Stuart Horton is a boy (ten but looks younger) who, due to a job opportunity for his mom, had to move from his home to a new, smaller home, in the town of Beeton. It is the small town where his father grew up and he soon discovers his family has a strange and mysterious history in Beeton.
Lissa Evans wrote two books about Stuart published here in the USA as Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms and Horton’s Incredible Illusions (different names in England where she’s from). I decided to write my review of these books as one for two reasons. They are both equally good. They are also both short (under 300 pages put together) and they are really all the same story. In fact the whole of the two books takes place in only a matter of weeks.
Stuart discovers that his father’s uncle was a well-known magician in town. That with a gift given to Stuart’s father by this uncle (Tiny Tony Horton) sets Stuart on an adventure to discover what happened to Uncle Tony. He befriends a young girl living next door and she helps him to solve the mysteries he comes upon.
I enjoyed these two books quite a bit. They are very quick reads (they are written with younger tween to early teen kids in mind) but I always enjoy a well written book regardless of the target age. It’s got a lot of action, mystery, and a little danger (of the kids variety). And because Uncle Tony was a magician there is also an elusive sense of magic in the first book that becomes more concrete in the second.
It’s also good when an author has his or her series planned out in advance. If they know where they are going to end when they start. It allows them to insert details and characters early on that they might have overlooked if they just wrote as the story took them. Clearly the author knew where the story was going. It creates a sense of realism that is good in a fantasy book of this type. It grounds it. And while I’d like to see more adventures with Stuart, the story come to a conclusion satisfactorily.
I’d recommend these books for readers as young as 10 but even older if they are not “readers” like I was as a kid.
As you probably know if you’re reading my blog, from time to time I write reviews of books that different publishers send me (BTW this seems as good a time as any to say that getting these for free doesn’t affect my reviews of them). My last item was not a book though. It is a set of postcards. The Amazing Animal Facts postcards to be precise. They come in a nice box with dividers, not unlike a recipe box, to separate out the different types of animals (Sea, Forrest, Field, Jungle, Sky). There are two of every card which would allow you to send one and keep one if you wanted to keep a set.
All of the cards are printed in black and white. This is so you, or your recipient, can color them in (I suspect they intend you to, but you can make that call on your own). I personally don’t want to sit and color. I know adult coloring books are all the rage now but, while I can in some respects understand the allure, it’s not something I have ever felt the need to do. I do, however, find the illustrations on the cards charming, as I do the facts presented on them.
There’s not a whole lot more to say about these cards other than I like them. I don’t know that I have need to send out postcards, or that I ever will. But I like the art on them enough to be glad I have them around. It’s an interesting product, and I would love to see a similarly designed book with more animals represented. I only wonder if, as a product, this one has any real staying power.
In 2003 I came across a game called In Memoriam. Without going into the details of that game I found it very engaging. Essentially the game was set up as digital evidence for a crime with videos, photos, and puzzles/clues set up by the criminal. The game makers also set up numerous websites to facilitate a blurring of the lines between the real world and the game. You would investigate clues on the internet using Google and those searches would lead you to their websites. You would also get emails from “other investigators” on your team (really just auto emails from the server) to your actual normal email. It was very effective at blurring lines and making it feel more real.
I really enjoyed that escapism that allowed you to feel part of the story like no other video game I’d ever played.
Recently I became aware of a service/product that’s been around for a few years now called the Mysterious Package Company. You sign up so either you (or a friend) receive a series of packages in the mail. The idea behind it is that everything you receive is presented as a true thing. There are clues to unravel and artifacts to discover. It sells itself as a similar experience as I had with this video game so many years ago. I decided to find out what it was like so I ordered the cheapest one they had (still not cheap but not as many mailings as the other more expensive items).
It came in a plain cardboard box without any stamps or adornments to let the recipient know who it was from. When I got the box open, there was some packing peanuts, a plain white envelope, and a wooden box. The envelope had no distinctive markings on it. At first I suspected it was a packing slip or something of that nature. It was not. It was a “hand written” letter addressed specifically to me. It was of course printed but at first glance it did very much appear to be hand written on lined paper. The letter was explaining that the package was being sent to me as the previous owner could not keep it. Blah blah blah, mysterious stuff and more. This isn’t to say the letter was poorly done, just don’t want to give much away. I did find the letter a little difficult to read. The handwriting wasn’t super clear, but I think that helps.
