Nothing but Surprises

I have to say that Defending Jacob by William Landay is suspenseful, and surprising. This is not your typical murder mystery because it involves a teen ager as the victim, and who knows maybe a teen ager as the killer. I never learned who the real killer was, nor his motive, nor how he did it, but that is why I call it a suspense story.

There are so many characters in the story that I found myself trying to figure who the killer was. I partly guessed right. I admit that almost every character in the story is intimately involved. The author did not place characters in the story just to fill space.

One theory of defense postulated is the “murder gene.” If you have this gene you may be pre-disposed to violence. It is not a proven science yet, but it is far enough along to write about it.

The first eighty percent of the story is plot build up, and character development; the thrills take place in the last twenty percent. I hesitated beginning this book because so many murder mysteries are so alike; this one is not. It is so far from the ordinary, that I stayed up past my bed time to keep on reading.

This story clearly points out how clueless parents can be of a teen’s activities. The parents of this fourteen year old could not imagine that their son was into dark porn websites, but he was. He also wrote a story that mimicked the murder and all the characters involved, then posted it on a social media website for the world to see. That little act did not help his cause one bit. Much of the story depicts the family falling apart over the kid’s arrest, indictment, and trial. The father lost his job, his mother quit her teaching job, the school suspended the accused, all their friends shunned them. They were in total solitary confinement. At first, the parents did not believe their son is guilty, but as the trial opens, and they hear testimony pointing at him they begin to have doubts. By the time the trial ends, the family is held together by flimsy threads.

I have to give this story five stars. ⊕⊕⊕⊕⊕

Bloody Immigration

Roman fighting Gauls

If ever there was a story of immigration The Eagles Brood in the Camulod Chronicles series of books I am currently reading describes it in detail. The era was 300-500 A.D. and the story takes place in what is now known as England. In those  years the land belonged to the Roman Empire. As all empires go, the politicians got greedy and the tax money lined their pockets instead of paying their armies to keep law, and order in the territories. Reading about the society of that era is much like reading about our own society today. Our politicians all prosper while our status in the world, and even at home suffers. Masses of people all looking to get a piece of our heavenly land flock across the borders to flee oppression in their native lands.

One huge difference between 400 A.D. and 2018 A.D. is that immigrants aren’t being led by egomaniacal leaders who do not want land alone, but power as well. A second difference is in the way immigrants fought wars. Land was won by the group that could slay the weaker one. Literally, battles ended when there were no more soldiers of the other side to kill. Bodies piled up every where, wounded were triaged into the savable and those to be put out of their misery. WOW!

The author, Jack Whyte has not let me down yet, and the story continues for another four volumes. His characters are strong and human. Some are pure evil and desperate for control. The family blood line is what drives his narrative, and at this point he is in the fourth generation.

The historical period is fascinating, and Jack Whyte is a master historian of the time.  His dialog, description of living conditions, and customs makes the reader become one of the characters.

 

A New Passion

I have found a new passion, another era of history to read about and to absorb. A few weeks ago I read Pillars of the Earth a fictional history of a man who spent his life building a cathedral in eleventh century England. I wrote a short review on this blog and one of my faithful readers who makes me smile everyday when he publishes a cartoon told me about the Camulod Chronicles. I am hooked. This period is in the fourth century and describes life in the Roman Empire in Britain. I will now add the remaining six stories in the series to my reading list.

All I can say to the citizens of the world who want their lives totally ruled by government is they should read these books. People have revered Liberty since the beginning of man on earth. Liberty is what eventually takes over after man has succeeded in his goal of making everyone so equal that equality becomes oppressive. There is one thing that intrigues me, there is always a group of citizens who become filthy rich while the rest of us are so pre-occupied being equal to notice how oppressed we are.

War Horses and Stone Masons

Knights _276_506918127

Wow! I just finished reading Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. WOW because the book is just short of a thousand pages long, and wow because the story is amazing, entertaining, and spell binding. Follett claims to be an atheist, but his book is mainly about the Catholic Church in England in the years 1123-1174. Of course when one writes a story about a period that far removed from us it can be false, and sound real. I believe this story to be based on real life in the 1100’s.

This epic is based on one man’s dream to build a cathedral. I visited cathedrals in Munich, London, and Montreal, and was totally awe-struck by the immensity of the buildings. How in the hell did they ever build this building in an age before modern machines? Pillars of the Earth explains how it was done in a fictional story that takes place over a period of fifty-one years. That is how long it takes to make a cathedral using manual labor.

The story line contains so many, characters, plots, and lives I found myself living in the period as an observer. If this story were made into a movie it would require ten or more two-hour episodes to tell, and I will watch every chapter.

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I love history and this is an era of history when Knights, and Kings, and Earls ruled the civilized world of Europe. Today’s kids and parents will go into shock when they learn that girls a young as fourteen were given into marriage, or that couples found having sex before marriage were given penance to live apart for a year before they could be married in the church. They would learn that life for the privileged was far different from the life of someone who did not have money to live on. The 1100’s gave meaning to the term “street people.” Common folk lived in homes of one or two rooms with little to no furnishings. Families slept in one room, and kids learned about sex by watching the action around them. Food was simple; usually dry bread and watered down beer. Workers were paid a penny a day. Families lived on six pennies a week. Kids worked. Royalty, lived much better, but a family of 2017 lives much better than did the royalty of 1117.

I rate this story at five stars, but it is equal to reading four normal books.

