky ground. One of my mentors in Golden Dawn used to say that just because someone doesn't have a body doesn't mean that their information is reliable. Spirits (Guides) have their areas of expertise; outside of these areas, spirits are as fallible as flesh and blood human beings.

One such piece of information that I question is the "most secret of societies," SCAN (Secret Coalition for American Nationalism) which supposedly consists of twenty-two members, who act as an overlord and controller of other societies. Sylvia Browne says that no references exist in print about the organization, and the "conspiracy theorists don't know that it exists."

SCAN is the ultimate power group, according to Francine, and might be able to bring about a peaceful new world order. Browne is disturbed by SCAN, for its members, plans and means are unknown. She also says that "It also bothers me, as I mentioned, that I've never seen one mention of SCAN in all the research I've done over the years. Since it appears that this organization is so powerful and clandestine that no expert in the field even knows that it exists, I can only hope that it is indeed working for the betterment of humankind."

I would like to offer an alternate explanation for the lack of printed information about SCAN. Perhaps, it does not actually exist. Perhaps Francine got it wrong, just like Edgar Cayce kept predicting Atlantis rising up out of the sea. Psychics, and their spirit guides, have their areas of expertise; large grains of salt need to be taken when they wander away from them.

So does Sylvia Browne get anything right? That is hard to say. While I do belong to a couple of societies with secrets, which seem not able to organize a picnic, not alone attempt to rule the world, that does not mean that a secret society could not exist that might desire and even attempt to do so.

Browne is reasonable in many places in her book. For instance, she does not consider the Freemasons to be a threat. Plus, she considers the Rosicrucian Order to be a good and upright organization as it exists today; its historical forebear having no link with the Illuminati. She also reveals an important truth about secret societies that everyone should bear in mind:

"If there's one truth concerning secret societies, it's that there is no absolute truth because they differ in what they wish to accomplish. Whether they're political, religious or mystical, fraternal, or criminal, they all seem to feel the need to keep certain information from the general public- -perhaps out of fear, for protection, or for some cause or agenda that they're dedicated to- -which they believe is for the betterment of humankind."

Sylvia Browne presents her information and then allows the reader to make up their own mind. She also mentions enough sources that anyone who wants to wallow in this field has a place to start. I may not completely agree with, or trust some of her information, but I do wonder what if she is right.
As she says, "[I]t's sometimes better to be a little paranoid so that we don't fall into apathy and wake up some morning under a new government that curtails our freedom. So in this case, I'm in the corner of the conspiracy theorists- -and although 75 percent of what they say may be pure speculation, I do worry about the other 25 percent."

Many people are going to believe that she is someone they should worry about. There is one chapter in the book that I suspect that many readers will consider one hundred percent wrong. In the chapter, "Lies about Jesus Christ," Browne talks about Jesus faking his own death, and being married to Mary Magdalene. Sylvia Browne believes that the Catholic Church knows the truth and is covering it up, and that just might be the biggest conspiracy of all, besides the sworn secret of several secret societies, if she is right.

Sylvia Browne. "Secret Societies...And How They Affect Our Lives Today." Hay House (2007).

[This review originally appeared on Associated Content (Yahoo Voices) on 7/8/2008. The copy used was brought and paid for by myself.]

Inner Order Teachings of the Golden Dawn (Pat Zalewski)

Pat Zalewski's Latest Book Reveals Previously Unpublished Teachings of the Golden Dawn

One of the difficulties in studying the Golden Dawn tradition is that many of its Inner Order teachings have been lost, unpublished, or sometimes never even fully completed, forcing the modern day esoteric Orders that have been built from the Outer Order information (compiled and published by Israel Regardie) and the Adepts connected with these groups, to create their own Inner Order teachings, a major problem for some; Pat Zalewski in his book "Inner Order Teachings of the Golden Dawn" addresses this problem.

The book, not to be confused with Zalewski's earlier book, "Secret Inner Order Rituals of the Golden Dawn" (1988), mainly consists of THAM (Theoricus Adept Minor) lectures written by one of the three co-founders of Isis-Urania, the original Golden Dawn lodge (Temple), Macgregor (Samuel Liddell) Mathers, along with papers written by Pat Zalewski that supplement the Mathers' material. There is also information about the diagrams studied in the PRAM (Practicus Adept Minor) subgrade, alchemy and the Tarot, the Lunar Diagram on the Tree of Life, and the Chief Adept's (Caduceus) Wand, all of which were written by Pat Zalewski.