The box was in the style of an old wooden parts crate type thing. Actually nailed together with four good size (not large) nails. You will need tools to get it open. I used a pocket knife but you won’t do it bare handed (unless you’re just going to smash it open). It is a rough wood and bares stamps from an unrelated company giving it a real world feel.
Inside the box you are presented with some rolled up, yellowed newspaper pages. I read through them briefly. One of the papers are wrapped around a leather journal with a medal medallion on a string wrapped around it (perhaps binding the evil inside was what they were going for). There was also a copied flyer that would also be from the time period (1980 on the newspapers).
The book, which is the main focus of this box, is an old lined leather journal. I don’t want to say much about the contents of the journal so as to not ruin the story. I will say from a production value standpoint it’s great. A few cut out newspaper clippings are tucked in the pages. While we all know this is produced in bulk, it does appear handmade when viewed. Even up close it’s not immediately obvious it was not hand written. It would have to be, but the illusion is great.
As far as the story that comes along with the package, I found it entertaining. I didn’t find it “chilling” as some reviewers on the website had said. Perhaps, knowing it wasn’t real, I found it difficult to allow the illusion. Maybe it’s my age. Everything is produced very well and as a whole is very convincing from a visual standpoint. I think I was expecting more of a puzzle to unravel than just a story to read. Unless there’s some large underlying part of the story that I’ve missed (which is entirely possible). I haven’t yet received the “reveal” letter from them so it’s possible there is a part of the story I missed (and if so I will post about it) but it actually seemed pretty straight forward to me.
With all that said, I did enjoy it. In fact if it had been gifted to me, so that I may not have been expecting it that probably would have added to it. And I think that’s their intent. You buy it for someone so the package is mysterious. But knowing it was coming and what it’s all about from the beginning I think ruined the illusion some. It is worth the experience. I may try one of their other packages that are multi-stage. That may add to the mystery and puzzle.
I’m going to be clear before I start rambling here. During the primaries last year, I did not vote for Trump. He wasn’t my guy. When the general election came around I didn’t vote for him either. I live in California so it hardly matters. All of the Electoral College votes in my state were going to Hillary. This is such a sure thing the news called California for Clinton the second the polls closed when there was only about 10% of precincts reporting. With that said, I voted for Evan McMullin. Would I have if I lived in a battle ground state? I don’t know.
I’ll also give Trump credit where it’s due. For example, everything I’ve read about Gorsuch makes me think he was an excellent choice for the Supreme Court.
No back to the point. It seems to me that nearly every liberal out there (this is hyperbole of course) has lost the mind. From the “It’s ok to punch a Nazi” movement, to the full on assault people in the name of stopping fascism (without a sense of irony) it seems like people have forgotten what free speech is.
Kiarra Robles was pepper sprayed in Berkeley, CA on February 1 (see video here) because she had the unmitigated gall to wear a Make America Great Again hat. Fires were lit all over the city. People were beaten, because they came to hear Milo Yiannopoulos speak.
Celebrities were thrilled about the violence. Debra Messing (of Will & Grace fame) tweeted this:
So she supports violence against people and property for political aims (which I think is the textbook definition of terrorism, just saying).
And here’s the thing that’s really crazy about it. They weren’t protesting a government policy. They weren’t protesting some wrongful act by the government. They weren’t even protesting Trump. They were protesting that another US citizen was going to use his right to free speech. They didn’t want him saying things they didn’t agree with. They don’t want anyone saying things they don’t like.
This is what we’ve come to. The left increasingly wants to use violence and intimidation to keep people from saying (or probably even thinking) things they don’t agree with.
And they’re doing it in the name of stopping fascism while using the tools and techniques of fascism.
