January 30, 2012

How To Lie With Statistics ****

**** How to Lie with Statistics, Darrell Huff, 1954

I read this book back in the 70s and loved it. Since it's been a while I thought I'd give it another read. Still good.

It's a lightweight course on how statistics can be used to misrepresent information. Even if math is not your strong suit, you can follow this book and learn how to find the weak spots in a statistic.

One downside is that all the examples are from the 1920s through the 1950s. For example, here's the beginning of Chapter 1:

"The average Yaleman Class of '24," Time magazine noted once, commenting on something in the New York Sun, "makes $25,111."

Well, good for him!

But, wait a minute. What does this impressive figure mean?

Even knowing we're talking about 1924, it's hard to see this as impressive. But eventually you adjust your head for a century back.

The other downside is that it doesn't take long for you to realize that you're never going to have enough information about any stat you see in a newspaper, magazine, TV show or the internet to know if it's legit.

But I can live with that.

January 26, 2012

Should Christians Drink?: The Case for Abstinence

Should Christians Drink?: The Case for Abstinence, Peter Masters, 1992

This one of two books in the list that was published before my 1996 essay. However, in a time before Amazon.com, books published by a small press in the UK were not readily available to geeks in Fred, Texas.

It became apparent after only a few pages that this book is not a dispassionate examination of the subject, but rather propaganda in the purest sense of the word, "the particular doctrines or principles propagated by an organization or movement." It in no way can stand next to Bacchiocchi's book as a serious inquiry into the subject, or even next to Libatique's work, which is bush league at best.

Chapter One established the foundation for a Christian version of situational ethics, destroying the credibility of any statement to follow. For example, when a book argues, as this one does on page 32 regarding the wedding at Cana that, "It is possible that the Lord may have made the wine in a diluted state, ready to serve," then it is apparent that we're in the full throes of an agenda fueld by speculation to support a preordained conclusion, not an honest inquiry in search of the facts of the case. I mean, I ask you, "What the heck?" And I use that term advisedly.

The speculations that follow this statement beggar the imagination. It was with great effort that I forced myself to continue, even though I was already one third of the way through the book. It seems that this book, for which I paid $9.99 plus shipping comprises less than 30,000 words. It would seem that a Fred ebook, three times as long for less than a third of the price, is a great bargain!

It was also interesting to see Masters advance a completely unbiblical interpretation of equating weakness in faith with reluctance to embrace legalism, in contradiction to the concepts I discovered and discuss in WWJD. However, I do have to credit him with a very clever conflation of Levitical rules and the priesthood of the believer. It would have never occurred to me to connect those particular dots.

Overall, this skimpy book is short on both volume and substance. Don't bother with it, especially if you're looking for a thorough examination of the topic rather than a predictable and boring sermon.

January 23, 2012

A History of the World in Six Glasses ***

*** A History of the World in Six Glasses, Tom Standage, 2005

I think I got this book on the Kindle Daily Deal. (If you have a Kindle, you should check it every day.)

Standage's theme is that you can track the ages through the successive prominence of six beverages: beer, wine, liquor, coffee, tea, and cola. He makes a compelling case. In fact, he shows that in many cases, the drinks themselves shaped history, and in the case of tea, a corporation wielded the power of government over a large portion of the glob and instigated the tax that fomented a revolution.

It's a fascinating read. I'm going to leave you with this rather lengthy quote from the end of the book about the original and possibly next global drink.

As much as 40 percent of the bottled water sold in the United States is, in fact, derived from tap water, though it is usually filtered and may have extra minerals added. America's two leading bottled-water brands, Aquafini and Dasani, are derived from municipal water supplies. And although many bottled-ater labels depict glaciers, crystal streams and ice-covered mountains, tjhese images do not always reflect the true origins of the water within. A study buy the National Resources Defense council, an American environmental lobbly group, found that one brand of bottled water, labeled as "pure glacier water," came from a municipal water supply. Another brand, claiming to be "spring water," with a label showing a lake and mountains, actually came from a well in a factory parking lot, near a hazardous wasted dump. The study also noted that in both Europe and the United States, the quality of tap water is far more stringently controlled than the quality of bottled water.

