Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Getting Credit Card Late Fees Waived

In the midst of swapping bank accounts and changing credit cards and payment methods, I missed a credit card payment.  It made me sick, I never miss payments!  While I was stressing out about whether it would affect my credit score, I decided to see what Ramit Sethi had to say about it.  I have his book and would recommend it to anyone and everyone who has to deal with personal finances (which should be everyone in the world that has the capacity to spend money and understand credit and investing).  One of his call scripts just helped me get the late fee waived, though the credit card company may have done that without me following his script, but the script gave me confidence.  Here's the first chapter of his book:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Liberty Defined: Empire

A mixture of thoughts and summary from Ron Paul's book Liberty Defined.

The American Empire is the enemy of our freedom.  Our military occupies 135 countries.  We're as pervasive as the British Empire at its zenith, only instead of colonies, we occupy the world militarily.

We support the dictators of Arabia, Egypt, and other countries, Saddam Hussein was our ally at one point.  We supported him for a decade with their war against Iran.  He came to us and made sure it was OK for him to invade Kuwait, and we said, "Sure!" (What a perfect opportunity to turn our back on him, label him a tyrant, and begin our infiltration into the Middle East!)

We claim we're fighting a war on terror, a state-less war, an ideological war, yet a war that we insist fighting with bombs and guns, killing thousands of innocent people who just want to live their lives in peace.  In a year, our country has suffered as few as 14 deaths as a result from terrorist activities, yet thousands upon thousands are victims of homicide or car accidents and we don't spend near the effort to prevent those.  Some of the main reasons for terrorist threats are a direct result of us invading other countries and killing their citizens.

All this is horrifically placed under the guise of spreading Democracy.  Do we really spread peace and democracy with a military?  A democracy is nothing but mob rule, or rule of the majority.  Our country was created as a republic to limit this weakness of democracy.

As long as we continue to interfere in others lives by throwing elections, staging military coups, invading countries, and killing innocent people, we are an American Empire, one whose fall is not far distant at the pace we're going.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Liberty Defined: Discrimination

I've been listening to Ron Paul's book, Liberty Defined, to get a better idea of his position on certain issues.  I am amazed at how much I'm learning as well as understanding better certain political issues.  I'll try to mention some of the topics that particularly stand out to me.

I've never really thought much about Discrimination.  I've always disagreed with colleges limiting acceptance to a certain percentage of individuals in each race category, or reserving a percentage for minorities.  Dr. Paul goes much further by saying that affirmative action laws are unconstitutional.  The government does not have the authority to force us to integrate!

This idea was a bit unnerving at first, but eventually made a lot of sense.  Have affirmative action laws (or any laws forcing us to integrate) made us want to integrate any more?  Do people naturally want to mix and mingle, or do we prefer associating with people who are more like us (racially, intellectually, religiously, etc.)?  Should the government have any right to regulate our social interactions?  They do have a right to make sure people are free to choose, but that doesn't mean they have a right to participate (a right in the sense that government can force someone to accept them).

Maybe minorities think that if they aren't given these "rights" they will get lost by the wayside and the majority (ethnically) will get all the benefits.  As long as programs, institutions, religions, etc. aren't prohibiting attendance based on religion, there should be no problem.  Life isn't meant to be fair, we're all given opportunities to excel in our circle on influence.  We have to think on the level of, "Should I give the government any power to regulate or change my social interactions?"

I'm sure I'm not touching on all the points that were brought up, but I hope you get the gist.  Check out the book if you'd like to learn more, I highly recommend it, only being through the first quarter of it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Streaming DVD Backups from External Networked HDDs to Windows Media Center 7 HTPC

I'm in the process of converting my DVD collection to .ISO files so that I can access them without having to actually load a DVD.  I have an array of external hard disks on my home network where the ISO's will sit, and then with MyMovies4 and Virtual CloneDrive I'm able to automatically link those ISO files directly into Windows Media Center 7 and watch any of them from the comfort of my living room HDTV that is connected to my PC.  We use this cheap remote, and love it.

Converting DVD to ISO


On Linux
Brasero DVD Burner worked for most DVD's, but when I got to the pesky Disney discs, I found the following instructions invaluable!
  1. ddrescue -n -b 2048 /dev/dvd outputFileName.iso
  2. dvdbackup -M -i outputFileName.iso -o dvd_structure
  3. mkisofs -dvd-video -o finalISOFile.iso dvd_structure
On Windows

  • DVD Shrink/Nero 7 - Rips and converts, Free, doesn't work with everything
  • DVDFab HD Decrypter - Rips and converts, Free, doesn't work with everything
If you have troubles with security on any of the above AnyDVD or DVD43 seem to be helpful, though AnyDVD is a bit pricey.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Book Review: Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange LandStranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first half of the book was really good, a simple story about a Martian acclimating himself to earth life, enough to get out on his own. Once he goes out on his own with Jill, the story gets in to free love, narcisism, voyeurism, and is rather uncomfortable to read, though not explicit in its negative content. It's interesting to read the contemplations of religion and love and how complex those ideas are and how important they are to our humanity...

