Saturday, August 24, 2013

Inside Scientology Book Review

Waterspout; Source: Burningwell.orgScientology is an interesting religion and organization. But it is also a shy one, not wanting to divulge its private matters, which only adds to its mystique and interest. Over the years it has been subject to attack from disgruntled ex-parishioners and others.

On her book, Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion, Rolling Stone contributing editor, Janet Reitman lays bare the inner workings of the church basing her writing on documentary research for most of the early years and on interviews with current and former members of the church for more recent times.

Starting with the man, L Ron Hubbard, she follows him from his initial science fiction years, wanderings and then moves to Dianetics and the founding of the church. As the church itself grows in importance the focus of the book shifts more to the organization and by the the second half Reitman looks at it under its current head.  As she goes along, she introduces the lingo, tenets and workings church and how these change or evolve as needs arise. She also explains the technology of the church including the Bridge to Total Freedom from preclear to the OT levels.  The everyday experiences of regular members are also illustrated, along with those from the higher echelons and the superstars.

Controversial topics are covered head-on; so much so that the Lisa McPherson, which perhaps is the greatest scandal the church has faced, is given its own chapter and covered in detail. Others are also dealt and  placed within the larger context. In the acknowledgements section the author claims to have double checked all the facts and erred on the side of caution.

The result from her research is a book that places the religion under a pretty bad light. Of the total, I'd say there's a 3:1 proportion of unflattering assertions. These are not in-your-face or venom dripping; in fact these just surface as if on their own accord, but the high proportion makes one wonder if things in there can really be that bad. I don't know where truth lies on this subject but in the end Reitman pulls a verisimilar account.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Look at Darjeeling no.4: Ahmad

Today we close this small series on Darjeeling teas. What we have today are teas by Ahmad. As I said on a previous installment Darjeeling teas in the past have neither excited me or repelled me.

From what I seen, tea people are really nice  and those who sport the most knowledge, those that can be called connoisseurs, tend to get their kicks through quality and grade over added flavorings. I claim no specialized knowledge and I like to think myself as falling somewhere in between connoisseur and layman.

The first tea, the Ahmad Windsor Darjeeling, is in loose leaf form. Once again, no tea grading info. With this Darjeeling I attempted to informally test myself and see if I could pull out some of its hidden flavors. The result: I couldn't. This tea tastes like... jalapeno! Not spicy hot, but it has all the flavor in there. Wow! I knew that tea could have subtle flavors, but I never imagined something so blatant.   This must be an anomaly. But if you like unusual flavors, but dislike added essences and/or flowers, by all means consider this one.

At the same time that I received this loose leaf as a gift, I also got a tin of English Breakfast teabags from the same brand. The tin looks very nice on the shelf, decorated with embossed beefeaters and English guards, but the contents' only redeeming quality is its strength. It is not Darjeeling by any stretch (nor claims to). This one is probably sold as a tourist trap, leading the unwary buyers to believe that they are getting a genuine English tea experience from their purchase. Talk about two opposing results from the same brand name.

Closing the series now, Darjeeling are fine teas to be sure. Through the series my views have indeed changed moderately in favor of the Darjeelings as a whole. This probably was helped in part by listening concurrently to Tea Rage podcast which trumpets the region. I still prefer my China, but now I begin to see somewhat clearly what the fuss is all about. Over the series there were a few surprises and unusual flavors. Of those tasted, I have to give best award to the First Flush form Golden Tips of Darjeeling followed by the Lipton loose.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Books on the Founding Fathers

On this occasion a quick list of the books I've read on figures of the American Revolution. Not that many, but on the whole good. I rank them according to how much I liked them.

John Adams by McCullough
A more neutral look at this much maligned president and at his times. Some of his purported worst moments are mentioned but not all. Abigail Adams is also extensively treated.

The First American by Brands
Franklin and his business, scientific and diplomatic exploits. Felt that part on the Penns, though important, took too much space. My favorite figure.

Alexander Hamilton by Chernow
Much can be had of Washington's presidency from this one and on the making of the Federalist Papers. The first chapters on his youth I find the least interesting

Thomas Jefferson by Meecham
This bio leans towards Jefferson's exercise of power making it drier than the rest. More lively portraits of him  can be found in passing in McCullough's & Chernow's.  Some balmy domestic interludes are interwoven nonetheless.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Physics For Future Presidents course

Have you ever wished that you knew more about science and how things work? Or maybe felt that despite having an otherwise well-rounded education, you do not have a so sure footing on science, in particular physics, and could maybe understand more if things could be easier math wise? If so, you're not alone. Many of us have wished for a better science grasp and as you may well know, this wish has been recently granted thanks to iTunesU.

ITunesU is a subsection of the iTunes store which holds classes and courses from different colleges and schools from around the country in audio and video. These higher education courses encompass almost the widest possible array of subjects. The best part is that they are all for free.

I have listened to a few, and thought of giving a shout out to one in particular. This one is Berkeley's Physics for Future Presidents imparted by Richard Muller.

This course can be thought as a quick, extensive course in everyday physics. It has an interesting angle, as it tries to answer what information must a US president needs to have on physics for effective policy decisions ranging from national security and terrorism to energy generation and use. Of course, what is true for the US president applies to regular citizens who wish to know more about the those policies, act and decide through their congressmen in the democratic exercise of their rights, and not be bewildered by the scientific concepts. This is achieved through high content conceptual emphasis over mathematical minutia. The end result is that course delivers making the world clearer and, for many, less intimidating.

The instructor, Dr. Muller, is top-notch in credentials and in teaching style.

I have only tried the audio version, but I don't think that I miss any of the concepts by using only my ears. Notwithstanding I was so enthusiastic about the course that I bought the accompanying textbook, or tried to. One must be aware that there are actually two main books books by Dr. Muller under the same name. One, the said textbook on two editions, the fall 2007 and the updated 2010 edition; the other, a condensed version of the material, aimed for the general public in paperback grey cover. I, alas, got the latter. Still good and as clearly explained as in the audio, but not the flagship. 

If you're more visually oriented,  the course is also available on YouTube

In closing, need to mention Asimov's Understanding Physics as a possible second companion to the course.  It's fine contentwise, but be wary as it somehow is without the charm of Asimov's other works.