July 9th, 2007


Settle down!

Oh, come on already ... when I started writing this, I could HEAR the undies of my more liberal readers already tightening up into knots! Yes, it's a book by the boogieman, get over it.


Actually, it's too bad that more folks won't read this book, as it is quite good, and the points being raised are important. To be honest, I probably wouldn't have read this myself (I'm not very likely to go buy a book by a "TV person"), but this was another of those that was passed along to me by my Mom, and it was sitting out in the front bathroom, and it got picked up out of sheer convenience. I'm not a huge fan of Bill O'Reilly, as I do try to keep myself on an even emotional keel, and watching "confrontational" TV (especially dealing with subjects on which I have a strong opinion) just gets me pointlessly worked up, but this book is a context where his clarity is not bogged down by his combativeness. However, in Who's Looking Out for You? O'Reilly pretty much deals with the stuff that gets him worked up (so there are bits that are somewhat "ranty"), based on a unifying theme of finding out who you can or can not trust to have your best interests at heart.

I was not expecting this book to be as autobiographical as it is. O'Reilly takes the theme and walks through a lot of his own life showing times when he was "stupid" about what he did or who he trusted. Along the way he tackles Race, Religion, the Media, Education, Government, and Lawyers (a quote: "The American justice system is a runaway money train where those without legal credentials are tied to the tracks."), among others, clearing the smokescreens that cover up ugly truths.

Now, as regular readers know, I'm a Libertarian, especially in the sense of being very conservative on most issues of governance, but rather liberal on individual rights issues. Part of my personal "spin" is that I'm somewhat "anti-theistic", holding that Religion in general is a Bad Thing. O'Reilly (like Ms. Coulter) comes from a diametrically opposite stance, holding that Religion is very important, and especially that one. As such, I find some of the places that O'Reilly goes in Who's Looking Out for You? are needlessly "preachy", although he is at least tolerant towards opinions on the subject dissenting from his.

Unfortunately, I doubt many folks of the liberal/left bent would even attempt to read this (and would likely bust blood vessels in the process were they to make the effort), and for the conservatives, it's pretty much what they already know. From where I sit, most of this book is no surprise, just a clear exposition of a lot of "what's wrong in the world". Frankly, the only "revelation" was that O'Reilly stands 6'4" tall (hard to gauge that when you've only seen him behind a desk on TV!) ... which leads to a lot of amusing thoughts of "Death Match" scenarios with various irritants from the Left!

Anyway, I enjoyed reading Who's Looking Out for You? and would certainly recommend it, with the caveats detailed above. Lucky for you, this is one of those which can be had for a steal. While it is still in print (so could be found in your local bookstore) and Amazon has it at 27% off cover price, the new/used vendors have lots of "very good" copies for a penny (plus the $3.99 shipping, of course) and there are "like new" copies for as low as fifty cents. Such a deal!

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Hoooo-boy ...

I don't know where to start on this one ... I guess the mundane stuff. This was another of my "coffee table books" from my pre-marriage apartment that got stuffed in a box when we moved and only re-surfaced when we dug out the front bathroom (which had devolved into storage space ... long story), so it's been "hanging around" for quite a while now. Mayan Vision Quest: Mystical Initiation in Mesoamerica is primarily a book of photos, but is SO over-the-edge "newagey" that it boggles the mind. Frankly, I was planning on writing a much more derisive review, but did a bit of digging on the authors, and began to get at least a glimmer of where this was "coming from".

My first gripe here is that the photos are 90% shot on infrared film. Now, this came out in 1991, a long time before TV discovered that you could shoot in "night vision" and make everything all spooky and thereby spew out dozens of unbelievably lame "ghost hunter" shows which are nearly totally dependent on the effects that produces ... so I can hardly blame Cynthia MacAdams for using a cliché, although her intent is exactly the same as the TV producers'! The photos are all in greyscale, with varying degrees of excessive granularity (there are maybe 3 pictures in the whole book which are "sharp"), and all those tell-tale signs of IR film, dark-to-black skies, bright white foliage, etc., all done to "capture the mystical forces in the pyramids and temples". Ohhh-kayy.

MacAdams was the photographer for Mayan Vision Quest, with the words perpetrated by Hunbartz Men and Charles Bensinger (both, interestingly, mis-spelled in the Amazon listings). The text is a "real doozy" ... frankly, back in my publishing days I wouldn't have touched this because it's so "out there". I started to poke around and found that Bensinger is a "newage" writer, specializing in Green politics and revisionist histories, and Men is "a Mayan Elder and Daykeeper" who supposedly is the holder of "the sacred teachings that were hidden by the Mayan priesthood shortly after the Spanish Conquistadors landed in Mexico in 1519" despite the Classic Mayan culture being dead half a millennia at that point, and even the post-Classic Mayan/Toltec culture having collapsed a couple of hundred years before! At least that explains where they were getting specifics of who was doing what in which buildings ... ala "In the upper section of this pyramid seven priests would conduct rituals to the seven solar systems." (???) or "To enhance the rituals performed here, colors were changed to ensure the optimum energy flow through the structure." ... for structures that had laid in ruins for a thousand years.

Now, I'm not one to openly mock another's Shamanism or "ancient knowledge", but the chronology of Hunbartz Men's "sacred teachings" should tax the "suspension of disbelief" of all but the most credulous new ager. Frankly, I suspect that Ms. MacAdams falls into that category, and Mr. Bensinger is the type of writer who's never met a lie he didn't like, as long as it made Western Civilization look bad. Again, I (having read quite a lot of historical/archaeological material about the Maya) was aghast at the text accompany the "ooh, spooky" pictures in this book!

Needless to say, I find this hard to recommend, except, perhaps, as a stellar example of over-blown newage twaddle. As much as I love "armchair traveling" through a book of ruin photos, this is even a tainted experience on that level, as all the photos are (by way of their grainy IR effects) bad, if well-composed and of interesting subjects. I am relieved to see that this is, indeed, out of print, so you would have to go looking through the aftermarket if for some reason you were interested in picking up a copy. There are some to be had via the Amazon new/used vendors (for as little as 70¢ for a "good" copy and six bucks and change for a "like new" one), if you think this needs to be in your library ... but you have been warned!

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