There is no evidence that bottled water is any safer or healthier than the tap water available in developed nations, and in blind tasting tests, most people cannot tell the difference between the two. The differences in taste between bottled waters exceed the difference in taste between bottled water and tap water. Yet people continue to buy bottled water, even though it costs between 250 and 10,000 times as much per gallon as tap water. In short, safe water has become so abundant in the developed world that people can afford to shun the tap water under their noses and drink bottled water instead. In contrast, for many people i nthe developing world, acess to water remains a matter of life or death.


Why it matters.

Full navigation, including TOC.

Proper chapter and paragraph formatting. However, problems with hypenated words were littered liberally throughout the book, manifesting as words being hyphenated even if they don't break between lines, such as "Attend-dants." Sometimes there would be a space instead of a hypen, which was even more confusing.

Proofreading. I only found a few typos, for example "guesrs" instead of "guests."

Overall, a decent job of ebook production, but it does illustrate my claim that ebooks are not proofread as closely as print books. I guarantee you no print book would leave a publisher with dozens of words with hypens or spaces in the middle of them.

January 19, 2012

A Toast to the Holy Ghost? **

** A Toast to the Holy Ghost?, Kelly Libatique, 2010

I grabbed this one on Kindle after noticing some (possibly coincidental) similarities in the description and my 1996 essay on the topic. I read through it in a night and found it worthy in places, but laden with specious reasoning in others. For example, consider this passage:

"It is interesting to note that God knew perfectly well when inspiring the authors of the Bible that using an ambiguous word here (and in many other places) would cause centuries of debate. If He had wanted to make it clear one way or the other, He could have easily done so."

Am I to conclude from this passage that God knew his ambiguity would cause confusion and intentionally created ambiguity for that purpose? This sounds suspiciously like the "God placed dinosaur fossils in the earth to give the appearance of age" argument of creation over evolution. This and other similar issues left me feeling the book was less than helpful.

My take on the topic: WWJD

January 16, 2012

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag ****

**** The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, Alan Bradley, 2010

I bought this a few months ago but have been saving it as a treat to myself. I picked it up during the week between Christmas and New Year and forced myself to only read a little at a time so it would last the whole week. I finished it on Dec 30, so I was almost successful.

The second Flavia de Luce novel is just as well written as the first one, but it takes a little longer to get to the crime, which doesn't happen until page 151. But Flavia is entertaining even when there is no dead body, so that doesn't put any marks against it in my book.

Time to get A Red Herring Without Mustard. Only one released after that one, so I need to take them slowly to reduce the gaps between books.

January 12, 2012

Wine in the Bible **

** Wine in the Bible, Samuele Bacchiocchi, 2001

This is an exhaustive study of the subject from multiple viewpoints, delving down into the Hebrew, Greek and Latin with hundreds of footnotes, written by a Seventh-day Aventist theologian in his sixties. This book was a clear indication to me how just how superficial my analysis was. It is also a highly soporific approach and I am certain that the casual inquirer into the subject will never get past the 3 prefaces, the 8-page introduction (legal pages) and the 9-page second introduction. Chapter 1 shows up at page 28

Bacchiocchi proclaims at the outset to adopt a prohibitionist stance. I found a lot of the examination of the original language to be enlightening and worthy of reflection, but the ad hominem attribution of ulterior motives to scholars who translated things differently weakened his credibility, especially when he evinced the same propensities himself. In addition, in the problem passages and elsewhere there seemed to be a significant amount of begging the question.

All that notwithstanding, for a serious student of the issue it's worth a read for the analysis of the original language alone. Just keep your logical fallacy filters on high.

My take on the topic: WWJD

January 9, 2012

Spytime **

** Spytime: The Undoing of James Jesus Angleton, William F Buckley Jr, 2001

Being a big fan of Buckley's Blackford Oaks spy novels, I decided to give this book a whirl. Angleton was the head of CIA counterintelligence from 1954 to 1975 and Spytime is a novel based on Angleton's career. It's been almost two decades since I read a Blackford Oaks novel so I could be wrong, but I recall them as being more engaging than Spytime. It's a decent enough read, but not something I found myself dying to get back to.

Halfway through the book a b-story starts, featuring one of Angleton's operatives and almost nothing of Angleton, and goes on for 120 pages (over a third of the book) before it is rather abruptly cut off 40 pages from the end of the book. I found that a little annoying.

But if you're a fan of spy novels, or of history, this might be the book for you.

January 8, 2012

Yo, ho, ho, it's a writer's life for me!

