I never asked
for an explanation.
I never asked
for an explanation.
Pseudoscience Debunker and Science Advocate
On YouTube at powerm1985
I was introduced to Mr. Myles Power’s work by my boyfriend, Adam, who probably sold it to me as “a charming British man who talks a lot about conspiracy theories.”
And that is a pretty good summary of Mr. Power’s channel.
While it may seem far-fetched to have a chemist featured on a true-crime blog, Myles is, in many ways, very forensic in his approach. Forensic, after all, refers to the application of science towards the fact-finding mission of a court.
The topics he investigates, as mentioned above, often tend towards conspiracy theorists, which make his channel accessible to true crime junkies, like yours truly.
7 October 2018
Hello, dear readers!
Over the last two years, you have helped this blog go from an erratically produced collection of book reviews to a somewhat-less-erratically-produced labor of love.
You have helped me put my fiction out in public for the first time. Well, excepting the middle school literary magazine…but let’s not think about that.
*shudders at the thought of her middle school writing*
Because of your unwavering support, I have decided to devote more time to this blog, making sure to get work out to you on a weekly basis.
(For real, this time, I swear)
To help support my work, I have launched a page on Patreon!
For those of you unfamiliar with Patreon, it is an online platform that allows fans to become patrons of their favorite creators. (I hope I might be one of yours, dear reader)
In exchange for their monthly pledge, patrons get access to rewards, in addition to extreme bragging credit. You are following the footsteps of the Venetian Doges and the Medicis by supporting the arts!
With less murder, of course.
For just $1 a month, patrons will receive a mention in a special edition of this blog every month they are a patron. If you are interested in your business or organization taking the credit, reach out to me by DM on Patreon.
$5 a month gets you access to a weekly patron newsletter and plenty of behind-the-scenes looks into my creative process: drafts, inspiration sources, angst. It’s more of the writing you know and love, even before your patronage helps me produce even more of the writing you know and love.
There’s a virtuous cycle here, you see.
Patreon is going to be especially important for me so I can put together a real, physical “To-Review Queue” have the resources to buy all the books, etc. It will also keep me accountable to a schedule and order for reviews.
Because when you owe people money, you type faster.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
447 pages, with notes
I don’t get it.
I just don’t get it.
Why does everyone love this book?
Why has it been on my reading list since I saw it on my dad’s nightstand in the sixth grade?
How did an author this good produce a book this “meh?”
…you can’t stand to write a book review for your blog because that’s what you do all day and you love it but it’s also consuming your soul for all the class to see.
…you write for your blog as a “break” from school, because you need that little, wilting bit of joy in your day.
…yet you still like to complain about how school leaves no time for your blog, despite the blog eating up what your good, rational, ex-valedictorian side knows is supposed to be school time.
….you envy the undergrads for their ability to do decent work past midnight.
….you begin to realize one one-thousandth the pain your sleep-deprived parents must have felt about your screaming, crying baby self as you scream and cry over your baby: your thesis.
…you, the mature adult, finally reject the sleep-study binary and turn in early because your work would be poop, anyhow.
…you reach for your apartment key when unlocking the department office door.
…you then begin using the department key when trying to unlock your apartment.
…you might as well just move into the department because you live there anyhow and the rent would be free.
What does a life leave behind?
A shelf of books, a drawer of socks,
a robe never worn and given away
unwashed dishes left for a ‘later’ never-come
and bills, always bills—for pills, for palls,
for flowers and for a last ditch’s efforts.
24 August, anno 832 ab urbe condita
From Baiae I write, Severus Tarentius,
to tell you things you must already know:
business is good; the weather is fine.
I have only just come from Rome,
bringing with me two new handmaids
for my dearest wife, Aurelia.
One is a Greek woman, a skilled hairdresser—
sold, I think, by our feckless Senate colleague
Syrianus, to pay his debts.
I recently beat the old goat at alea, by the way,
a victory decisive as Scipio’s at Carthage.
The other is a rather unfortunate figure,
a slave woman from deepest Germania,
driven, the trader told me, across the river
that divides our empire from their lands
by maurauding tribes out for loot and brides.
It disgusts me how
these Germanics fight among themselves.
Such suffering they cause for their own kind!
This new woman, like many others,
fled with her small child
into the arms of our legionaries
and the warm embrace of Rome.
The babe was wailing
while she was on the block.
She wailed too as we led her away.
It was really quite distasteful:
somehow, Rome’s din grew even worse.
And the smell, Severus,
I can smell it still here—like brimstone
against the salty stink of the bay
We have given her a bath.
She’ll be well taken care of now,
among civilized people.
