jonathan-strange-and-mr-norrellBy John Ruberry

It’s time to take a break from politics.

Many times while surfing on Netflix I came across a recommendation to watch the seven-part 2015 BBC One miniseries, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which is described as such: “In 1806 ambitious magician Norrell leads a revival of practical magic in England and ignites a fierce rivalry with bold young conjurer Strange.” If that sounds like a dopey show, well, that’s what I thought too. But I yielded to the luring and tuned in. I’m grateful that I did.

Magic in the alternative universe of Strange and Norrell is not smoke-and-mirrors and rabbits being pulled from hats, it’s a neglected scientific discipline that for unexplained reasons was abandoned in England in the early 16th century. But Gilbert Norrell (Eddie Marsan), a magician from York, becomes a national sensation when he brings to life the statues of  York Minster Cathedral and, in his only use of dark magic, brings back from death the future wife of a prominent member of parliament, Lady Pole (Alice Englert).

But just as in another alternative universe where humans can sell their soul to the devil, the dark side, in this case a mysterious being known as the Gentleman (Marc Warren), sabotages the transaction and establishes Norrell’s second rivalry.

Norrell offers his services to fight the French and their allies in the Napoleonic Wars, although only Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel) directly utilizes magic at the side of the Duke of Wellington (Ronan Vibert), who is initially skeptical of him. Included in the broad historical sweep of Strange and Norrell is the blind and mad King George III, and although not by name, the anti-industrial Luddites.

The rest of the cast is wonderful, particularly Ariyon Bakare as a mysterious butler and Vincent Franklin as the duplicitous promoter of Norrell and Strange. The special effects, with the exception of the ravens in the last two installments, are first rate.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a welcome diversion from the usual, and it’s a particularly good series for binge-watching.

Besides Netflix, the mini-series is available on many on-demand systems and on DVD.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

For years we have all been watching the news about Iran and disagreements they have with a number of governments around the world about their nuclear program. We have all seen the discussions of sanctions, lifting sanctions, red lines, pushing red lines, and even had our own internal disagreements over what should be done about the aspirations of their weapons (or peaceful) program.

I have written extensively on this subject in various places as a scientist. Having a nuclear background myself I find the discussion interesting, if for no other reason than just how poorly nuclear “things” are understood.

A number of years ago I started writing fiction novels. It is something I enjoy, and have met with some very humbling positive reader feedback. I do hope if you have read one that I can include you as a fan. It is truly an honor to have entertained people.

The point of this discussion is that, like everyone else, I want to know what Iran wants to do with those weapons. That is assuming they get their hands on them. That caused me to read as much as I could of their official releases to see what their intention was, and nothing positive could be found.

Nations that want many nuclear weapons are defending themselves, a nation that wants four or five and has stated targets in mind I take issue with.

I do not think the United States should be the world police, nor should we dictate to everyone. But this time they have something in mind. That something led me to write a fiction novel. The premise of The Last World War: Volume 1 Trial By Fission is my fictionalized version of what happens if Iran gets these weapons and does what they say they want to do. I hope you enjoy the read and we do apologize to the one reviewer who said we kept him up at night.

Below is an excerpt from that book which can be purchased on Amazon in paperback and eBook format. It can be purchased in paperback or eBook for Kindle (which I will reduce to just a $0.99 download for the next few days).

 

An excerpt from The Last World War:

 

The news anchor kept talking, filling airtime no matter what, “I want to remind everyone, that we still have no idea who is behind these acts. We don’t know much of anything yet, other than there have been two nuclear explosions in two United States cities, which history will surely…please hold for a moment…”

She put her finger to her ear, listening intently to her earpiece, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our first video feed coming in from a helicopter over the destruction near Fort Worth. This is from a traffic helicopter that had yet to take off when the device detonated. Many of them that were in the air at the time were tragically downed when the detonation happened. This one had to be fueled then fly in from more than a hundred and fifty miles northeast. Ah, the picture is coming…” her sentence ended abruptly as she turned to see the picture on the screen behind her.

She was not the only person who would stop mid-sentence upon first seeing the images. The video of the scenes of destruction would stop even the most professional of newscasters all over the globe.

As far as the camera could focus the scene of the desolate landscape was nothing but giant piles of rubble. Pieces of what once were multi-story buildings, automobiles, what might have been a highway overpass, maybe a school bus were all thrown together in massive piles.

In the distance some portions of buildings could be seen remaining with some large missing portions. A steel beam was sticking out of one of the remaining structures giving a smoke filled, charred reminder that the buildings here were recently much taller.

A city was gone from the Earth. It was there, just this morning. It was there, and now it wasn’t. It had been turned into a pile of waste. The land was still there, bits of junk were still there. None of what had been the well-organized and constructed buildings stood in any useable fashion.