Once, asked about his writing routine, Doctorow said: "Here's how it goes: I'm up at the stroke of 10 or 10:30. I have breakfast and read the papers, and then it's lunchtime. Then maybe a little nap after lunch and out to the gym, and before I know it, it's time to have a drink."

January 6, 2012

If by whiskey

A 1952 speech by Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr., a young lawmaker from Mississippi, on the subject of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibit (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize alcoholic beverages:

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

January 5, 2012

What Would Jesus Drink? ****

**** What Would Jesus Drink?, Brad Whittington, 2011

In 1996 I did a study of all the verses in the Bible that referred to wine and strong drink and it found its way to the Internet under a pseudonym. That essay was quoted in The Year of Living Biblically, was evidently the primary source material of a Relevant Magazine article, was credited by Michael Spencer (RIP) aka The Internet Monk in a 2005 posting, and referenced by dozens of other sites on the internet.

I recently decided to update the essay and released it as What Would Jesus Drink? I released it in digital form as a 99-cent ebook (the lowest price allowed) on Amazon and other outlets. I also made it available in paperback for those don't do ebooks, also priced as low as the system would allow, which comes out to $7.49. Amazing what going from electrons to paper can do to the price!

You can see the table of contents and read a chapter or so on Amazon. I have to say a big thanks to Hilary Combs for the beautiful front cover and Tosh McIntosh for the designing the rest of the cover and the interior of the book, a huge undertaking.

As I worked on this project, I read some of the books that surfaced in the intervening fifteen years. Most of these were not available when I did the original study, otherwise I probably would not have written my own.

In the next several weeks I'll review the books I read. I'll give you a little hint about what is to come. Most of them are against any kind of drinking, and the best book in that category was published in 1871. The anti-drinking book guys who have published in the last two decades could have learned a few things from Rev. William Patton.

January 4, 2012

Russo on Writing

"Novelists — especially novelists who paint on a broad canvas — are generally not given to undue anxiety, I think. The task is so enormous that if we ever really thought about what we were letting ourselves in for, we'd never begin. Early on we learn to worry only about what we do today. If I get my two or three pages written on Monday my day's work is done. It's useless to worry about Friday or four years from Friday. Pages need our attention; books take care of themselves." -Richard Russo

January 3, 2012

Muffin Man tribute

Norm, technical consultant on the poker scenes in Muffin Man, brought me this gift on New Year's Eve. In case you can't tell, that shiny dark thing is a muffin in plastic wrap.

Status report on Muffin Man: Second draft will begin in two weeks. I'm shooting for an April Fool's Day release. We shall see if I make it.

BradNotes subscribers get an exclusive sneak peek at Muffin Man: Day 1, the first 75 pages of the first draft, and an email notice when the book comes out. Sign up by sending an email to BradNotes@BradWhittington.com.

You can catch the first page here.

UPDATE 1-5-2012: I ate the muffin. It was more like a mini chocolate cake, very moist and quite good with medium roast Columbian coffee made strong. Num!

