Book review, quote du jour, and brilliant commentary all in one post

I just finished reading (the day before yesterday, in fact) Brett Baier’s new book, “Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission.” The core subject of the book is that brief transition of power between President Eisenhower and President Kennedy in January, 1961, and hones down even deeper to Ike’s farewell address to the nation just before he left office in which he warned the American people (and the president-elect) about the growing military-industrial complex. The Cold War and an arms race between the United States and Soviet Union was going full throttle by then, and President Eisenhower was trying to keep us balanced between strong national defense and runaway military spending. Also built into the novel is a loose biography of our (highly underrated) 34th president, who saw himself, even in retirement, as more of an Army general than former chief executive.

This is a fabulous book. Baier is an excellent writer, and the material was thoroughly researched. I first heard about Baier’s book a few weeks ago when he was a guest on the Rush Limbaugh Show. It is extremely rare for Rush to invite guests onto his show to talk about a book. It literally only occurs once every few years. So I figured it had to be a special book to warrant this level of attention from the Maha Rushie.

There is one quote from the book that I’m adding to this post, because it allows me to segue into some commentary on liberalism and the Democrat Party, and it’s a quote that serves as Baier’s interpretation of how President Eisenhower viewed Soviet communism:

But what was its appeal? He looked at the scene and saw an illusion where people were promised liberation at the expense of personal freedom; community at the expense of individuality. There was the myth of superiority grounded in a rickety economic system.

As I read this, my immediate reaction was, my gosh, this sounds a lot like liberalism in the 21st century.

There are two elements here that warrant explanation.

1). Liberalism promises liberation at the expense of personal freedom. In the end, you get neither.

For example, let’s look at ObamaCare. What does ObamaCare presume to offer? It’s not just health coverage, because ObamaCare isn’t just about health coverage. It’s about putting government in control of health care. And when government controls your health care, it controls YOU. With ObamaCare, liberals presume to offer a person liberation. Liberation from what? Liberation from the whims of free-market health care and greedy, heartless insurance companies. Liberation from being one hospital stay away from bankruptcy. You know the left’s arguments.

In the end, you lose personal freedom because government is now in control of your health care. But the liberation you were promised also proves elusive; since ObamaCare places enormous mandates on health insurers, competition is discouraged, premiums skyrocket, and on top of that, your deductibles are often so high that you end up paying thousands of dollars out-of-pocket before you ever get to use your health coverage. So instead of of liberation, you find yourself in bondage to government.

2). Liberalism promises community at the expense of individuality. In the end, you get neither.

This is particularly ironic since we just had a community organizer as our president for eight years. Yet we’re more divided as a nation now than we were before. Liberalism discourages individuality in the name of equality. But what liberalism ultimately produces is sameness, not by elevating those on the bottom, but by reducing everyone to the lowest common denominator. The only sense of community under liberalism is among homogeneous groups. This is because liberals drive a wedge between different groups by pitting one against the other, thus discouraging any sort of cross-group sense of community.

With liberals, it’s poor vs. rich, women vs. men, blacks vs. whites, gay BLT’s vs. homophobes, Muslims/jihadists vs. Islamophobes, transgenders vs. bathroom signs, etc. Each homogeneous group is united around one thing: victimhood. The left seeks to turn all these protected groups into victims. Most often, the victimhood is contrived, and the ones doing the victimizing are simply straw men created by the left. So with liberals, you lose your individuality, and really the only sense of community is among homogeneous groups united around a contrived grievance against made-up bogeymen.

Product review: Avantree over-ear Bluetooth headphones

I have been shopping around for a pair of high-quality Bluetooth headphones for some time, preferably over-ear. I have researched extensively, reading specs and product reviews all the way from top-of-the-line Bose products down to generic $20 or $30 headphones.

I wanted headphones that sounded superior, but also was unwilling to pay $200 or $300+ on high-end Bose or Beats headphones. So there had to be a “happy medium” somewhere, a pair of headphones that sound superior but aren’t excessively priced. I may have found the perfect trade-off in a pair of Avantree headphones (currently listed for $84.99 on Amazon.com).

I received these as an early Christmas present a couple of days ago, and have already run them through numerous tests. The sound quality really is amazing, nice clear sound and good deep bass. They are also over-ear, so outside noise doesn’t leak in easily.

This is the best set of headphones I’ve ever owned.

The Avantree headphones were highly-rated on Amazon.com, and the reviews proved correct. I even connected them to my Apple TV and Avantree’s claim that there is no audio lag is correct. They hold a charge for many, many hours. They are snug but not too tight-fitting. If you’re like me and want high-quality sound but don’t want to fork over several hundred dollars for Bose headphones, these are a home run.

I’m sure Bose, and perhaps even Beats, produce an even higher quality sound, but it’s hard to imagine the sound could be that much better. I just don’t see spending an extra couple hundred dollars for relatively small, incremental improvements in sound quality. I’m perfectly content with Avantree. I’ve listened to classical, jazz, and Rush (its own music genre), and am just amazed.