That first paragraph was written about 3/4 of the way through the book. My mind has changed quite a bit after completing it, and I'm glad I didn't give up on it. Though there is a lot of non-explicit sex in the latter part of the book, I think the author does a good job of helping us understand the purpose of this intimate bond between male and female, without making it come across as common or dirty. His concept of marriage and monogamy is quite flawed, but that does not affect the overall value of the book to me. The book did come in the onslaught of the hippie revolution, and perhaps contributed to some of the thought on "free love," but you'll have to read it for yourself.

The concept of Truth is an equally interesting piece of the book. Religion is not looked on very highly as a source of Truth, though it's never actually denied completely. Truth, basically, is understanding "Thou art God". I am God, you are God, the world is God. This comes off as blasphemous at first, but becomes more accepting as you realize that it's possible the author is insinuating that God is in all of us. Maybe Heinlein is also saying that there is no one greater than us (no supreme being), but I'll assume he isn't. God is in all of us, and it is through us that he is glorified. Too much to say here to have it make sense to you.

I recommend this to anyone. I actually listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed listening to the narrator.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Our Inexpensive Phone Setup

I thought I'd share our phone setup to pass the savings on to others.  Right now we probably pay $2-$3/mo - that's with e911 service and a $.019/minute call-out rate, received phone calls are free (as are calls made through Google Voice, so we rarely pay the per minute rate).

What's Needed

  • Linksys PAP2T-NA ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter) that we paid $50 for, this allows you to use a regular analog phone to make and receive calls
  • Internet service (not sure how fast it needs to be for good quality, ours has been between 3 and 6Mbps and we've had no problems - so you may be able to do less)
  • Analog phone (cordless or corded, doesn't matter)
  • Google Voice Account - This will become your primary number, for $20 they can port your existing mobile or landline number into your account (This step is optional, but required if you want to make free out-going calls - at least for now.  Sipgate can do pretty much everything GV can, but will cost you $.019/min which is still pretty cheap - 1000 min would cost you $19.)  Google Voice can also let you choose which phones ring (all or just one) when certain people call, allows for easy call screening, and voicemails get sent to your email address.  The only downside is that caller-id doesn't work for us, but call screening helps, and as long as the contact is in our Google Contacts, it shows up correctly on our Android cell phones.
  • Sipgate One Account - This is the actual telephone service that will make everything work and provide e911 (you'll need to opt-in to the e911 service and provide a payment method for it) - It doesn't matter what number you choose, you'll be using Google Voice to send/receive calls
  • GrooveIP Android App - $4.99, This allows me to make free calls with my Google Voice account.  The quality isn't that great, but to not use up my very limited 300 min cell phone plan it's great - you can skip this if you're not worried about cell phone minutes.  Also only works if you have an Android phone with a data plan (cheapest option is VirginMobile by far! $35 for 300 min. and Unlimited data on 3G network)
The Setup
  1. Plug your Linksys ATA into your modem/gateway and your phone into the ATA and configure it per these instructions (you'll need your Sipgate account for this) - this is the hardest part, but instructions are easy to follow.  You could probably plug the RJ-11 cord (telephone cord) into the wall and then into the ATA, that should provide connectivity from any RJ-11 port in your house, provided they're all wired together.
  2. Add your new Sipgate number to your Google Voice settings
  3. Download and setup GrooveIP if you have an Android phone with limited minutes
Using Your Analog Phone
  • If you want to place a call with your analog phone and not be charged, you'll need to have access to a computer so you can get to your GoogleVoice account.  From within there you can make calls or send texts to any number, from any number in your account.
  • For e911, you'll be best off not calling through GoogleVoice, just dial it straight
  • Your computer doesn't need to be on to make/receive calls (only if you want to use GoogleVoice), the Linksys box and your modem/gateway do all the call processing - so you just need power.
Other Viable Options
  • MagicJack - works for some people, we did not like it and it died on us after 6 months
  • Skype - $2.99/mo. for unlimited US/Canada calls, you'll have to buy their proprietary ATA $49
  • Ooma - $250 one time fee, after that all calls in the US (50 states) are free (not including taxes, which is pretty minimal).  I've heard a lot of good things about this product.  You pretty much pay for a regular year of phone service, and then you start saving.
  • Skip a home phone all together and just stick with your cell phone.  We didn't like this option because my wife and I have limited cell phone minutes, and it's also nice to have a phone here when we have a baby sitter.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Review: Outliers