B17’s, P51’s, and B29’s

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How does it feel to be the very last pilot to fight an air battle in a great war? The Last Fighter Pilot told me exactly what is was like since this book is about his experience as a pilot flying out of Iwo Jima during the war against Japan. Until this book all I knew about Iwo Jima was that it took several thousand Marine lives to chase the Japanese off the island and when they raised to American flag one photographer got lucky and took a picture that has memorialized the place. Other than that I was never aware that Iwo Jima the island became a vital stepping stone in the defeat of the Japanese in WWII.

I became aware of this book while watching an interview with Captain Jerry Yellin on TV. My God I thought the guy is ninety-three, he still fits in his Army Air Corp uniform and he is a sharp as a tack, I want to hear his story. I ordered his book through my library, and waited three months for it to arrive, there were twenty-four holds on it before me. I picked up the book on Saturday afternoon, and finished reading it on Monday evening. I love war stories, with airplanes, and this was a great one.

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A Conservative Learns Some New Facts

The Far Away Brothers is one book which I recommend. It is history, political science and social studies all rolled into one. Auren Markham did a fine job of unraveling the complexities of US policies which did not make any sense to me like DACA. I’ve written a few blog pieces on GrumpaJoesplace.com about how befuddled I was about the thousands of kids migrating to the USA from Central America. How could little kids do that by themselves? That is one of the questions she answered for me. Another question I asked is why did the USA advertise its DACA policy in Central America? Had our administration gone nuts? What she leads me to believe is that our Department of Homeland Security did just the opposite. Why I heard that the USA encouraged Central Americans to migrate is still a mystery, but I think it might have been Fake News that did it.
Markham exposes why kids from El Salvador are leaving in droves. It is simple and it has nothing to do with America. It has everything to do with Central American government’s inability to improve conditions in their countries, their inability to control gangs, and their excessive corruption. Where have we heard that before? In the meantime, the USA in its compassion, and mercy tries to legislate solutions to solve problems that we know nothing about. In my years as an engineer we learned to find to the root-cause. DACA legislation resulted from being unable to reach the root-cause. The frustration of passing laws without knowing what problem the law deals with in a country we have absolutely no intimate  knowledge of. Even if did have intimate knowledge, how would we go about implementing laws in a foreign country to solve their inner problems? Meanwhile the people of Central America look to the North as a place where the ‘streets are paved in gold,’ and look upon the USA as the answer to all of their problems.
All along I wondered how young kids could travel over a thousand miles without any resources. They didn’t, they paid big money to hire a Coyote to get them into the USA. I should say, their parents paid big money by borrowing at ridiculous interest rates ( 20% +) , and expecting their liberated kid to work it off. What they don’t realize is the infinite maze of agencies, and systems legislated to insure only those who seek political asylum qualify, and not easily. Why these same people didn’t pay to get their kids a passport and visa before they paid for the coyote remains a mystery. In the meantime, we Americans swallow the bill to pay for the exorbitant court costs for years of needless red tape. I can now see why groups like La Raza want open borders, and free passage across borders to prevail.
Author Markham tells this story by telling the story of  one family with nine kids from El Salvador whose one son gets in trouble with a gang that threatens to kill him.  His loving parents pay for his escape. After he leaves, his twin brother who looks exactly like him fears the gang will kill him by mistake, so the parents take another juice loan to get the twin out-of-town. The story of their escape and arrival in the US is a mind-boggling drama that none of us would want to live through, but they make it.

I gave this book four stars.

LIFE 3.0

I just completed reading “Life 3.0, Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.”  This was not one of my better selections, but I read it to the end anyway. The subject intrigued me. I first heard the term Artificial Intelligence used some thirty years ago, and it didn’t hurt me to finally learn something about the topic. Artificial intelligence refers to super computers with programs that learn, and adapt quickly. The only real example of AI that I know of is the IBM computer that beat the world champion Russian chess player at chess.

Behind the scenes that I am familiar with there is an army of people developing software and hardware to think like humans. The current rage of robots need AI to exist. Author Max Tegmark is obviously a genius at AI. He teaches at MIT and writes about two miles over my feeble brain level. I thoroughly enjoyed the Prelude titled The Tale of the Omega Team. This is a well drafted story of robots gifted with AI, and how they develop into a force we don’t want to reckon with. When I began reading The Tale of the Omega Team the story was totally believable given the advanced level of today’s technology. The story hooked me into complete concentration, but as the narrative developed I began to suspect Omega Team was toying with me. It was. As Omega used its experiences to learn, he quickly adapted to become smarter and smarter surpassing his creator in intelligence. The story became more and more preposterous, but still very believable. The Tale of the Omega Team could very well become a TV series.

The last two chapters were also very engrossing. Tegmark’s discussion on consciousness is very insightful, and one realizes that making an AI machine into a real human requires consciousness. How to do that is another monumental task. The last chapter deals with the people who are currently developing AI. However, they agree that developers need a set of rules by which to guide themselves to keep from creating AI monsters.

The chapters in between the Prelude and Consciousness were so steeped in physics, philosophy, and mathematics that I found them about as exciting as I did during college reading my books on differential equations, and meta-physics. The physics discussions were so far beyond my comprehension that I could have skipped them and been just as satisfied. Most probably, that is because my knowledge of physics peaked in 1960, and the physics in this tome has developed since then.

I enjoyed reading this book, but I am glad I finished. Because of the level of difficulty I have to rate this book at three stars. However, I rate the prelude, The Tale of the Omega Team five stars.

 

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