Amazon Prime

I recently started an Amazon Prime membership. We don’t buy a lot of things, but we do use Amazon.com for a lot of the purchases we do make, and so I thought I’d give it a try.

I do like the free 2-day shipping. When I order something, I do like to get it, and free 2-day shipping is hard to beat. That by itself is almost worth the membership price.

But Amazon Prime members also have access to a large library of movies and TV shows. We recently canceled our Netflix membership, both DVD and streaming. We literally ran out of things to watch. Perhaps once or twice a month, a movie comes out we want to see, and I’d prefer to run to Redbox and spend $1.50 to rent for a day.

For my purposes, Amazon Prime Video, which comes with your Prime membership, actually has a better selection of titles than Netflix’s streaming library, which rather surprised me. Whereas I ran out of things to watch on Netflix, I have already found several titles on Amazon Prime I want to watch. The only drawback is that they don’t have an Apple TV app, but with the iPhone/iPad app, you can still stream to your TV, so that’s an easy obstacle to overcome.

Although the shipping and video options are all I’m using Amazon Prime for at the moment, it has other uses, like music streaming, unlimited photo storage, certain free books and periodicals, and a few others. Given that an Amazon Prime membership costs about what Netflix costs, it made sense to me to cancel Netflix and start Amazon Prime.

My first Bluetooth keyboard

Oh, the marvels of Bluetooth. It’s where we’re headed, anyway. With the production of the iPhone 7, Apple removed the traditional 3.5 mm headphone jack. Granted, you can still plug in your earbuds via the lightning jack, but the technology is gently pushing us toward Bluetooth.

But this is a keyboard review.

A few weeks ago, I purchased my first Bluetooth keyboard. I have toyed with the idea for a couple of years, always deciding against purchasing one because I reasoned my iPad has a built-in keyboard right on the screen, so why be redundant and buy anything external? I’ve gotten pretty good at typing on the iPad keyboard, but it’s never been quite as efficient as typing on a traditional keyboard, so this time I broke down and purchased one on Amazon that came with solid reviews and a price tag of just $19.97. I wanted one that was rechargeable and not too large, and I have found the perfect one, an Arteck HB030B.

There are tons of Bluetooth keyboards available, and you could spend hours searching online for the perfect one. I settled for the Arteck, and I have no regrets. It’s small enough to fit in my backpack, just 9.3 inches long and 5.3 inches wide, and only a quarter-inch thick. It’s durable and holds a charge for quite a long time. I’ve been using it close to a month and have not had to recharge it since the initial charge.

(One caveat, if you have large hands, you’ll need a larger keyboard.)

At any rate, I gave up using a laptop maybe two years ago. I found that I can do everything I need to do using an iOS device. We do have an old Windows laptop that my wife stil uses on occasion. If it were up to me, I’d get rid of it. It’s slow and clunky and it’s also Windows. My iPad mini I purchased three years ago is still in top shape and I’ve not had a single reason to upgrade. Sync a Bluetooth keyboard to it, and it functions better than the laptop. I know there are new laptops out there that are high quality and more robust than an iPad. I just have no use for one, personally. I’m blogging on it right now, in fact. It is also my reader, my movie/TV screen, music player, photo manager, banker, and a lot of other things.

I also upgraded to an iPhone 7 last week and am really amazed. It’s slightly larger than the iPhone 5C I had been using, and the new screen size is such that I can actually do some writing on the iPhone using the same keyboard. For convenience, size, and portability, you really can’t beat the Bluetooth keyboard/iOS device combination. I know this sort of arrangement wouldn’t work for some people who might need a more versatile machine for professional uses, or some such other, but for me, I just cannot beat this arrangement.

Product review: TaoTronics Bluetooth headphones

I’ve been in the market the last few months for a reliable pair of Bluetooth headphones for running. After much research, I settled on a TaoTronics pair that I ordered from Amazon. The product came with reasonably good user reviews, and the price of $26.99 made it worth the risk.

When I purchase earbuds for running, they have to meet three qualifications: they have to sound really good, they have to stay in my ears while running, and they have to be sweat resistant. It’s not easy to find a set that meets all three. I’ve been using Skullcandy earbuds for years. I am on my third set and they gave out last week. I am planning on upgrading to an iPhone 7 soon, and the latest technology is headed toward Bluetooth-only. So I decided to cut the cord.

With all that said, I am extremely impressed with TaoTronics. I ran a 10K with them this morning and they performed admirably. The sound is crisp and dynamic with excellent highs and lows. They are sufficiently loud, but not quite as loud as my Skullcandy earbuds (which is probably best). They proved themselves sweat-resistant, because I do sweat a lot. And they stayed in my ears. In fact, they never budged. The Bluetooth connection also proved reliable, with only a minimum of brief “cut-outs.”

