Do you have a book that will make me religious? Let me know! Or better yet, send it to me!

Carl (a former atheist) wrote in one of my posts about Ray Comfort, that he, "wonder(s) if atheists have ever truly looked at Christian Apologetics objectively."

I found this comment interesting because I do have several bookshelf feet of Christian apologetics.

Carl did mention a couple of apologists that I didn't know about. And because of that, I've just ordered a copy of "The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions" by Discovery Institute Senior Fellow David Berlinski. I chose this book due to the review by Rebecca Hamilton on the blog "Public Catholic".

I've also added Ravi Zacharias, and St. Ignatius of Antioch to my apologetics wishlist on Amazon.  William Lane Craig is already in my list, and I own copies of "Hard Questions, Real Answers" and "Reasonable Faith" by Craig.

I purchase anywhere from 10-20 physical books a month, and more digitally.  I prefer purchasing physical copies of apologetics because I like to write my thoughts in the margins.  (You should see my copy of "Mere Christianity"!)

But if it comes down to it, if I have the choice between purchasing a book for work, or for personal growth, or for entertainment, or for religion - religion takes a back seat to the rest.  My primary wish list has over 900 books on it!

So here is where you might be willing to help me out.  First, suggest a book that will make me abandon atheism for your religion.  I don't care if you are Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, or a Bön shamanist from Tibet.  If you know a great apologetics book for your relgion, suggest it to me and I'll add it to my apologetics wishlist on Amazon.

Next, if you wish (no pressure here!) you might see it clear to actually browse my apologetics wishlist and actually PURCHASE one of these books for me as a gift.  You could purchase it for me used if it is available.  I don't mind.

In fact, many of my books are used, either from Amazon, or from me combing through the local used bookstores, Goodwill, AmVets, or Salvation Army.  The demographics of this area include lots of older religious conservatives, and when they die their books are frequently donated.  (I find lots and LOTS of books from Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, James Dobson, and Tom Clancy.  That gives you a broad idea of what the local conservative mindset is like.)

So, let me know what book you want to see on my Amazon wishlist.  Or take a look at it yourself, and send me a copy.  But only if you really feel like it.

Ronnie is finally out of prison.

Ronnie, Then and Now
Here are before and after photos, from 2003 and when he got out this month in 2013.

The decade has not been good to him.

According to his records, he's lost weight too - down to 140 pounds at 5' 11".

His expression is much different.  I don't know if I should read much into it.

You can find him on the Texas Sex Offender Registry.  Of course, you can also find this website by merely Googling his name.

Will he reoffend?  I don't know for sure, but he has spent his entire adult life being a pedophile, and every psychologist and psychiatrist I've spoken with said that this type of pedophile will almost always offend again.

Seriously, I hope not. I hope Ronnie is able to do whatever it takes to become a better person.
Honestly, I have a hard time believing that he is capable of improvement. I think he is borderline, if not outright, a sociopath. I do not believe he can truly feel empathy - and I'm pretty certain he is incapable of any remorse other than that of being caught.

"Hi! I'm from PG&E!" - aggressive selling tactics from members of the Core Gas Aggregation program

I was sitting on the porch one nice evening this summer, enjoying the cool breeze after a hot day, and reading a trade journal as the sun was setting.

A car I've never seen before pulled up across the street, and 2 people got out, carrying clipboards.  One was a a stocky gentleman in a dark shirt and blue jeans, and the other was a blond woman in a purple shirt and blue shorts. The driver of the car drove off, and the people went different directions and started knocking on doors.

Eventually one arrived at my porch. He was carrying a clipboard that clearly had "PG&E" written on it. (Pacific Gas and Electric is my energy supplier) He also had a very official laminated badge clipped to his shirt, with a name and something that might have been an official PG&E logo on it. It definitely had the PG&E blue and white colors.

He told me his name was "Brad" and that he was from PG&E.  Actually, as part of his opening spiel, he said very clearly, "I'm with PG&E, and I'd like to examine your PG&E bill in order to get the savings that are due to you."

Every single scam "spidey sense" I have went crazy.

I very carefully explained to Brad that I didn't know him, and why would I possibly be interested in helping him with potential identity theft? I'm afraid I may have been both more than a little incredulous and vehement.

"Brad" said again that PG&E knew about this, and had approved him coming to me to talk to me about my bill. This didn't quite connect with what he had said earlier. I decided to test him.

"Great!" I replied. "PG&E knows my name and account number. You just tell me what they are so that I can know that you work for PG&E!"

Brad didn't know my account number or my name. He told me that he was "approved by PG&E".  He still wanted to help me save money on my PG&E bill, and he showed me his metal clipboard, with the header cut off of an official PG&E bill, pasted to the clipboard, and something that looked like a bill under it.

Here's something a few people know about me. Briefly, I sold Kirby vacuum cleaners. Don't get me wrong - this is the overpriced Cadillac of vacuums, but the sales tactics that are taught to the commission-only sales force are strictly "Hard Sell", and more than a little brutal. After a couple of months of that I quit, and found that I'd become immunized to hard sells.