January 1, 2012

2011 Reading List

  1. **** The Art of Fiction, John Gardner, 1983
  2. *** Angels Flight, Michael Connelly, 1999
  3. *** Void Moon, Michael Connelly, 2000
  4. *** That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo, 2009
  5. ** John Gardner: Literary Outlaw, Barry Silesky, 2004
  6. *** A Darkness More Than Night, Michael Connelly, 2001
  7. *** City of Bones, Michael Connelly, 2002
  8. *** Lost Light, Michael Connelly, 2003
  9. *** The Narrows, Michael Connelly, 2004
  10. *** The Closers, Michael Connelly, 2005
  11. *** The Lincoln Lawyer, Michael Connelly, 2005
  12. *** Echo Park, Michael Connelly, 2006
  13. *** The Overlook, Michael Connelly, 2007
  14. *** The Brass Verdict, Michael Connelly, 2008
  15. *** The Scarecrow, Michael Connelly, 2009
  16. *** 9 Dragons, Michael Connelly, 2009
  17. *** The Reversal, Michael Connelly, 2010
  18. *** The Fifth Witness, Michael Connelly, 2011
  19. The All-New Real Estate Foreclosure Short-Selling Underwater Property Auction Positive Cash Flow Book, Chantal Howell Carey and Bill Carey, 2009
  20. Buying Real Estate Foreclosures, Melissa S. Kollen-Rice, 2003
  21. How to Buy Foreclosed Real Estate for a Fraction of its Value, Theodore J. Dallow, Don Ayer and Dick Pas, 2008
  22. The Complete Guide to Locating, Negotiating, and Buying Real Estate Foreclosures, Frankie Orlando and Marsha Ford, 2007
  23. Foreclosure Investing for Dummies, Ralph R. Roberts with Joe Kraynak, 2007
  24. The Pre-Foreclosure Property Investor's Kit, Thomas J Lucier, 2005
  25. ** American on Purpose, Craig Ferguson, 2009
  26. ** Little Green Men, Christopher Buckley, 1999
  27. *** The Mystery of Children, Mike Mason, 2001
  28. *** We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver, 2003
  29. *** A Fine Dark Line, Joe R. Lansdale, 2003
  30. *** The Portable Landsdale: Sanctified and Chicken Fried, Joe R. Lansdale, 2009
  31. The Art of Detection, Laurie R. King, 2006
  32. A Grave Talent, Laurie R. King, 1993
  33. *** The Career Novelist, Donald Maass, 1996
  34. * The Hawkline Monster, Richard Brautigan, 1974
  35. ** No Way to Treat a First Lady, Christopher Buckley, 2003
  36. ** American on Purpose, Craig Ferguson, 2009
  37. ** The Art of War, Sun Tzu, 512 B.C.
  38. *** The Throne of Fire, Rick Riordan, 2011
  39. *** Resurrection in May, Lisa Samson, 2010
  40. **** The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley, 2010
  41. *** Son of a Witch, Gregory Maguire, 2005
  42. **** Back On Murder, J. Mark Bertrand, 2010
  43. *** The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo, 2006
  44. *** Savage Season, Joe R. Lansdsale, 1990
  45. *** A Monstrous Regiment of Women, Laurie R King, 1995
  46. *** The Two-Bear Mambo, Joe R Lansdale, 1995
  47. *** A Letter of Mary, Laurie R King, 1997
  48. *** Bad Chili, Joe R Lansdale, 1997
  49. *** The Moor, Laurie R King, 1998
  50. *** The Wayward Bus, John Steinbeck, 1947
  51. *** Rumble Tumble, Joe R. Lansdale, 1998
  52. *** O Jerusalem, Laurie R King, 1999
  53. *** The Girl with the Long Green Heart, Lawrence Block, 1994
  54. *** Captains Outrageous, Joe R Lansdale, 2001
  55. *** Pattern of Wounds, J Mark Bertrand, 2011
  56. *** Justice Hall, Laurie R King, 2002
  57. *** Pilot Error, Tosh McIntosh, 2011
  58. *** Vanilla Ride, Joe R Lansdale, 2009
  59. *** A Hole in the Apple, Harley Carnes, 2011
  60. *** The Game, Laurie R King, 2004
  61. *** Kim, Rudyard Kipling, 1901
  62. *** Devil Red, Joe R Lansdale, 2011
  63. ** Cannibal Nights: Pacific Stories, Volume II, Kiana Davenport, 2011
  64. *** Locked Rooms, Laurie R King, 2005
  65. *** The Language of Bees, Laurie R King, 2009
  66. *** The God of the Hive, Laurie R King, 2010
  67. ** Spytime: The Undoing of James Jesus Angleton, William F Buckley Jr, 2001
  68. ** Wine in the Bible, Samuele Bacchiocchi, 2001
  69. **** The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, Alan Bradley, 2010
  70. ** A Toast to the Holy Ghost?, Kelly Libatique, 2010
  71. *** A History of the World in Six Glasses, Tom Standage, 2005, ***
  72. Should Christians Drink?: The Case for Abstinence, Peter Masters, 1992
  73. * The Biblical Approach to Alcohol, Stephen M. Reynolds and Calel Butler, 2003
  74. *** Bible Wines or the Laws of Fermentation and Wines of the Ancients, Rev. William Patton, 1871
  75. * Cracking the Wine Case: Unlocking Ancient Secrets in the Christian and Drinking Controversy, Scott E. Smith, 2010
  76. *** Drinking With Calvin and Luther!: A History of Alcohol in the Church, Jim West, 2003
  77. *** Diary of a Part-Time Monk, J. Wilson, 2011
  78. *** Bipolar Disorder Demystified, Lana R Castle, 2003
  79. *** An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Key Redfield Jamison, 1996