Review of "Murder in China Red" by Dean Barrett

After 9/11 I read almost no fiction. What tragedies are there to read when one is living in the greatest Tragedy of one’s life? Likewise, with my home state voting against the Senate Majority Leadership, what comedy can match the Comedy of GOP control of government? I drifted to news sources such as The Economist, and later to wise strategists such as Thomas Barnett and Mark Safranski. My difficulty with fiction continued even after I wished to, because I could not focus on fictional plots and fictional stories.

Thus I am grateful to mystery writer Dean Barrett for bringing back normalcy to my reading habits. Along with C.S. Lewis, Barrett as made me enjoy fiction again by painting exotic worlds with real problems. If Ayn Rand’s writings are Romantic Realism — people as they should be in the world as it is — Barrett and Lewis write Realistic Romance — people as they are in the world as it should be.

With that teaser behind us, continue on for my review of Dean Barrett’s Murder in China Red (A Chinaman Mystery).

I was suspicious almost immediately after purchasing Murder in China Red. Unlike the other Barrett novels I read and enjoyed it does not take place in the exotic Orient but the mundane East — specifically, New York. The “China Red” in the title refers to the color vermilion, and the “Chinaman” in the series is the professional name of a private detective who immigrated from Beijing during the Cultural Revolution.

Yet Dean Barrett pulled through. The author has done with once before, with his Vietnam-era tale Memoirs of a Bangkok Warrior. In that tale there was no mystery, only a happy tale of army hijinx that because more sad, and romantic, as the pages turn. Memoirs of a Bangkok Warrior established Barrett as an author who can go outside his genre, and succeed at the difficult task of evoking the atmosphere of a foreign land and time.

Murder in China Red is the complement to Memoirs of a Bangkok Warrior. All the cliches of a detective novel are on full display: the grizzled investigator, the dysfunctional ex-family, the feud with the police, the crummy office, secret agents, even the love to be avenged. Yet the author accomplishes this without his usual evocative atmosphere, instead focusing on building an excellent detective story.

Throughout the book, Barrett also succeeds at the difficult task of building a coherent myth-cycle. The hero of Murder in China Red is a step-brother of the hero in Skytrain to Murder, though they do not meet in either setting. Literary shadows are used to good effect, as characters known to both are tantalizingly outlined.

Murder in China Red is an excellent collection to anyone’s fiction library. Dean Barrett is an excellent author, adept at whatever he tries. From painting a landscape, to boiling a detective, to offering exciting and adventure, Barrett’s pen is mightier than even an femme fatale’s Smith & Wesson 4506.

Murder in China Red, a Chinaman Mystery, by Dean Barrett, is 260 pages. It retails for $11.95 at or $10.75 at Barnes & Noble. Both Skytrain to Murder and Memoirs of a Bangkok Warrior have been previously mentioned on tdaxp.

Review of "Misquotes in Misquoting Jesus" by Dillon Burroughs

Earlier this year I received Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman, PhD. Misquoting Jesus ( price, $15.72) is a piece of popular, critical scholarship that attacks the notion that the New Testament could be divinely inspired. While the first four chapters of that book are universally admired, Dr. Ehrman completely fails at his given task. Since its publication Misquoting Jesus has become a media darling, leading to an NPR interview, various press reports, and detailed refutations from blogs.

After my review I received a copy of Misquotes in Misquoting Jesus: Why You Can Still Believe, from the publishing company, Nimble Books. Mr. Burroughs (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) wrote the book-length criticism of Misquoting Jesus to correct some of Ehrman’s errors and generally restore biblical criticism to its primary task of buttressing the Christian faith. This project is successful. (Read on to see how.)

Misquotes in Misquoting Jesus: Why You Can Still Believe is essentially a literature review of the controversy. I recently completed two much smaller literature review on narrower topics (on OODA and PNM theories), so I can imagine the troubles Burroughs went through.

The bulk of the book is composed to the basic criticisms of Ehrman’s fallacious Misquoting Jesus. Burroughs aptly separates true things Ehrman says from false things, and it careful to note ambiguous points as well. It is perhaps this last task that is the most important, because a dish of deception with a dash of truth is poison. For instance, the non-controversial false Trinitarian formula in the New Testament is disposed of, because no Bibles before the Modern era had that incorrect verse. (Thus, it was irrelevant to the evolution of Christian doctrine.) Likewise, the question of Christ’s anger before a healing is well described.

Burroughs is a critical scholar, and Misquotes in Misquoting Jesus is an excellent example of such a work. Near the end of the book the author describes how anti-Christian texts can be responded too, and displays an excellent grasp of unintended consequences of hasty actions. Christianity is an essentially political religion, going back to Jesus and Paul, and Burroughs’ work is a fine contribution to that tradition.