The importance of the material contained in this book lies both in how the original Grade structure of Golden Dawn's Inner Order, the R.R. et A.C. (Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis, "Order of the Rose of Ruby and Cross of Gold", also known as Second Order), was conceived and the depth of the teachings revealed.

As originally conceived by Mathers, the creator of the Adept Minor (5=6) Grade ritual, the instructional material of the Inner Order Grades would examine the earlier Grades' rituals and their symbolism. The Adept Minor Grade was divided into six subgrades; the primary teachings for each subgrade would be based on one of the Outer Order Grade rituals. The ZAM (Zelator Adept Minor) subgrade would start the study and analysis of the Neophyte (0=0) Grade ritual, and the THAM subgrade would focus on the Zelator (1=10) Grade ritual, etc. (The Neophyte Adept Minor subgrade was primarily concerned with the creation and consecration of the Adept's magical tools [weapons].)
Pat Zalewski extended this theme to the rest of the Grades of the system. Hence the Adept Major (6=5) will study the Portal ritual while the Adept Extempt (7=4) will study the Adept Minor ritual, and the Magister Templi (8=3) will study the Adept Major ritual.

This system of determining the primary curriculum is not agreed upon by everyone in the Golden Dawn community. There are those who believe in the myth of the Third Order, and seek it out, saying that it is only by contacting Third Order as they claim Mathers did (it may just have been simply an advertising and member retention tool used by Mathers), that Golden Dawn can receive any new rituals and lectures. This curriculum scheme flies in the face of that assumption; with a clear outline of the curriculum and where it was headed, new teachings can be created by the current active members of the tradition.

The fact that this curriculum scheme implies that any active member of the tradition could work hard, research the symbols of the rituals, and develop new teachings, due to the higher teachings being based on material that is already published and available to all students of the tradition, upsets anyone who seeks to control the Golden Dawn system. This scheme democratizes the system, putting the power to grow the tradition into the hands of the many, rather than the privileged few who had access to the unpublished material contained in this book.

And that is the real importance of this book, not the publication of teachings that only a few had access to previously, but the fact that it reveals the depth that future leaders and students can strive for using material already in their possession. For example, the lecture on the Universe card of the Major Arcana shows us how deep a Golden Dawn based analysis of any of the Tarot cards can go.
This book is a twelve inch rule, a standard of measurement that we can judge our own work and the efforts of others by. It shows us a plan, and examples, for fleshing out the rest of the Golden Dawn system of esoteric philosophy and magic.

Pat Zalewski. "Inner Order Teachings of the Golden Dawn." Thoth Publications (2006).

[This review first appeared on Associated Content (Yahoo Voices) on 7/1/2008. The copy used was brought and paid for by myself.]

If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans (Ann Coulter)

Perhaps one of the most hated Republicans in the country, Ann Coulter is a best selling writer, columnist and political pundit. "If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans" is her sixth book, a compilation of quotes from her columns, other books and interviews. If you ever wondered what the fuss over Ann Coulter is about, this book is a good place to start.

Coulter, who writes a weekly column for Universal Press Syndicate, which can be read online at her website, is opinionated, Christian, conservative, and very witty. It is the last trait that probably gets liberals so upset with her. As she notes in her introduction to the book, for the last decade liberals have been foaming at the mouth about her comments.

No democrat is safe from her comments; Nancy Pelosi "a look of perpetual surprise," Hillary Clinton "had firsthand experience in one of [the worst presidential administrations of all time]," and Obama "[is the perfect democratic presidential candidate,] he's black and white and has a Muslim, atheist, and Christian background," have all been victims of her barbs. This is probably why they dislike her so much.

Another reason for so much of the vitriol aimed at her is that some people can not tell when she is joking. While she is not in the same legion as the 18th century French philosopher and political satirist Voltaire (who was in danger of losing his head for his comments), I suspect that no one who misunderstands his jokes will get hers either.

Republicans are not safe from her either: John McCain "Weakness: About half of his policy positions," Mitt Romney "Weakness: Belongs to a peculiar quasi-Christian church, the Masons." Her general opinion of Republicans in politics seems to be that they spend more time being afraid of liberals than actually doing their job.

She points fun at herself too. "I am the illegal alien of commentary. I will do the jokes that no one else will do," she noted on the O'Reilly Factor.