Of the various translations if the Bible out there I tend to like 3 the most. The KJV, ESV, and NKJV are easily my favorite 3. The MEV might replace one of those but I’ve only just started reading through it so those are still my three. I was given the opportunity to review a NKJV Study Bible published by Thomas Nelson and was excited at the opportunity.
First thing, I’m not going to spend a lot of time going over the content of the study notes. In general they are good. Some things I don’t agree with. But after going through the Bible I suspect every Christian of every stripe will find something they don’t 100 % agree with (though not all the same things). This I’ve found is true of every study Bible. After all the notes are not inspired, they are the work of flawed men (and women). Therefore I don’t expect perfection. One thing we all need to learn is to eat the watermelon and spit out the seeds. So in general they are good, but not perfect.
The cover is a teal/blue design (the copy I received was the soft fake leather that is very popular right now). I thought it was ok but my wife thought it was very nice. Perhaps this color scheme is designed to appeal to women or maybe I just don’t like color. Not sure. You can judge for yourself by looking at the picture.
It has center column references which are traditional and very well-liked by many. Personally I prefer side column references as it is easy to see what verses have them. The color coding on notes is great though. If you’re a visual learner I think this will be a good layout/design for you. Even if you’re not it helps draw clear lines between the inspired text and the thoughts people have had on the text. This isn’t to say that all the notes have color coding but it there enough for it to register (at least for me).
It is on the big side for Bibles. Not as large as the ESV Study Bible (which is also great), but still big enough that it probably won’t be your everyday carry around with you Bible either (if you are the type that has one of those).
Over all it’s a solid study Bible and an improvement on the original version (which didn’t have the color). If you like the NKJV and are looking for a study Bible you could do much worse than this one (I’m looking at you Modern Life Study Bible). I did receive this Bible for free for the purpose of this review. The opinions are, however, my actual opinions.
I received the book Hello, Bicycle from the publisher to look over and review. The opinions are my own.
I actually liked this book a lot. It covers many different topics that relate to bicycles. From determining your needs when shopping for a bicycle to bicycle maintenance to getting around on your bicycle. It’s all done in an informative, but tongue in cheek manner (did you know having a bike won’t force you to wear spandex shorts? I know now thanks to this book). Truth be told, I didn’t find a lot of new, or surprising information in the book. Still I enjoyed reading it and I love the format of the book.
Many books have a design that actually works into the content (some more effectively than others) and this is one of those books. I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed it as much if it wasn’t for this aspect of the book. Perhaps that’s just me but I suspect not. With that said it makes, in many cases, the book not work as well in an electronic format. Any book that has sidebars, “note boxes” or things of that nature don’t translate over well to a purely text format. I’ve found this with many books (study Bibles in particular) and they don’t translate over well. So do yourself a favor and pick up this particular book in a physical format. Sure it might cost a bit more, but in the end it will be worth the extra investment.
Last week (10/3/2016) I got a phone call at lunch. I didn’t recognize the number so I let it go to voice mail. After lunch I checked and it was the last part of a recorded message telling me there was a warrant for my arrest and my home address was under investigation.
Well, being the paragon of virtue that I am I wanted to call back this obviously legit number to find out the details. I mean how can you doubt the veracity of a robo-message telling you that you’re going to be arrested? I’m sure that kind of thing is completely legal.
My first call back I was greeted by a guy who just said, “Hello.” I asked where I had called and he hung up on me. That’s professional. I called back and spoke to a Robert Matthews who had a very thick Indian accent. I asked where I was calling and he said it was the Department of Treasury. He asked for my name and I gave it to him. I don’t think my name is unique enough to be concerned about giving it out. He then asked when I last paid my taxes. That’s a strange question for them to ask. Particularly without any supporting information. Like I said, my name isn’t unique. How would he know he was speaking to the right guy? But I suspect any guy is the right guy. I told him I always pay my taxes since I was 18 years old. He seemed to think I meant I hadn’t paid since I was 18. I corrected him. He then said that I owed more money on my 2012 taxes. I told him that I was confused why that would be since I got a refund on my taxes for that year. He asked, “Why would the government give you a refund on taxes?” I thought that was weird. I said I get refunds every year on my taxes. He informed me that the government doesn’t give refunds on taxes. I responded by telling him that nearly everyone gets refunds on their taxes.