The cameraman pulled back for a wide shot and the destruction appeared to go on even further and wider than Frank had imagined possible. It wasn’t completely flattened out but looked to be something akin to the surface of an abandoned island in the Pacific, one of the ones that were used for testing of all kinds of weaponry during and after World War II.

Frank could not believe that what he was looking at had been a thriving metropolitan area just a few short hours ago. Being in the combat branches of the military he had seen destruction from bombs, explosives, and missiles, but this was far beyond any of that. If you looked closely in the distance you could see what appeared to be steel superstructures of buildings on fire. Given that this was a nuclear blast there should be no fuel left on the surface burning, this had to be the metal itself that had gotten so hot that it was producing a flame. It was too much for Frank to even wrap his mind around. That much heat, it just wasn’t possible that this was really happening.

The helicopter slowed. There was a static filled audio feed from the pilot. By now the audience had put together from the somewhat broken transmissions from the helicopter that on the images were from the edge, not at the center, of the damaged area. The fires in the distance were too massive and the pilot did not feel he could get closer without risking his aircraft. They were attempting to search for survivors. The recording of damage could wait until they helped what people they could. So far they were searching, but not finding anyone left alive.

The pilot was systematically searching the area. The camera panned down rather than pointing in front of the flight path in order to increase their chances of finding someone still moving. The pilot was asking for help of anyone watching his feed to alert him if they saw something he missed. On the audio feed the pilot could be heard praying to himself between official radio exchanges. He must have forgotten that he pushed the voice activated transmission button. Who could blame him?

The helicopter came upon what had recently been an elementary school. At least they came upon the remnants of a playground that indicated that is what this building probably used to be. It could have been a daycare center, but it was certainly something with children in mind. What remained of some of the children who had been on the playground could be seen littering the area. Their bodies had been turned to the color of blackened fireplace ash. Some of the piles of ash still maintained the shape of small humans who had finished their lives in intense pain based on the positions they had been in when they reached their final breath.

One small child who had been on the side of the building and therefore not “protected” by its structure was burned down to a pure white skeleton. At this discovery the camera operator and pilot stopped speaking into the radio. Their flight slowly, almost sadly, changed direction away from the blast center moving further towards the outskirts. The camera remained focused on the skeletal remains of the once playful child as long as it could as the nation and world took note of the price of this attack had cost the innocent civilians of the United States.

All that was heard from the pilot after this sad discovery was a very timidly voiced statement, “We are going to look further north for survivors.”

The news anchor came back into view as tears were streaking her makeup in silent emotions stains, “We have just received word from an overseas colleague. We have no reason to doubt the validity. There have been three nuclear explosions in Israel, our close friend and ally in that region. Our prayers go out to everyone in Fort Worth, Detroit and Israel. May God help Israel and God help the United States. We are at War. I hope humankind can survive this madness.”

She got up and walked off camera covering her face to hide the new stream of tears now flowing uncontrollably.

Frank closed the screen on the laptop saying, “Let’s get that first aid review underway. We have to get in there and help whoever is left alive.”

 

imageby baldilocks

No, not that Fisherman. The other one.

The power to tax is the power to destroy.

–Daniel Webster, et al.

The 36th president of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, is infamous for many things.

Most domestically notable are two programs: the Great Society and Medicare. Both programs can arguably be viewed as bait to Americans. Bait for what? Luring the poor into government dependence, luring the elderly into the same, and luring the descendants of all into catastrophic debt. This debt applies both individually and nationally.

However, I was fascinated to discover that these programs were not LBJ’s first forays into hooking groups into government control. At The Federalist, Leslie Loftis notes that his first target was the church.

When the federal tax code was written, that the government couldn’t tax churches was assumed. For one, at the beginning of the union, only the federal government was prohibited from establishing a religion. The state governments could and did establish churches. They didn’t tax churches, but collected taxes for the church. This stopped after the Civil War and the ratification and subsequent case law of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated the federal proscription against an established religion to the individual states.

[snip]

Essentially, churches have complied with the exemption requirements of the tax code rather than asserting the right to be free from taxation.

[snip]

To punish and prevent political opponents [including churches] from speaking out against him, [in 1954] then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson, who was in a contentious re-election campaign, pushed through an amendment to the tax code which prohibits “political activity” by 501(c)(3) entities. It is called the Johnson Amendment. Since the prohibition passed, it has only been lightly—and selectively—enforced.

Loftis points to bi-partisan examples of this selective enforcement, but notes that

[m]ost churches, however, tend to err on the side of caution lest the IRS decide to prosecute, either on a whim or as part of a larger political intimidation program much like the one they have run in the past few years against conservative secular organizations.

In other words, due to LBJ’s little trap, most churches yield to fear and/or love of money.

