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A Modern Christmas Carol
A Modern Christmas Carol
by Bob Seidensticker
Edition: Paperback
Price: $5.99
12 used & new from $5.15

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A meaningful retelling, though a tad ham-fisted in spots., November 15, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
"A Christmas Carol," the Charles Dickens classic featuring Scrooge and Tiny Tim, seems almost endlessly adaptable. This work re-imagines the story afresh, substituting a TV evangelist into the Scrooge role. The book reminds me of nothing so much as the movie Scrooged starring Bill Murray as a TV producer with bad ethics and bad taste. "Modern" just manages to work in more Christianity-questioning anti-apologetics.

From my perspective, this is a Very Good Thing. The target is deserving, and the tone is mostly measured and kind as it relates to faith, with the harshest criticism leveled at charlatans and hypocrites only. Because the book intends to deliver a message, it occasionally crosses a line into propaganda and seems a little contrived. But the same can be said of the original. Dickens was pointedly interested in social reform, and his works—“Carol” chief among them—were calculated to bring about awareness and change.

No one besides Dickens is Dickens, and the writing in “Modern” does not rise to the poetic heights of “best let them die then and decrease the surplus population” or “God bless us, everyone,” but the writing is more than competent and sometimes inspired, and in an case does not call so much attention to itself that it interrupts the smooth narrative flow.

When I have an enjoyed a book mostly because of its point of view, I ask myself how broad its readership can be. “Modern” would seem to find a niche among liberal Christians perhaps questioning the vestiges of their faith, as they move toward the church exit. It might also make challenging reading for a fan of, say, Trinity Broadcasting Network shows. The characters are drawn to resemble a composite of several such glitzy, successful preachers. But the book is unlikely to find a wide audience.

And that’s a shame, because the message here is one well worth pondering. Is there a way to take what’s good about Christianity, and about Christmas—a core focus on kindness, empathy, and truth, say—and strip it of superstition that modernity no longer leaves tenable? I think there is. It’s how I try to live my life. And books like this one lead me to hope that there is a trend developing. Because if God isn’t there to bless us everyone, we really are going to have to learn how to bless each other.


Salt Himalayan Pink Gourmet FDA No Chemicals Non-gmo Organic Halall Kosher 2 Lbs Fine Grind (.5mm) (2 Pounds)
Salt Himalayan Pink Gourmet FDA No Chemicals Non-gmo Organic Halall Kosher 2 Lbs Fine Grind (.5mm) (2 Pounds)
Offered by Old World Salt Company
Price: $8.45
7 used & new from $5.34

36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Soylent Salt, November 8, 2013
Oh for the love of what's holy, put down your Saline Pink. Organic salt is people! Organic salt is people!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 20, 2013 12:39 PM PST


Bumble Bee Prime Fillet Albacore Tuna in Olive Oil, Jalapeno, 5 Ounce (Pack of 12)
Bumble Bee Prime Fillet Albacore Tuna in Olive Oil, Jalapeno, 5 Ounce (Pack of 12)
Price: $27.94

3.0 out of 5 stars Some like it hot. Like me., November 5, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a tasty and convenient canned tuna, with just enough diced jalapeno peppers to provide a little heat. Since it's not difficult to dice some pickled jalapenos and add them to a tuna salad mixture oneself, I can only assume Bumble Bee did this primarily to offer busy people added convenience. The next step would be a pull-top can that requires no can opener, because having a can of tuna, a few packets of mayo, and some crackers in my desk for "emergency lunches" when the day gets away from me is my favorite use for canned tuna, and until recently I didn't have a can opener at work (forcing me to use the foil packets, which I do not prefer).

The can is a little lighter on actual tuna than other varieties because of the peppers and some excess olive oil, but it is moist and tender and made for delicious sandwiches. From all I can tell, while this particular type of Bumble Bee tuna is only "normal dolphin safe" (which is to say, hardly safe for dolphins at all), Bumble Bee as a corporation is at the forefront of sustainable fishing practices--which makes me feel OK buying their products. I write that not as some sort of tree-hugging lefty but as someone who has seen first-hand what is becoming of our seas and feels alarm is the appropriate response. It's a fine thing to enjoy healthy, tasty foods like this tuna, and we should do so with increased mindfulness for environmental costs.

Bumble Bee, if you read these reviews--we're paying attention out here. The End of the Line might be a little hyperbolic, but if we're going to be able to enjoy and profit from the oceans over the long term, we must plan for it sooner rather than later--thanks for your initial efforts in this regard!


The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013
by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.30
92 used & new from $5.79

4.0 out of 5 stars A little uneven, but still massively worthwhile., November 4, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In the introduction, guest editor Siddhartha Mukherjee (oncologist known for writing the stunningly good The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer) says that he has tried to employ the theme of "tenderness" to help tie the varied essays in this anthology together. I would say he has mixed success with this approach, and wonder if anything got sacrificed because he tried to hew too close to that theme. I was shocked, frankly, not to see any of Carl Zimmer's work included in 2013, because he is among or greatest practicing science and nature writers, but perhaps it was the case that people prefer someone newer at this point, or that 2013 was a dry year for Zimmer.