He hung up on me.
I called back and this time spoke with an Eric. I told him I had just been speaking to Mr. Matthews and we got disconnected. He asked me to hold. After a couple of minutes he came back on the line and asked what Mr. Matthews had told me. So I relayed the conversation I had with him and then stated that it didn’t seem like Mr. Matthews was familiar with the tax refund process. I then asked Eric if he was familiar with the refund process.
Again, the line went dead.
Well wanting to make sure I got this cleared up I called back. I spoke to the “supervisor” and he told me they had called me by mistake. I asked how that happened. He told me by mistake and then hung up.
I had a good laugh about it with my coworkers and went on with my day.
Well the next day my boss got a similar call from another number. I decided to call back my number again. I don’t recall the name I got on the phone when I called back. This guy was a bit more aggressive. After I gave him my name he told me that I owed taxes from years 2009-2015. In an attempt to clarify I asked what address they have for me. He told me they didn’t have that kind of information. Just my name and the case information. That’s strange. You’d think the documents they had would include my address. He then told me I owed $5,000 and if I didn’t settle it on the phone I would be arrested in 45 minutes. I then again questioned the lack of documentation he had and he told me the police would bring the evidence with them, have a 30 minute meeting with me then arrest me. He then hung up on me.
Well an hour went by and I hadn’t been arrested yet so I called the number back and they are no longer taking calls at that number. Weird that the Treasury Department would stop taking calls to their investigation department. I think it might have been a scam.
BTW, the number, if you’re interested was 202-795-5729.
I had a recent discussion with some people about the origin/basis for morality. They believed that morality is of biological origin. That it is a genetic thing.
They presented two pieces of information to back up this claim. The first was a group of elephants huddling around one elephant who was giving birth. There was a pack of hyenas in the area and they were protecting her from them while birthing.
The second was a picture of a young boy, probably in the neighborhood of 18 months old, trying in vain to help a bronze rabbit statue that was trying to crawl up to where the other rabbit statues were. It is a very cute picture and the boy is clearly trying to help.
Before I discuss whether these two things are examples of morals being biologically programmed first we must decide what morals are. This is a tricky subject. Particularly because in many cases we as people can’t even decide what behaviors are moral and which aren’t in large part. There are some basic overlap but even they are subject to differences in different cultures. But first and foremost for an action to have the ability to be moral or immoral a choice must be involved. It is not moral or immoral to become frightened for example. It may be immoral to allow that fear to keep you from acting (or acting in a particular way though).
This is why the elephant example, in my opinion, is not an example of moral behavior. Your dog might bark at strangers who come to the door. He is not making a moral decision but is acting on instinct to warn the rest of his pack an intruder is near and to warn the intruder that he/she is not wanted. A male lion is not being immoral when he forces another male lion from the pride because he wants the female lions to himself. That is an instinctual move. The elephants in question aren’t huddling around the other elephant because they discussed it and decided that it’s the right thing to do. They are acting on instinct. It isn’t a moral choice.
The boy is, however, did see the situation presented in the statue and wanted to help. He made the choice that it is better to help than to not help. The problem with this being an example of biology determining morality is that the boy had about 18 months of his parents modeling moral behavior for him. They were empathetic and nurturing to this boy for over a year. He did not pop out of the womb and then walk over to the rabbit statue. He knows moral behavior because he’s seen moral behavior. This is why we stress the need for positive male role models for young boys. So they can learn ways to be good men. I’ll use a personal example here (I’m aware it’s anecdotal, so take it as you will). I was walking through a strip mall with my younger son. He was maybe 3 at the time. As we walked past a home goods type store (don’t remember which one) there was a potted plant for sale that had been knocked over. I stopped and stood the plant up to get it out of the way. My son immediately looked for something to get out of the way and then moved it. I didn’t tell him he should pick up stuff knocked over so people could walk, he saw me do it so he did likewise (potential sermon about keeping your eyes on Jesus there). That’s what the boy in the picture did.