Oh and Loftis also notes that the IRS is the process of composing new guidelines for political activity by tax-exempt religious organizations and churches at the the legal behest of the Freedom From Religion Foundation(!) Aren’t all we Jesus freaks, Bible-thumpers and bitter-clingers looking forward to the passage of such regulations so that we can find out what’s in them?

Back to LBJ. We have had several problematic presidents and the current one seems like the biggest one. But he and his ideological siblings who sit in political office at all levels of government–like Houston Mayor Annise Parker–can look to the politicians of the past and thank them for laying the foundations of tyranny by luring an intentionally under-educated populace into assenting to it.

Politicians like LBJ: Dixiecrat, Reenslaver of black Americans, and Persecutor of the Church.

Quite a legacy, don’t you think?

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. Her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was published in 2009; the second edition in 2012. Her second novel, Arlen’s Harem, will be done in 2014.

Please contribute to Juliette’s Projects: Her new novel, her blog, her Internet to keep the latter going and COFFEE to keep her going!

Or contribute to Da Tech Guy’s Tip Jar in the name of Independent Journalism—->>>>

As you may or may not know my friend Tim Imholt is running for congress in the Ma-3 district against Niki Tsongas.

I’ve interviewed Tim many times, covered his campaign and had hi on my show. He’s a scientist, a small business owner a father of three and a PhD. The man is a problem solver and an excellent choice for congress.

And if that isn’t cool enough he is also is a writer of fiction, and his latest book The Forest of Assassins (with David Forsmark) is now out.

It’s a roaring story of a Vietnam era seals operating both at base and in country engaging charlie, dealing with the South Vietnamese and local tribes and at the same time trying to find a traitor in their midst.

My full review on Amazon is here but you can save yourself a lot of time and effort by just buying the paperback or the kindle edition

That way you can support Tim and give yourself the gift of great entertainment.


There was one good thing about the slow upload speeds at the Westin Hotel at RNC Boston, I had a chance to finish Elizabeth’s Scalia’s Strange Gods Unmasking the idols in Everyday life (FYI you can find my interview with her on the book here)

The book is all about the things we place before God in our life the idols and Icons that we raise up and I recommend it to anyone who can read.

I would especially recommend it to Secularists as I wrote in my review on Amazon:

But for the skeptic the lessons still hold true, because Strange Gods really is dealing with obsessions, and even if one is not a believer those obsessions can take over your life and get in the way of what is important.And nobody is more vulnerable to creating a strange god than a person who thinks they do not acknowledge one because they will not recognize behavior that a believer would instantly see as religious.

While a skeptic may scoff at the core message of Christ that is the center of the book that warning to remember what is truly important in life can do naught but help overcome they gods they don’t even know they have.

It’s a great read, buy it.

My review for Leften Wright’s latest book The Handbook for Closet Conservatives is available at Amazon.com here.

If you hope to someday get a government job and need to be able to convince the person interviewing you the IRS went too easy on Tea Party Groups, this is a must read.

Leften Will be joining me Saturday June 15th on DaTechGuy on DaRadio for more tips on how to help you blend in the bluest of blue settings.

By why wait till the 15th when you can buy his book here

auntie matterMy Review of the 4th Doctor Big Finish Episode The Auntie Matter Staring Tom Baker as the Doctor and Mary Tamm as Romana #1 is available at Amazon.com here

It really drives home the loss from Tom Baker not joining up with Big Finish right at the start.

You can get these and other great Big Finish Doctor Who Videos in the US at Mike’s Comics

My review of Jonah Goldberg’s book The Tyranny of clichés is now available at Amazon.com here a peek:

And all this is done in the context of so many pop culture references that it’s hard to turn a page without them. He can start a point quoting Edmund Burke on example and finish with: “Similarly, we don’t all need to fight a land war in Asia or go against a Sicilian when death is on the line” without missing a beat.

The best way to put it Imagine if Firing Line was done in the style of Family Guy by a conservative writer and you will understand what to expect.

Buy his book below.

Oh and while Jonah Goldberg is trying to make a buck or two on his book The DaTechGuy Fundraiser is in progress, our goal is $3000. Any help is appreciated.

For details click here for the progress check the thermometer to the right and to kick in hit DaTipJar”.





My Review of the New Movie Ted Staring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis as his girlfriend and Seth MacFarline as the voice of his Teddy Bear Peter Ted is here:

What do you do if you are a successful TV show writer who wants to make a Movie but doesn’t have the brass to do what the Simpsons folks did and do It blatantly? Simple make your main character a Teddy Bear, turn his kids into his slacker friend and his wife into his friend’s long suffering girlfriend and Presto, you have Ted.