The authors included, of course, are uniformly brilliant at their craft, representing the best of the best, but not every piece worked for me--though there was never any doubt about why a piece had been included. That is among the strengths of a collection like this, the way it enables the reader to find something she will like amongst other essays that perhaps are less appealing. As a ready example, I found Natalie Angier's The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science to be just too much Angier. She is a wonderful delightful writer--in smaller doses. In long form, she is exhausting, because you feel the need to stay vigilant to each bit of witty wordplay, each turn of phrase, each bright allusion. The Angier piece included here, "The Life of Pi and Other Infinities," from a column in The New York Times, is the perfect length for her style. But I thought Rick Bass's "The Larch," reprinted from Orion magazine, was too verbally dense even for an essay of its length, with paragraphs reading like poems. Not just any poems, either--T.S. Eliot style poems, with a little Gerard Manley Hopkins sprinkled in. That's not to say the work is bad or unwelcome, but I was gasping for a little air, and light, to be let in.

And fortunately that's easy to find in the works of Oliver Sacks and Steven Weinberg, each writing with that amiable non-nonsense precision that marks clear science writing. Weinberg's piece was especially readable and had a call to action--and among my favorite descriptions in the book. He notes that earlier discoveries could be done by small groups or individuals using small labs and small pieces of equipment, whereas now--think of the Large Hadron Colider, circling miles under Switzerland. He says that while we used to embrace our equipment, now our equipment embraces us. What does this state of affairs signal for the future of discovery? The essay is a potent provocation to thought on the topic.

And other pieces, notably Kevin Dutton's article from Scientific American, "The Wisdom of Psychopaths," did little more for me than to whet my appetite for his book-length treatment of the topic (and I have since downloaded his fascinating book of the same title).

I found this year's offerings a tad less even than in the past few years, with some that I might not have included, and missing a few that I might have, but that's down to taste, and it must be said that while Mukherjee did not perhaps develop his "tenderness" theme as completely as the introduction led me to think he would, he nevertheless selected many worthy examples of literary-quality writing on topics often thought to be too dry and sterile to yield such juicy prose.


Melitta Single Cup Coffee for K-Cup Brewers, Cafe de Europa Blanc et Noir, Light and Dark Roast, 12 Count
Melitta Single Cup Coffee for K-Cup Brewers, Cafe de Europa Blanc et Noir, Light and Dark Roast, 12 Count
Price: $11.99
2 used & new from $11.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Black+White=balance, November 4, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
A robust and balanced blend that does not overwhelm with bitterness, yet retains a full-bodied flavor. For American tastes that have moved away from regular Folgers to the more European-tasting brews available at, say, Starbucks, Melitta's Cafe de Europa Blanc et Noir blend will represent a comfortable and familiar taste that still marks a welcome departure from standard home or fast-food fare. Recommended as an everyday coffee that should be enjoyed on its own, rather as a beverage with breakfast or other foods (although one can imagine it going well with a chocolate cake).


Christmas Songs
Christmas Songs
Price: $8.59
19 used & new from $7.68

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Punk the halls., October 29, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Christmas Songs (Audio CD)
This is a great Christmas album, with straight-up punkish versions of some terrific Christmas carols--and "American Jesus" to punctuate the album with how they really feel.

Unlike the first reviewer, I have no bad associations with Christmas or other religious music. I was very happy as a Christian, and still love much of the music. As Tim Minchin says in White Wine in the Sun, the lyrics are dodgy, but the music is quite good. Why not enjoy it? I can imagine whipping up some nog, putting this CD on and dancing around the Christmas tree with reckless mosh pit abandon.

Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus. Myth though your story certainly is, you inspired some excellent tunes.

And gawd bless you, Bad Religion, for stepping out into some truly--for you--fringe territory. And for confusing the hell out of just about everybody with this thing...which is as punk and anarchic a thing to do as I can imagine.

It's probably worth noting, in this context, that Irving Berlin, who wrote "White Christmas" (track 4 on the CD) was a secular Jew, so there is precedent for making great holiday music despite not sharing in the deepest sense of the holiday itself.

The music is pretty much what you'd expect as a Bad Religion fan--tight, fast, with great harmonies (it opens with a truly lovely riff on "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" that would not be out of place in a church--until the moment the buzzing guitar and pounding drums kick in).

Speaking of drums, one minor disappointment: "The Little Drummer Boy" could have done with a small drum solo. Nothing epic--BR drummer Brooks Wackerman is a wizard time-keeper at breakneck pace, not Neil Peart--but a few riffs and fills would have felt completely natural on that song, rather than the martial "rumpty-tump-tum" thing throughout.