I think I’ll call her Macaria,
for blessed is she.
What other news is there to tell…
I have met the new emperor
–long may he reign—
and I am not impressed.
Yet Caesar is always useful, though,
so long as we are useful to Him.
Gods, this table needs a new leg!
Perhaps Caesar can grant me one of those,
so I won’t be writing in the midst of a quake?
I am looking out across the bay
towards your home at Pompeii.
It is hot, but the mountain
looks so tranquil from here.
Such is the order of our lives, Severus:
empire without end,
baths and dinners,
immovable and unchanging
as Vesuvius’ peak.
-By Allison R. Shely, September 2018.
All rights reserved.
Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist
A Netflix Original, 2018
Directed by Trey Borzillieri and Barbara Schroeder
Written by Barbara Schroeder
A few months ago, I was searching for a documentary on a case I knew only as “the Pizza Bomber” and was surprised I could find nothing aside from some local news clips saying the mastermind had died in prison. Shortly, Evil Genius would come to fill the void.
The good and the bad of this series can both be summarized in one word: understatement.
The good of the filmmakers’ understatement is that allows the horror of the events to speak for itself.
In August 2003, pizza deliveryman Brian Wells died on live TV when a bomb strapped to his neck went off. He had claimed that he had been kidnapped at gunpoint and forced into a bomb-holding collar before being sent on a bank heist/hellish scavenger hunt. His body suffered further indignities in death; authorities decapitated him rather than risk damaging evidence: the collar that held the bomb.
This is all we know for sure, Evil Genius tells us, and it is horrible. While intriguing, the series cannot be called “entertaining” as much as “edifying.” This is an exploration of suffering and evil, and that alone. No glitz or unnecessary gore.
The understatement of the series also allows viewers to inhabit the uncertainties of the crime and the ambiguities of the suspects. The main question the series poses, without ever fully resolving to my satisfaction, is as to whether Mr. Wells was, as he claimed, kidnapped and forced to rob the bank. The alternative is that he was a double-crossed participant in a criminal ring headed by Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, a woman as brilliant as she was disturbed. The question as to whether Diehl-Armstrong, the titular “evil genius” was mad, bad, or some combination of both is another ambiguity that the four-part series explores.
The understatement and suggestion can bog down the series. With each episode clocking in at about forty-five minutes, the series felt twice as long. There is a lot of information to process. While the filmmakers to present all the evidence to preserve the ambiguity of the situation, the series would have benefited from some heavy-duty pruning.
3/5 stars: A good series hobbled by serious pacing issues.
2/5 ‘fraidy cats: Evil acts, but nothing that will creep up on you at night.
2/5 ick-factor: Unsparing description of postmortem mutilation and mistreatment
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
Written and Narrated by Lawrence Wright
Random House Audio 2006
16 Hours & 31 Minutes
Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower is a book that political science professors will be assigning to freshmen for the next twenty years or more. When discussing my interest in counter-terrorism with a professor, my callow sophomore self off-handedly said “I’d like to write a book about the intelligence failures that led to 9/11.” His response was “That’s already been covered pretty thoroughly.”
Undoubtedly, my professor was referring to Wright’s comprehensive work, which is the closest you can come to reading the 9/11 Commission Report as a narrative.
This is a book I meant to get to for some time, listening to it in fits and starts since. I was finally spurred on by the release of a Hulu miniseries to finish the audiobook during my commute over the last month.
The enormous breadth and depth of The Looming Tower–spanning seventy years and covering everything from the nuances of Medieval Islamic philosophy to the geography of tiny Egyptian villages–becomes something of a liability when translated to an audio format. Read by the author, the text is read exactly as intended in an even, yet never boring, voice.
However, as the text covers dozens upon dozens of names, many with variable English spelling, I found myself wishing I had bought the physical book for future reference. Jumping from topic to topic and time to time, there is a disjointed, but not disorderly, quality to the book. Perhaps this is just a fault of perception in my visually-focused brain.
In a book this detailed, it is difficult to draw out favorite or most important moments, but I will try.
First: the importance of diversity, or even just an understanding of the world, in national security.
Before 9/11, the FBI had less than ten Arabic speakers. A particularly affecting moment is when Ali Soufan, then a young FBI agent, cracks the lone survivor of the Nairobi embassy bombers in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. A practicing Muslim who was born in Lebanon, Soufan debates the failed suicide bomber in Arabic on the Quran and Islamic law, eventually forcing the bomber to admit he has murdered innocents, many of them fellow Muslims going about their daily lives.
The bomber then tells everything he knows about the structure and membership of Al Qaeda.
Second: if there was ever a title of deep meaning, it is this one.