Secondly there is a kind of racism built into this speculation. There are whole people groups that devalue women for example. Did they evolve to not value women as much as other cultures did? I know there are members of the Alt Right that believe this (I’ve had discussions with them). I don’t believe they did. They are in a culture that teaches that those norms are moral. Are German’s predisposed to genocide (more so than any other people group)? I don’t think so. But the culture at large seemed to be ok with that idea only 70 years ago. Beating your wife is immoral because the person makes the choice to do so and we find that choice to be immoral. That’s why we have a legal precedent for not finding people guilty of crimes if they were mentally incapable of understanding the ramifications of their choices. It’s not an immoral choice if the person doesn’t understand the choice.
And in the end that’s the main point. For an action to be moral there has to be a choice to do otherwise. If it’s immoral to lie the option has to exist to tell the truth. If your biology compels you to tell the truth then there is no ability to lie and therefore no moral choice.
On the other hand, if morals are just the working out of our biology, then to bash your neighbor’s head in so you can have his <insert whatever here> is not immoral as it was likely your biology driving you to do that. If biology is the engine of morals, then whatever your biology tells you to do is moral. Of course none of us believe that. In fact in many cases we believe exactly the opposite. It’s immoral for a husband to sleep around, even though it’s likely his biology that’s telling him to do it.
Clearly morals are not a biological construct.
So for some reason Wednesday morning my I had more than 20 twitter notifications related to a conversation I was involved in back in April. I thought it was weird to have that many from that far back. I went looking and I saw this inspiring tweet:
I found that to be an interesting source. First of all Plutarch (who the book is using as its source) wasn’t born until about 45 AD. So that would mean if there was any copying going on it would be likely that Plutarch, in his history about Romulus, was copying the Gospel narrative rather than the other way around. Especially since earlier sources (or at least the ones we think are earlier since we don’t have very early copies of any of these works) have Romulus as the son of either Mars (not God in the way the text implies) or Hercules, he was to be killed as an infant in multiple different ways (almost never by a sword) and his mother was certainly not considered a virgin after his conception (she was considered to have broken her vows). And children of polytheistic gods were not what you would consider unusual.
On a side note, it’s also curious that Remus is left out of this narrative. There were twins involved after all (which is again another way they differ).
I pointed this out to which he replied that it didn’t invalidate his claim that the gospels were probably plagiarized.
This is a pretty big accusation. To claim that they “probably” are plagiarized is to say that you have good reason, if not definitive proof, that they are. I asked what sources they could have plagiarized from. I’ll admit this was an unfair question. But only in that I knew what he would say and I knew it was wrong. But I thought I should let him say it rather that assume he would and dismiss it.
As I expected he said:
So I replied with a link to this page which shows the claim that Horus mirrors Jesus is false. He then began trying to obfuscate the discussion we were having. He tried to make the conversation about whether Jesus is true. He tried to make it about the reliability and accuracy of scripture. I wouldn’t let him. I was very clear I was going to stay on point. He said it was probable, not possible but probable, that the stories in the Gospels plagiarized their stories from other ancient sources. I could post all the threads but if you follow the tweet above you can read the thread yourself and posting all the replies would make this a very long post.
After a while he said I could prove his idea wrong by demonstrating the reliability and accuracy of scripture. This is true. I could. However I wasn’t claiming that. He claimed something an I want him to tell me why he came to that conclusion. I pointed out that he was attempting to shift the burden of proof from him to me. He essentially said, “You are!”
Toward the end of the conversation (or at least the end at this point) he said:
I pointed out that he said two important things here. First he reiterated that he thinks plagiarism is probable (again without any evidence he can produce). Second by saying he finds plagiarism likely (while bringing up historical reliability) it is clear he believes the scriptures to not be accurate historically (not just that he doesn’t accept that they are). You see if you believe something may or may not be historical accurate document but you weren’t sure, it’s a pretty far leap to say that it’s probably plagiarized. If it is plagiarized from legends from previous cultures (or contemporary ones) it can’t be historically accurate.