With that quibble aside, back to praise: this is, for all I can tell, an unironic love letter to the great tunes that the festive season has given us...has given us ALL, including we atheists who like the story, as a story, but don't believe a word of it.

Cheers! And if there is no god to "bless us everyone," as front man Greg Graffin (and I) actually think, then let us bless each other.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 21, 2013 12:32 PM PST


Awkward Moments Children's Bible, Vol. 1
Awkward Moments Children's Bible, Vol. 1
by Horus Gilgamesh
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.99
3 used & new from $10.15

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An irreverant delight., October 28, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The Bible is a truly shocking anthology, and no book has captured the gore, depravity, absurdity and chaos of the Bible with more fire-ants-at-a-Church-picnic verve than "Awkward Moments" does.

Those of us with biblical studies backgrounds are, of course, aware of the Bible's most obnoxious stories and pronouncements, and are frequently unnerved that otherwise normal people point to this collection as a source for moral guidance. With quirky, whimsical drawings and a wicked sense of humor, "Awkward" introduces the uninitiated into the darker corners of sacred writ, much as The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible did in a more scholarly vein.

If this keeps up, perhaps people of good will can start casting around for better sources of inspiration, ethics, and meaning. I recommend the works of A.C. Grayling, including Life, Sex and Ideas: The Good Life without God as a great starting point.


K'NEX Education - Computer Control: STEM Explorations Building Kit
K'NEX Education - Computer Control: STEM Explorations Building Kit
Price: $449.99
2 used & new from $449.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars STEM Student fairly playground bonanza., October 17, 2013
= Durability:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Within one sturdy plastic container the size of a toaster oven students will find the electronic componenets, the structural components, the software, and the instructions to explore a world of robotics, physics, electronics, design and engineering. The projects that can be undertaken using this kit are limited only by imagination--the components are almost endlessly modular and can be purposed for a wide variety of end uses. The greatest feature is the opportunity to learn programming skills. With relatively simple on-screen programming tools, students can learn about how interfaces between computers and the projects work, including for models of cars and a swing bridge. I did not try the other models so cannot comment on them, but they include an amusement park ride and a toll booth. Software is compatible with PC, OS is Vista or XP. While this is designed for classroom use (but seems a little small for an entire public school sized classroom of more than 20 students--probably one kit per 5 students or so would be optimal?), would also represent an excellent homeschool learning aid for the STEM-inclined.


V/H/S/2 [DvD]
V/H/S/2 [DvD]
DVD ~ Lawrence Michael Levine
Price: $8.39
27 used & new from $3.68

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First-person terror and mayhem., September 26, 2013
This review is from: V/H/S/2 [DvD] (DVD)
I watched V/H/S dutifully, as a genre fan. Interesting concept. Heavy on the fetishes, light on interesting ideas. So I wasn't prepared for the occasional full-on BRILLIANCE of VHS2. The thing to remember is, you have to take these vignettes for what they are supposed to be--collected found footage of horrifying scenarios. If you view this anthology as a traditional horror movie, you will of course be disappointed. This is more like being in a fist-person videogame with no control over the action. It is unsettling, unnerving, and often enough, downright terrifying. Yes, it's gory. Possibly excessively gory--although I was in awe of how they got some of those shots, like the exploding guy. The wraparound story was relatively weak, but it ended fairly strong. For genre fans, 2 is much more of a must-see than the original was. And I hope they make enough money from this one to make another, even stronger entry.

By the way, if you already saw and enjoyed this movie, you might like The Bay [HD]. It takes first-person, found-footage storytelling to the most artful lengths I've seen employed so far.


Francois et Mimi LD-9210 Bluetooth Over-ear Hi-Fi Stereo Headphone for Wireless Music Streaming and Hands-free Calling
Francois et Mimi LD-9210 Bluetooth Over-ear Hi-Fi Stereo Headphone for Wireless Music Streaming and Hands-free Calling

3.0 out of 5 stars Good sound, mostly comfortable--a little puzzled by its utility., September 24, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I received these stereo Hi-Fi headphones to review under the Vine program, so they were not necessarily something that I had an initial felt need for and went shopping to find. They were spoon fed to my because of my interests. Having said that, I'm happy to have them, but as they are no more mobile than ear buds--which, if good enough, provide comparable sound quality--and don't seem to represent a huge advantage over my Bluetooth enabled Eton Rugged Rukus All-Terrain Portable Solar Wireless Sound System (Green) for casual listening (except that of course it does allow PRIVATE listening that would not disturb a mate or partner). I also found this headphone initially difficult to pair with my music device, although once the trick is understood, it's no more challenging than any other Bluetooth pairing.

The price is good, for their size the headphones are quite comfortable (although you must keep your head fairly vertical to prevent them sliding off your head), the sound quality is outstanding, and the battery life is so far superb. I can't bring myself to give it more than three stars, however, because I don't see what added utility I've achieved over ear buds on one hand and conventional speakers on the other.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 10, 2013 11:14 PM PDT


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