And Brad was not just hard selling, he was being dishonest about it. If you're not totally straight with me then I won't buy your product. I sent Brad on his way.  He told me to "have a nice day", and I said "Bye now."

 

Tonight it happened again, my wife brought this young guy into my back yard, around 8 pm and very much after dark. He'd knocked on the front door, told my wife that he was, "from PG&E" and that it was very important that he talk to us about our bill. He made it sound terrible - some unfortunate billing error that he needed to clear up.

He had a metal clipboard with "PG&E" on it, and a very official badge clipped to his shirt. Otherwise he was dressed casually. Unlike Brad, this gentleman wasn't so easy to give up on a sale.

After verifying (again) that he was NOT with PG&E, but was a different gas supplier, this young man started trying to show me that PG&E was buying gas for "x dollars" and selling it to me for "4 times x dollars". His company, "Blue Spruce" would save me 20% off the PG&E price.

I told the young man that lying was not a good way to get a sale, and shooed him out of my backyard. I probably wasn't very pleasant about it.

 

Core Gas Aggregation Programs

So here's what I learned.

There is something called a Core Gas Aggregation program.  This program allows an approved list of gas sellers, called Core Transport Agents (CTA), to sell gas to the customer through PG&E's pipelines.  I gather this was done through legislation to prevent PG&E from becoming a monopoly.

I later found out that Brad was selling from a CTA called Commerce Energy Inc.  But the tactics used by Brad were so much like tonight's that it wouldn't surprise me if both salesmen were working for another company that represented Blue Spruce and Commerce Energy.

There are some benefits from buying gas through a CTA.  You can get a lower bill.  Depending on how much gas you use, and the amount the CTA charges, this could be substantial.

But there are some things you should be aware of.

Core Transport Agents are not regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).  This means that if you have a billing error, a dispute, or any other sort of problem with the CTA, the CPUC will not come to your assistance.  You could be stuck fighting about it in court.

CTAs may not be very robust.  It is possible for a CTA to go out of business.  If you sign up with one, you should know who you're dealing with.  For example, I would NOT recommend Blue Spruce - it gets a "B" rating from the BBB because it was just put together recently (2012).  Besides their deceptive sales practices, they don't have a track record.  I would suggest that you investigate any possible CTA on the stock exchange, in the BBB, and by talking to others who have used them.

I would also suggest that it is probably a bad idea to make your decision with a guy you just met on your front porch.

CTAs also require you to sign a contract.  This could include a check on your credit, and a contract that binds you into something that you may feel differently about later.  I know how much I hate 2 year cell phone contracts.  I would really want to know all the details of a CTA contract.  I'm definitely allergic to fine print.

As I linked to above, there are a LOT of different CTAs.  When "Brad" knocks at your front door, he won't tell you this.  Wal-mart never advertises Target - why would they?  If it were up to Blue Spruce, they would be just fine if you never knew that other CTAs existed.  Neither salesman that knocked at my door bothered to explain the Core Gas Aggregation Program to me.

And last, being part of a government regulated provider gives you some benefits that CTAs might not be able to give you.  For example, PG&E offers a "Balanced Payment Plan", where your monthly bill is actually an average of the last 12 months, so it doesn't fluctuate very much.  This allows you to better estimate your bills, and avoids those bills that shock you during a Fresno heat wave.  CTAs don't offer this.

 

Why I won't buy from Blue Spruce or Commerce Energy Inc

They both lied.

And I'm not the only one that CTAs are lying to.  If you step on my front porch and tell me that you're "from PG&E" you had better back that up by showing that you already know my name and account number.  If you can't, you get the boot, and you lose ANY chance to sell to me.

It is as simple as this.  If you have to use deceptive, high pressure sales tactics in order to sell your product, then I don't want it.  If you think so little of me as a customer to treat me this way to sign me up, then how can I expect to be treated when I'm under your contract, when you don't have to follow any sort of State mediation?

No thanks.  Now, GET OFF MY LAWN!

Dennis Markuze is at it again...

Dennis MarkuzeWell I guess Mr. Markuze is unafraid of the Montreal Police Service.  He's been be-bopping around the 'Net again, dropping his particular form of word-salad here and there.

I noticed because he did that on the 18th, on my post about my late wife.  Because, you know, THAT is how a kind and caring person wants to notify someone else about the bankrupcy of skepticism - by telling you that you're an idiot while you talk about someone you loved.

I do feel for Mr. Markuze.  He's apparently gone off of his meds, and now he is blatently violating his probabiton.  

He's not well.

I feel for him, but I will not allow him to post here.  Unmedicated, he is unable to come to grips with reality, he is unable to communicate effectively.  By communicating his old Nostradamus BS and James Randi accusations, he is breaking his probation. More importantly, he is breaking one or more rules of my comment moderation policy.

If, by chance, he manages to post here, don't bother replying to him.  His post will disappear as soon as I notice it.