Mark Wahlberg is John Bennett whose teddy bear Peter (sorry Ted) comes to life after a Christmas Wish that is almost as powerful as an Apache Helicopter. Unfortunately for John his parents apparently had no idea how to raise either him or the teddy bear and both become pot smoking slacker losers in Boston.

read the rest at Amazon.com

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The DaTechGuy Fundraiser is in progress, our goal is $3000. Any help is appreciated. For details click here for the progress check the thermometer to the right and to kick in hit DaTipJar”.





I received Robert Caro’s volume The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power as a gift late Friday night and finished reading it at noon on Sunday. the following is the review I have submitted to Amazon.com. It has not yet appeared on their site: I reproduce it in its entirety here and will link it when it is up: Update: It’s up here.

Robert Caro’s 4th Volume on the life of Lyndon Johnson covering from 1958 to the transition in 1964 is yet another lesson concerning how political power is achieved and how it is applied.

Caro book is divided into five sections:

The first covers Johnson’s failed effort to obtain the presidential nomination in 1960. He focuses on strategic errors, in terms of solidifying support Johnson should have had without effort combined with a total misreading of the political gifts of JFK. While his inaction would seem strange for the man who said: “If you do everything you will win” it is clear from my reading of the volume that it was less a question of insecurity and fear as Caro suggests but of dedication to a strategic plan that was in fact based on an understandably flawed premise. The “inaction” was, in my opinion, simply Johnson using the disciple he thought necessary for his strategy to work. The story of the vice presidential offer to was particularly revealing and the handling of his train tour during the campaign was something I was totally ignorant of.

The second section concerning the vice presidency is the least exciting in that it concerns not Johnson’s power but his weakness and inability to use his considerable talents to change that state. We also get a solid look at JFK’s understanding of how who holds presidential power within the Executive Branch branch.

Sections 3 & 4 are very short, 30 and 49 pages respectively. They deal with the events of Dallas up to the end of the procession in DC. It chronicles the moment when the switch in Lyndon Johnson’s head turns from “off” to “on”. The transformation will be no surprise to anyone who read the previous books nor his willingness to use Jackie the blood still upon her dress to begin that consolidation. Excluded from this section are Johnson’s decisive actions to complete this consolidation among world leaders, and political leaders on the state and national level once back in DC. That is saved for the final section…

….Section 5 Where we see the difference between a romantic figure and a political master. We are taken back to his previous volume Master of the Senate where we see how a person who knows how to use power and understands how political power works operates. Most interesting to me is his forcing people like Hubert Humphrey to develop the skis that Johnson due to his new office can’t use in person. This was my favorite part of the story.

Several thoughts:

Caro is a master storyteller, The 600+ pages of this book turn as easily as Shelby Foote’s Civil War Trilogy did.

The meat of this book is the conflict between LBJ & RFK, it dominates the volume as the balance of power shifts between them.

I was taken aback by how Caro approached RFK’s anti-communism and dislike for the Soviet Block. It suggested a sympathy for the single most murderous ideology of the 20th century that is not inconsistent with 20th & 21st century liberalism.

Make sure you read the notes at the end of the book, they are filled with nuggets that should not be missed.

It seemed odd to me that Johnson would not give an opinion issue when JFK asked EXCEPT when Kennedy asked about passing a Civil Rights bill. That was totally inconsistent with everything that came before.

The single most important words of the book come on page 465. Russell played his cards till the end but he knew the game was lost before it even started because like his hero R. E. Lee he faced a foe who as Shelby Foote put it: “Knew how to whip him, and did.”

Finally there is one elephant in the room that needs to be addressed:

I took the liberty of reading the one star reviews. Most fault Caro for not linking Johnson to the assassination of Kennedy. Although Caro states emphatically he is aware of no evidence to support any such linkage to the crime, it is impossible to ignore the level of coincidence here. For thousands of pages every bit of Lyndon Johnson’s life is directed toward a single ultimate goal. Caro writes the day of the assassination Johnson’s world is about to crumble. The upcoming Life magazine stories on his wealth, the congressional testimony on the Baker case and the realization by the Kennedy campaign that he was no longer needed in 1964 combined with RFK’s ambitions suggest LBJ unquestionably was in fear for his political life.

Yet with two bullets his problems either disappear outright or he suddenly has the power to make them disappear.

Johnson’s actions in the car to the airport certainly seem exculpatory and I’m certainly not going to accuse LBJ of complicity in a murder and coup nor re-write history based on coincidence, but one can not have read the previous nearly 3000 pages to the moment of crisis and not reflexively suspect Johnson of complicity due to his unwillingness to leave anything to chance and the principle of Cui Bono, even if such suspicion comes only for a moment and leaves just as fast.

This book like the volumes that preceded is simply spectacular even as a stand alone volume. It is informative, entertaining and applicable to the political situation that exists today. You should buy it.

I hope that Mr. Caro lives to complete the final volume and I look forward to reading it when he does.

This book is worth your money PERIOD!