And it is not just individuals that feel the bite of her tongue. Whole classes of people have been the subject of her comments. Her comments about airline security can be viewed harsh and an insult against Muslims; but considering the fact that I foresee the day that we all have to travel naked, I can not say that she is absolutely wrong. The problem with her humor is that it is designed to make you think, something that causes the brain to ache. Yes, noting that Muslims have been responsible for airline terrorism upsets people, but Coulter has the truth on her side; it is just too bad that a few bad apples have spoilt the entire bushel, a point that she seems to completely ignore.

After reading this book, I understand the loathing that many feel towards her. But I also have to admire her wit and reasoning. I can not say that she is completely wrong. Nor can I say that she is just a hack; I found myself admiring her vocabulary and use of language.

I recommend this book for those who do not have time to wade though all her writing looking for gems. It is a good overview of the menace that she can be if you are a liberal, and thought provoking if you are a conservative.

Ann Coulter, "If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans." New York: Crown Forum (2007).

[This review originally appeared on Associated Content (Yahoo Voices) on 1/3/2008. The copy used was brought and paid for by me.]

Yiddish for Dogs (Janet Perr)

Yiddish for Dogs (Chutzpah, Feh!, Kibbitz, and More): Every Word Your Canine Needs to Know

Yiddish for Dogs (by Janet Perr) is a must-have book for both dog lovers, and those who are curious about Yiddish. Does your dog need to know Yiddish, perhaps they do. Do you need to know Yiddish? Of course, you do. Or at least enough to be able to nod your head intellectually when it is used around you.

I grew up around Yiddish. I did not learn enough to be fluent in it. Just the occasional word, for which there is no English equivalent, such as Oy and Shlep.

Janet Perr in her introduction talks about how she thought her father was making up words, and then later learned that many of them were actually Yiddish words. I also had that experience, though it was more my grandparents and less my father. Perr, at least, had the advantage of knowing that she had a Jewish heritage. My family, on the other hand, had long buried their ancestral roots, and it only though hints and a lot of research that I finally figured it out.

I guess that is part of the reason why I am fascinated by Yiddish. It is part of the heritage that I was not allowed to have while growing up. It is part of the family past that has long been forgotten, yet traces of it remained even after the family did their best to cover up their Jewishness.

The other part of my fascination with Yiddish comes from being a writer. Quite simply, Yiddish has words that we have no counterpart for. Yiddish is spoken from the soul of the European Jew; it is a product of the Jewish experience.

Leafing though Yiddish for Dogs is a delicious trip through the eyes of another culture. And I found it to be a learning experience also; I discovered several new Yiddish words that I did not know before.

For instance, there is a word to describe my rambling, long, what was the point of all this, stories that I sometimes (or maybe it is often) engage in. "Megillah" is such a nice little word for those tales that come out of my mouth, or sometimes off my keyboard. Should I tell the wife that the word exists? Maybe not. She might actually use it against me.

The wife knows no Yiddish. She still thinks that I made up the word "shlep." But I didn't, it is a good useful Yiddish word. And I do end up shleping a lot; what do I look like a mule? I am quite sure that my purpose on this earth is not just to carry heavy boxes.

Not only is Yiddish for Dogs a nice list of useful Yiddish words, the writing of Perr is a delight. She writes from the viewpoint of the dogs, who I can very well imagine using those exact Yiddish words.
For instance, we have all met the dog that has said the following: "What can I say about FRESSING? Obviously my favorite activity. And believe me, I'll eat anything that you put in front of me." He lives right next door to me; he probably lives next door to you too. You know the dog I am talking about--a keg on four legs.

Perr is not only a funny writer; she is also a good photographer and artist. The illustrations of the dogs are a hoot. With the use of collage, Perr has produced a picture for each word that is worth the price of the book all by themselves.

For instance, the dog for the word "Shlemiel" is a cigarette smoking dachshund sitting in front of a no smoking sign; exactly something that a shlemiel would actually do. And the picture of "Plotz" without any retouching sums up the emotional sense of that word quite nicely.

So if you are a dog lover, or have one in the family, check out Yiddish for Dogs. The dogs will thank you, and you will finally understand what they are saying.

Janet Perr. Yiddish for Dogs (Chutzpah, Feh!, Kibbitz, and More): Every Word Your Canine Needs to Know. New York: Hyperion (2007).

[This review originally appeared on Associated Content (Yahoo Voices) on 11/20/2007. The book was brought and paid for by myself.]

About this blog

This blog collects all the various book reviews that I have done in various places, such as Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Helium, Yahoo Voices (originally Associated Content), Gleamings from the Golden Dawn, Musings from the Inkwell, etc.