If you are interested in the saga of Dennis Markuz aka David Mabus, you can read here.  Read the comments for his latest exploits.

As per an unkind suggestion from Mr. Markuze, I've enable comment moderation for a while.  

And that's all I have to say about that.

What was wrong with Won, final post

Once again we returned to the Sequoia hospital in Redwood City, this time her heart doctor cracked her chest, instead of doing a keyhole surgery as he had done before.  She received a metal heart valve.

Her recovery was very long.  She was released from Sequoia hospital within a week, but had to be re-admitted to Clovis Community hospital for complications due to Pleurisy.  She was there for almost a month of recovery.

A "good day" in 2006 or 2007About 6 months after her hospital stay, Won, her doctor, and I had a talk to her about her pain management regimen. The narcotics she was taking for pain were more than her primary care doctor thought was wise. He had a disagreement with her pain management doctor, who seemed to be over-prescribing pain medications.

I had remarked on more than one occasion that Won seemed addicted. She spent most of her time sleeping, or drowsing. But when she reduced the use of her drugs, the pain would drive her to tears. Even then, she had "good days" and sometimes several days in a row.

Won's primary care doctor did some amazing work for us, and he found a psychiatrist that specialized in pain management. His treatment program involved both spouses, and there were individual counseling sessions and group sessions.

We learned that Won's pain was neuropathic, and that it was exacerbated by emotion and well-being. Lack of sleep caused it to flair, but the pain kept her awake.

And then the doctor started teaching Won something that I've been doing unconsciously for much of my life.  When you are in pain, it is possible to not pay attention to it.  It is possible to meditate it away for a time.  Won called this a "pain vacation", and she could meditate until the pain disappeared.  It would be gone for a little over an hour, and for those first weeks Won used those times to take the first really restful naps in a long time.

She cut her pain medication down dramatically.  She still took a narcotic, but only a small fraction of what she had been using.

This brings us to the Spring of 2009.  

Won in the Fall of 2009Won had lost weight.  She had learned to control her hypoglycemia, and she was recovering from being weak and in pain.  She was adjusting to the new normal of her second heart surgery - which included the use of a blood thinner called Coumadin.  She was also able to control pain without relying heavily on narcotics.  She was very weak, but we both felt her strength was improving.  

She became interested in the world again, and found some of her old high school friends through the Korean version of Facebook.  

She traveled to Seoul that summer to visit friends and family.  While there, she told me she was experiencing some little problem with her gums bleeding.  When she came home, she brought some traditional Korean herbal medicine with her - she told me that it gave her more energy, and she felt better when taking it.

Korean traditional medicine isn't like the Alternative medication that we're familiar with here in the USA.  Herbal medication in Korea has demonstrable effectiveness.  However care should be taken in choosing a practitioner, and care should also be taken in disclosing your medical history.  I don't think Won told the traditional herbalist about her medical history.

In late November, after we celebrated Thanksgiving in Portland with my mother and sister, Won returned to Seoul to visit her family and friends.  She was supposed to return Christmas week, but her airline offered her a cut-rate flight home if she flew on January 6th.  It was a good deal.

But two things were working against Won.

When we talked the weekend after Christmas, Won told me that her gums were bleeding again.  I asked her if she was taking Korean herbal medicine again, because I suspected that it might be the problem.  She said she was, and she also told me she was pretty sure that wasn't the problem.  I asked her to go to the hospital to make sure everything was okay.

Won told me that it was hard to get around due to the weather, but if her health got worse she would go anyway.

The weather got worse.  That was the second thing to go wrong.  Seoul Korea was experiencing the worst snow storm it had seen in over 70 years

From what I can figure out from her friends, she was in a friend's apartment in Seoul - she and several other friends were having dinner and talking about "old times".  Then Won started having problems breathing - I suspect she had liquid in her lungs.

Won collapsed.  Her friends called for an ambulance.  Due to the record heavy snows, it took the ambulance almost 20 minutes to drive two blocks.  Won was loaded aboard, and died in route to the nearest hospital emergency room.  I'm not sure her friends or the EMTs knew what was happening to her.  And I suspect that Won didn't think it was as serious as it really was.

Her doctor and I have pieced together what we think happened.  We think that the traditional herbal medication she was taking probably contained a blood thinner, which together with her current blood thinner caused bleeding of her gums, and stressed her heart.  It probably was responsible for fluid in her lungs.

She probably suffered congestive heart failure.  It is treatable, and if she had made it to the Emergency Room, her chances of living would have been very good.  But because of the snow, she never got that chance.

I don't think it had helped that over the years she had depleted her reserves.  She was skinny, and still weak from recovery.  It would have been smarter if we had waited another year before she went traveling.

It would have been smart if she didn't use Korean medication as a "pick me up" to improve her energy levels.

Hindsight is always 20-20.

I arrived in South Korea to claim her remains on January 4th, 2010.  She was cremated the day I arrived.  It was very surreal - but that's a story for another time.

Hold close the ones that you love.