For the price, you can’t beat this seat of headphones. I may even use them for times when I’m not running, as they’re better than the over-the-ear headphones I use at other times. So if anyone out there is looking for a quality set of Bluetooth earbuds for sports, I’d look no further.

Love & Mercy

Yesterday the Brian Wilson biopic was released on DVD and so I headed over to Redbox to rent a copy. Brian Wilson is one of my all-time favorite musicians, a genuine prodigy, and also a tragically fragile human being given his decline into mental illness. I am amazed that he has been able to overcome the obstacles that he has and still continues to make good music even though he is now in his 70’s.

The movie, which Brian Wilson himself attests is highly authentic, alternates between 1966, when he was at the height of his creative ability while simultaneously slipping deeper into the ravages of mental illness, and 1986 when he was in the care of an excessively-controlling psychiatrist named Gene Landy, but also meets his future wife Melinda (to whom he is still married).

The year 1966 marked the release of the Beach Boys classic album Pet Sounds, which is today regarding as one of the very best albums made during the rock-and-roll era. Brian Wilson really outdid himself with this album, but its recording took the band away from its traditional surfer-music sound and resulted in a sizable fracture with his band mates, especially his cousin Mike Love, over creativity. Brian Wilson goes on to write Good Vibrations with Mike Love, but after that came the ill-fated SMiLE project, which the band ends up shelving.

At any rate, the movie may not be of much interest to someone who isn’t a Beach Boys fan. It was fascinating to me because I am quite familiar with their music and history, and so I was able to follow the storyline with a great deal of understanding. To someone who isn’t a Beach Boys fan, the plot might seem disjointed and scattered given the constant flipping between 1966 and 1986. What means the most to me as a Beach Boys fan is the film’s authenticity. That last thing I wanted was for the film to take liberties with these intimate parts of Brian Wilson’s life. So I am thankful for its accuracy.

“War Room” review

Hollywood fills movie theaters and DVD kiosks with trash. They often mock Christians and our faith. Yet every-once-in-a-while, an independent filmmaker comes along and puts together a real gem with no-name actors, and it fills theaters. Such is the case with “War Room,” which my wife and I watched this evening. “War Room” is one of the best Christian films I have ever seen, made poignant by its very real portrayal of imperfect people with imperfect faith who turn to a perfect God in genuine, fervent prayer for transformation and reconciliation. Indeed, we are not called upon to change people’s hearts. That’s God’s job. Our job is to humble ourselves and offer up prayers for others, while also recognizing that overcoming sin begins with ourselves.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

A few remarks about Apple Music

Today I downloaded the iOS 8.4 update, which installed the new Apple Music app on my iPhone and iPad. Although I have not yet spent much time playing around with the new music app, here are few quick notes of things I have noticed so far:

– My Beats Music subscription transferred over to Apple Music with literally a click and a sign-in.

– The 3-month free trial period applies also to former users of Beats Music, which was a nice surprise. It will save me about $30 in subscription fees.

– My entire music library and playlists from Beats Music transferred flawlessly to my Apple Music account.

– Like Beats Music, Apple Music creates automatic playlists based on my listening tastes, but the Apple Music playlists seem even more intricate than the ones Beats Music created for me.

– My former Beats Music library is integrated with my iTunes library seamlessly.

– As with Beats Music, you can download tracks to your iOS device for offline listening.

There are features in the Apple Music app I have not yet discovered or fully used yet. This is just a quick-glance set of highlights. The good thing is, once you transfer your subscription from Beats Music over to Apple Music, you can go ahead and delete your Beats Music app since you are no longer a subscriber. So one app does what two used to do. Also, your unused balance from Beats Music gets applied to your Apple Music subscription (once they start charging me again in three months.)

Food review: Mellow Mushroom in Franklin

Today I had the rare opportunity of spending some time in downtown Franklin, Tennessee, a historic town with plenty of character and old architecture. Lunch was at the Mellow Mushroom right on the public square. It was a pleasant springlike day and so I took a table outdoors. The menu consists primarily of pizza and other Italian fixings. I had the house calzone, which comes with mozzarella, mushrooms, spinach, and tomato, with marinara sauce for dipping. The crust was thick and surprisingly light, so that the pizza wasn’t excessively filling. The menu is a bit pricey, but you don’t get shorted on portion size. It comes with my recommendation. You can tell them Lefty sent you, but they’d have no idea who you’re talking about. There is also a Starbucks just a block away. 

 

A good deal for books

I joined Oyster Books a year ago this month. I had no idea how it was going to be transitioning entirely over to online reading. They offered the first month for free, so I at least had nothing to lose. One year later I can honestly say I am 100% pleased. I have read 48 books on Oyster thus far, including the entire Harry Potter series, which comes out to $2.28 per book, so I’d say that’s a pretty good deal if you like to read. I don’t have to buy books anymore and I don’t have to go to the library for free ones. With the Oyster apps for iPhone & iPad, I simply take them everywhere I go.