So I told him I would love to hear how he came to both of those conclusions (though I would prefer to hear the plagiarism evidence first). After all, if he can prove it was plagiarized the other becomes unnecessary.
After I was clear I wanted him to back up the things he said he believed in he told me to google it and then stopped replying (I figured he would).
My takeaway is that internet atheists love to demand evidence. If I say I believe the gospels are accurate they will demand proof. They also love to claim they make no claims. They only believe in what they have evidence for. However it’s clear this guy has no evidence for his claims. He has a belief. He takes it on faith that what he believes is true (though he wouldn’t call it that). These are his a priori assumptions. When you come across an atheist who makes one of these claims, don’t let them wiggle out of it or push you to a tangent. Make them stay on point. They won’t like it but, even if they don’t admit it, you could open up a weak spot in their world view that will allow the Gospel in.
He actually could have avoided most of the thread pretty easily (besides just not tweeting in the first place). When I pointed out that the two “sources” he thought could be sources don’t actually work he could have admitted it. He could have said, “You’re right, those aren’t good examples. Maybe there isn’t any evidence the Gospels are plagiarized.” That would have been an internally consistent position to take for someone claiming to view the world with an evidence based world view. It’s ok to be wrong. However he never backed down. Even with his evidence shattered he continued to cling to his belief in the face of contrary evidence. Sounds a lot like what atheists accuse the religious of.
Well it seems I’ve been blocked after pointing out that he’s a hypocrite for expecting more from others than he does of himself. It’s only significant in that according to him I’m his first.
In a recent on line discussion with an internet atheist he (or she, I don’t really know but I’ll be referring to this person as he) made two startlingly immature statements. Well less statements and more positions.
First, when I pointed out that because we are at the end day in history (tomorrow will be the end day of history tomorrow) time cannot be infinite as an infinite number does not have an end. His response was that well maybe time had a beginning in our universe but not in the multiverse as a whole. This is unusual for two reasons. First, if he has a reason to expect time to operate using different rules in a multiverse he did not present them. This is more curious since he said he would expect all universes to operate under the same general laws of physics (which is also odd because it obliterates the reason a multiverse was postulated). Secondly, as a person who claimed to believe in only what he knew to be true (those things he can verify to be true like gravity), it is curious that he would use an unprovable idea (I won’t even call it a hypothesis) to try to strengthen his position. The multiverse clearly lies in the domain of science fiction. Not the type of science fiction that takes current science and extrapolates it out and applies it to our society (like Fahrenheit 451). Rather the type of science fiction that is normally relegated to comic books and pulp novels (you know, like humans being able to mutate to shoot lasers out of their eyes). This isn’t rational position but rather grabbing at straws.
It has ceased to be about competing ideas on the beginning of the universe and more about him throwing anything at the wall to see if something sticks. If this is what people think counts as science it’s no wonder people didn’t have a problem with Dr. McCoy injecting a tribble with Khan’s blood as a method of science. That’s not the way science works.
Secondly was his childishly circular logic when asking for proof for the claims of the supernatural. This is essentially how it went (it was a lot of tweets and he would always circle around to it).
Him: I need proof of the supernatural.
Me: Would you accept the claims of the different witnesses in scripture?
Him: No, I need some proof outside of the Bible.
Me: Here read book X as it outlines the reliability of scripture and the trustworthiness of it’s claims.
Him: LOL you don’t think the Bible is sufficient!
Me: But you said you won’t accept the Bible.
Him: You still admitted you don’t think it’s sufficient!
Most people can see how he’s moved in a circle here. If he won’t accept the claims in scripture where does he expect me to turn? It’s not even as though I was offering him a book that was not demonstrating the reliability of the Bible (in this case specifically the New Testament).
I thought I’d write about this here mostly because it was, at least in part, funny. It’s hard for me to imagine an adult thinking these are cogent arguments. But he seems to. I’ve come to the conclusion he’s either a 13 year old (which is good for him as he kept me on the hook for a while) or just an adult troll (again, he kept me going for a while, so good for him). Of course there’s always the possibility that these are the actual thoughts and opinions of an adult. If that’s the case it’s no wonder our world is going to hell in a handbasket.