OutliersOutliers by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great book! I never looked at success like this before. In the interview that was included at the end of the audiobook Gladwell mentioned how at first his goal was to prove that successful people (outliers) were just normal people given extraordinary opportunities and ended up showing that anyone who puts in 10,000 hours at something can become an expert in the area. One thing that would have made this book even better would be to include the influence and assistance we receive from God. Gladwell mentioned that his mother prayed when she needed help and received help, but that was the only instance of identifying deity as a source of influence and strength.

I'd recommend this to everyone.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen

I recently picked up H. Verlan Andersen's Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen (currently out of print, but available in eBook and paperback form at http://www.ldsliberty.org/bookstore/and have received quite a wake up call.  The book starts off by defining our countries current (1967, but it's amazing how much this problem remains with us today in 2011) problem of supporting an unjust government and how a lot of that fault lies with the citizens of our country.


"We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.  (D&C 134:1, emphasis added)


"When the individual disapproves of an unjust government measure and uses all of his influence against it, no blame should be attached.  Justice demands that each be held liable only for those acts which have his approval and support.  Since laws may be good as well as evil, opposition to a good law may be as blameworthy as approval of a bad one....


"If the Lord is going to hold each of us morally accountable for every coercive act of government of which we approve, it is of the utmost importance that we be able to accurately discern the good from the evil in government action.  It is not enough that we do this approximately.  We must be able to distinguish with precision because:


"When we undertake to ... exercise control or dominion or compulsion ... in any degree of unrighteousness ... Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. (D&C 121:37, emphasis added)"


Elder Andersen continues on by pointing us to the ultimate measuring stick to determine whether or not an act of government is righteous: "Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." (Matt. 7:12; 3 Nephi 14:12)  If we would not be comfortable applying a certain law to ourselves (in our current circumstances), than that law is immoral.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CPA: Identity Theft



Identity theft was the last topic covered in my Citizens Police Academy course.  While I thought I was pretty familiar with everything that I needed to do to protect myself and my family, it was a good reminder of some of the things I'm not doing.  Here are some of the notes I took from the class, along with a helpful checklist from www.usaaedfoundation.org.


  • On average it takes a person 6-9 months before they realize that they've been a victim of identity theft. 
  • A shredder (preferably cross-cut) should be a standard appliance in everyone's home. If you don't have one, pick one up the next time you go out. 
  • People can and do go to the dump and can buy trash from specific zip codes. 
  • Sometimes we can be too trusting with who we give sensitive information to. Think twice before giving out your SSN or other sensitive info and don't be afraid to ask why they need that info and if there's something less sensitive that you could provide. 
  • In Texas the max penalty for ID theft is 2 years in prison, and you get to keep all the stuff you acquired while using someone else's identity. 
  • Don't think that no one gets hurt with ID theft. Yes, the company gets reimbursed for its loss or is able to report it as a loss on their taxes, the credit card company makes up for it by charging high interest rates to its customers, and the victim is usually not held liable for any of the charges. But society pays for it through the high interest rates and the tanking economy. 
  • You can (and should) check your credit report once a year from three different companies (or you could rotate them and check your report every 4 months). Go to annualcreditreport.com to access all three companies. It's also probably worth it to pay for your credit score once a year. 
  • Your agreement with your credit card company is that your credit card is only valid if it is signed on the back. For all of you that put "See ID" or something similar on the back, if you don't sign it and you become a victim of ID theft with that card number, you could be held liable for ALL expenses on that card since you failed to honor the agreement. So sign your card! (When was the last time anyone ever checked your ID anyway? What about all those self-checkout lines that don't ask for any kind of ID?)
  • When shopping around for the cheapest deal on anything, be careful when you're not buying from the actual vendors website (e.g., buying a ticket on a Southwest Airlines flight from cheaptickets.com). Those websites might offer a lower price, but they might also bad people luring good people trying to save some change. 
  •  It is possible to buy a Social Security Card online. 
  •  If you haven't been a victim of ID theft, it's only a matter of time when you will, and there's nothing you can do to stop it, but by heeding good counsel you can mitigate the effects. 
  •  Medical ID theft can actually cost you your life. Imagine someone stole your ID to get medical care and is receiving doses of Demerol (which you happen to be allergic to). You get into a car accident and are rendered unconscious. The doctor looks up your medical record and sees that it looks like you're OK taking Demerol and gives it to you…you then never wake up. This may sound a little drastic, but it happens. 
Specific things you can do:
  1. Store wallet/purse in secure location 
  2. Store personal records in a safe deposit box or other secure place away from your residence 
  3. Memorize PINs and other passwords, don't share with anyone (including bank representatives, police officers, or someone in a store) 
  4. Don't share personal info via email 
  5. Limit access to social networking sites (facebook, twitter) 
  6. Don't open email attachments or links from unknown individuals 
  7. Install/enable firewall on your computer (Windows Firewall) 
  8. Install software that checks for spyware (Windows Defender
  9. Install reputable anti-virus software (e.g., Microsoft Security Essentials, AVG) 
  10. Make sure computer is set to automatically update, double check to make sure it's happening 
  11. Encrypt your wireless connection (avoid working openly from cafĂ© hotspots), preferably a WPA-2 connection (WEP and WPA are easier to break) 
  12. Use a cross-cut shredder 
  13. Cut up or shred data CDs 
  14. Shield account numbers and PINs from others' view 
  15. Place a hold on your mail when you travel (usps.com) 
  16. Use a secured postal mailbox 
  17. Request online delivery of financial statements and other sensitive documents 
  18. Don't display full name in phone book, consider an unlisted number 
  19. Don't have unnecessary personal info printed on checks (Social Security Number, Drivers License, etc.) 
  20. Never sign an incomplete receipt 
  21. Photo-copy everything in your wallet and store it in a place separate from your wallet for reference if your wallet gets lost/stolen 
  22. Use strong passwords, consider using a password safe (e.g., keepass.info) so that you can have a different password for each account and have an easy and safe way to store it 
This info on this list came from a pamphlet created by USAA. For a free version of the complete pamphlet, visit www.usaaedfoundation.org.  Stay tuned for more on my CPA experience.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Review: Maus II: A Survivor's Tale

Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles BeganMaus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of the best series of books I've read. Don't be misled with this being a graphic novel (comic book), it is moving and eye opening. My words can't even begin to say what Spiegelman has accomplished here. Check right now if your library has it!

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Review: Avengers Vol. 1

Avengers, Vol. 1Avengers, Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was kind of put off by the art on the cover and did not expect to like it that much, given my dislike of the JLA and the likes - too much going on and no real character development. While there wasn't a whole lot of character development here either, the story was intriguing and the writing was awesome (a lot of laugh out loud moments, very clever dialog). I'll probably be picking up vol. 2, as long as the library has it.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Review: Runaways vol. 1

Runaways Deluxe Vol. 1Runaways Deluxe Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun read (previous review was just for issues #1-7, this was through issue #18), a bit lighter than some of the other graphic novels I've been reading. I picked up the second volume but found I wasn't as interested in it. The end of the first volume knocked off some (one in particular) big players and I was a little disappointed. Maybe I'll find time to read vol's 2 and 3 before they're due back at the biblioteca.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Review: Batman R.I.P.

Batman: R.I.P.Batman: R.I.P. by Grant Morrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a major trip. I know longer have any doubt that Batman is superhuman. The story was pretty fluid through about 80% of the novel and then decided to show you how he trained his subconscious to defend itself in the event he was psychologically broken, and that is where it gets a little confusing. I will definitely be reading this again before I take it back to the library and hopefully get more out of it the second go 'round.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Review: Maus I

Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds HistoryMaus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was amazing. It's a biography of the relationship between the author and his father and the father's experience as a Polish Jew in WWII. The only graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize, and it was well deserving. I've read a few books on people's experiences in WWII concentration camps (Man's Search for Happiness, Night) and visited multiple Holocaust museums (including the enormous one in Washington D.C.), but this book was a new experience and a very moving one. It's only half of the story, I'll pick up the second part in a few days (after I get through some of the other graphic novels that need to be returned to the library sooner). Even though the people are portrayed as animals, you never once see them as that, it's as ridiculous as trying to classify humans by race in order to establish their rank in life.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Book Review: All-Star Superman vol. 1

All Star Superman: Volume 01All Star Superman: Volume 01 by Grant Morrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All Star Superman was awesome. I'll definitely be picking up the next volume at the library (I may even look to add this to my home collection of graphic novels that has yet to exist). There were some confusing elements to it, like the whole time traveling Supermen. But otherwise, you have some good interaction with Lois Lane, Ma and Pa Kent, Lex Luthor, and some other less familiar characters (at least less familiar to someone who's only ever read two other graphic novels and watched Christopher Reeves and the animated Superman Doomsday).