On a cursory glance, the tower of the title refers to the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Indeed it does. However, it is also a reference to a Quranic verse and Bin Laden’s perversion of it. In a video message to the nineteen hijackers, Bin Laden quoted this verse as an oblique reference to the specifics of the plot, ignoring its actual meaning.
The verse (4:78) reads, in Ahman Zaki Hammad’s wording, as:
Wherever you may be, death will overtake you at the pre-ordained time–even if you are in lofty towers.
And continues with:
Yet if any good comes to them, they say in their wavering hearts: This is from God!
But if any harm strikes them, they say: This is from you, O Muhammad!
Say to them: All things are decreed from God.
In the larger context of the passage, it is clear this refers to the limits of mortal life and God’s sovereignty over the universe. Jewish and Christian readers will find a similar sentiment expressed by Job, who acknowledges God’s control over all things even in adversity:
Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away: blessed be the name of the LORD!
The verse from Surah Al-Nisa’ ends with an admonishment that could well be turned against fundamentalists of all faiths:
What is with these people that they can hardly understand any discourse?
Putting aside my very amateurish exegesis, the conclusion of The Looming Tower singles out one personal tragedy from all the horrors of the 9/11. It is the eerie coincidence of this one tragedy that sticks with me even more than Wright’s detailed research and strong prose. He seems to have provided some of the strongest evidence yet that there is a Providence to the world.
If not a benevolent Providence, at least, then, Fate with a bitter sense of irony.
3.5/5 stars: A very strong book in research and storytelling, but maybe not the best fit for an audio format.
2/5 ‘fraidy cats: You know what’s going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it, much like the law enforcement officials profiled in the book.
2/5 ick-factor: Despicable human beings of many flavors.
Conspiracy theorists, raving Islamophobes, and ISIS trolls will be summarily banned and digitally keelhauled.
Drinkwell Pagoda Fountain in Blue
Major Pet Retailers
By Sassy “The Fluffer” Shely
Translated From Meowing by Allison Shely
Her cries pierced the silence of that April morning.
“But why, Sassy?”
I watched from under the table, head cocked, not sure why knocking the water bowl for the fifth time that week had elicited so strong a response. Mother, wearing that ridiculous fluffy robe of hers, dropped to her knees, tearing at her hair.
“Mommy wants the security deposit back!”
I didn’t mean to make her cry. I really didn’t.
* * *
I’ll let you in and tell you something a little personal: I have kidney disease. The good news is that it’s manageable and seems to be just the consequence of a congenital deformity…or whatever long medical term the vet said it was. The vet, whom I visited a few weeks back, sent me away with a clean bill of health.
Along with a prescription diet (yuck!), the other part of my treatment is good hydration. So, I’m picky when it comes to my water bowls.
Mom started me off with one of those five-gallon jug things. When that got too beat up, she was foolish enough to replace it with a mere plastic bowl.
Over the Christmas break, I learned how to tilt the bowl against the edge of the boot pan mom uses as my feeding area–undignified as that may be–to get the last of the water before the petsitter returned the next day.
That’s when I discovered that tipping over the bowl is also great fun.
Hence, how I brought mother to her knees.
Enter the Drinkwell Pagoda fountain.
* * *
The main reason mom picked the Pagoda was for its heavy ceramic construction. On top of this, it holds up to half a gallon of water. I couldn’t knock it over even if I wanted to!
Mom also hoped that the steady trickle of water would keep me from knocking the fountain over for a fresher drink. It is also, I may add, quite amusing to watch, even if I was a bit scared at first.
As to how it works, and how it keeps me from “losing the security deposit” (whatever that means), it is worth the eighty-something dollars.
The major downside, at least as mom sees it, is that she has to take it apart weekly to clean it. There are enough little parts that, until about a week ago, she had to consult the manual every time. Not having thumbs, I am spared this drudgery.
Also bothersome is that the two different filters–a foam one for straining out debris and a charcoal one for taste and purity–are expensive and on a confusing replacement schedule. One has to be replaced every one to two weeks, the other every two to four. The filters, however, are “optional.” Mom left them out this week (because someone forgot to order them) and, so far, I have not suffered too greatly.
All in all, the Drinkwell Pagoda Fountain is one of the best things mom has ever bought for me. In gratitude, I will respect her significant investment in my hydration: I will no longer commit terrorist acts of spillage.
For the foreseeable future.
5/5 stars. Worth every penny as it keeps Sassy from ruining the carpet. Around her bowls, at least.
The makers of this product have not compensated me for this review in any way. The product was purchased on my initiative and with my own funds. The honest views expressed are truly mine (and the cat’s).