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Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Review: Wonder Woman: Love and Murder

Wonder Woman: Love and MurderWonder Woman: Love and Murder by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I felt this was a good introduction to Wonder Woman, at least I wasn't overly confused. I didn't care for the overwhelming theme of self-doubt throughout the book. It got a little old after the third person asked Wonder Woman if she knew who she was. I also have a hard time with the JLA. It's almost as if having all these super heroes together makes each individual one less significant. For instance I love the Batman comics that I've read that only focus on Batman, when you start introducing Superman it's not too bad, but the entire JLA just makes him seem like a person with a whole lot less depth, just another fighting machine. Maybe I just need to be exposed to some decent stories with the JLA involved. I'm assuming it also be similar with the Avengers.

Though, when I think of it, the Watchmen had a lot of heroes involved in the story, and I really enjoyed it. I guess Moore just spent a little more time developing each of the characters in the story. Wonder Woman was fairly well developed here, but like I mentioned, Picoult spent a little too much effort on trying to make her seem more human.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: Green Lantern: Rebirth

Green Lantern: RebirthGreen Lantern: Rebirth by Geoff Johns

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a jump into a completely unknown universe for me and I was lost most of the way through the novel. Things started to come together toward the end and I ultimately enjoyed it, but I would have to re-read it again to get names straight and piece together the bits of revealed history in it.

I was totally wrong with what I thought the Green Lantern was; it's actually got a pretty deep story to it that I'd like to get to know better.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Card Game: Golden Ten (Hearts with Rook cards)

Card Type: Rook Cards

Number of Players: 3-7

Object: Win the lowest number of points

Deal: One card to each player, uneven cards are placed in middle for winner of first trick.


Play:

  1. Player to left of dealer plays a card, play continues counterclockwise other players follow and must play a card of the same color of the first card.  If a player does not have that color, he/she may play any card of their choosing.  
  2. After everyone has played a card, the trick of cards goes to the person with the highest number that matches the color that was led. (Winner of first trick gets uneven cards that weren't dealt.)  For instance let's say the following cards were played: Red 3, Red 6, Green 14, Yellow 9.  The Red 6 would win, because it was the highest card that matched the leading color (Red 3).
  3. Winner of trick leads next hand.  Hands are played out until no cards are left.
Scoring:
  1. Red cards are each worth one point, with exception to the 5 and 10 which are worth their face value.
  2. The Yellow (Golden) 10 is worth -10 points
  3. A negative score can occur if you have less than 10 points and win the Golden 10 (a variation can be that the Golden 10 just resets your score to 0 if you have less than 10 points).
  4. Do not keep a running total of points.  Just add them all up at the end.  Do not go through your piles to figure out which cards have been played; tricks won should be placed face down next to you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book Review: Runaways

Runaways vol. 1: Pride and Joy (digest)Runaways vol. 1: Pride and Joy by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a little disappointed when I first picked the book up from the library, it looked a little more juvenile than most comic books do. However, I ended up reading the first volume in a day and really enjoyed it. I've already reserved the next issues at the library.


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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

It's All About the Pentiums

Just found this gem by Weird Al.  Awesome.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book Review: True Grit

True GritTrue Grit by Charles Portis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great read. It's been a while since I've seen the John Wayne film, and I've yet to see the Cohen Brothers' version, but the book still had me intrigued to the end. Rooster Cogburn is considered a detective, something I had never really considered before. Detective westerns are a lot different from your Sam Spades or Sherlock Holmes; a lot less "finesse" and more drinking and shooting. The only complaint I had was that there are hardly any contractions used, which makes the read a little awkward. Maybe it was done to emphasize Mattie Ross's demeanor, I think it's somewhat fitting. If you're looking for a quick fun read, check this one out.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Review: Bomb Power

Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security StateBomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State by Garry Wills

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First book read in 2011 (finished being read, it's taken quite several library check-outs to get through it). This was a very eye-opening book. I had no idea of the secrets that have been such big issues in in our government since the advent of nuclear weaponry. I no longer think of Pres. Reagan as the model American president, nor do I think intervening in the middle east was necessary. Even though this man is credible, has won the Pulitzer prize, I still don't buy into everything he says. If you'd like to review some of our nation's history and get some nice surprises along the way, read this book. Some of the tidbits I learned about:

  • Congress and the V.P. didn't know about the atomic bomb project until it was dropped on Japan.
  • Members of Reagan's administration were indicted for involvement in the Iran-Contra issue, and he got off scott-free
  • Bush violated the Geneva Convention regulations and loads of other stuff that has cost American's a lot of freedom
  • The Jason Bourne movies are based on true instances of CIA operations


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