The weakest section of Misquotes in Misquoting Jesus is chapter 9, “Women’s Issues in Misquoting Jesus.” The controversy over sex and gender roles in Christianity is sidestepped, in spite of its fascinating implications for Christian victory. Perhaps the author is avoiding the issue out of fear of controversy. If so, too bad.

Several of Burrough’s comments would make for fine discussion topics. A serious consideration of King James Only arguments was informative. (While the KJV-Only Movement is almost certainly wrong, every proponent I have heard argued with reason and conviction.) Likewise, many of Burrough’s strategic comments can placed along the spectrum of meaningful conflict, if one wished to use modern Christian apologetics as an example of ideological struggle.

Misquotes in Misquoting Jesus is a fine summary of Christian responses to Misquoting Jesus. I am grateful to the publisher for supplying me with a copy. It runs roughly 65 pages, and is available for $12.94 from The book’s publisher, W. Frederick Zimmerman of Nimble Books LLC, is also a blogger. Another review of the book is available from Evangelical Textual Criticism.

A reflection on both books, and this review, is available from Brett Maxwell. My own book on Christianity, Revolutionary Strategies in Early Christianity: 4th Generation Warfare (4GW) Against the Roman Empire, and the Counterinsurgency (COIN) Campaign to Save It, is now available from

Houston, Texas

“Houston Rain,” my friend Rob said, “is like any other kind of rain, but worse. It is worse than South Dakota rain. It is so thick that you can’t so the front of your own car. It will be like a wall, which is just there, in the distance. Then you drive closer and closer to it. Then you are in the rain, and you’re blind. I hate driving in Houston Rain.” Obviously Rob’s thoughts were absurd, I thought, as the morning in Nacogdoches was warm and sunny.

Until we came closer to Houston

The storm grew worse and worse as we approached Houston. It never grew as bad as Rob feared, but driving was pretty terrible.

We had heard about the storm, but the fact that a storm was predicted for our town about two hours north of Houston yesterday, and nothing happened, led us to think that the weathermen may just be crazy. Nope. It rapidly became clear that in Texas proximity to the ocean means proximity to moisture. The only time we

The rain would stop from time to time, sometimes leaving the city in a dark gloom. The hour we were lost in Downtown was beautiful.

After helping some friends move our first destination was to the Nautral History Museum. Nearby there is a nifty statue of President Samuel Houston on a horse. It was raining too much to take a clear shot, but the monument to the old war hero was beautiful in the rain.

As we parked the rain suddenly stopped, and we passed the Fragrant Gardens. Fearing a return of Houston Rain we hurried on, but it brought back memories of the much more lush Fragrant Hills outside Beijing.

There was a definite Asian, if not Oriental, them to the gardens. A statue of Gandhi is below, walking away from the viewer. See also a side view of the man.

The museum charges for admission, so we mealy walked the main corridor. Overall it had the feel of a gigantic McDonald’s (a feel fueled by the appearance of two McDonald’s counters near each other). Still, there were some neat sites (obviously intended for children) available for free. A ghoulish “bone bike” sits in the main hall, as does a dinosaur from Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (specifically, a Dracorex Hogwartsia)

Some random sites in Houston included a Greyhound Bus (hoping not traveling to the South)…

The Toyoto Center, which was locked up and thus unavailable for further exploration

And Palm Trees, which are crazy-cool for this blogger from South Dakota

Some sites made me think of Foreign Countries, and not just in the gardens sense. The love of Texans for their flag was obvious

Other times foreign influences were more… inexplicable. For instance, the payphone and postage station in honor of George VI, last Emperor of India, last King of India, last King of Pakistan, and first Head of the Commonwealth.

Some of the unAmericanisms were anti-Americanism. The front part of the message is illegible, but it ends “… it. Those towers were hideous,” with a drawing of the World Trade Center beneath the text.

Happily, another plastered note we say was happier. “LOST. Winning lottery ticket worth $28 million. REWARD: $10 if returned (no questions asked).”

Evolutionary Resilience (Synthesizing "Third Party Punishment" by Kurzban, DeScioli, and O’Brien and "He Hit Me First" by DeAngelis)

These are my first notes for my class on Genetic Politics since I finished the Buller, Pinker, and Ridley. The notes are from an unpublished manuscript, “Audience Effects on Moralistic Punishment,” by Robert Kurzban and two co-authors from the University of Pennsylvania. I previously described Bob Kurzban’s lecture on UNL, and some of that lecture was derived from this study.

The study’s findings of punishment increases when third parties are watching, which has an explanation in evolutionary psychology, relate to Stephen DeAngelis’ latest post on the destabilizing influence of escalating punishments. Stephen notes

Resilient organizations cannot afford to be caught up in this vicious circle. The reason that Tom and I promote standards-based development and rule sets in general is because they help mitigate behavior. The World Trade Organization, for example, was established so that a dispassionate group could rule on impassioned trade disputes. Even that doesn’t work all the time. The collapsed Doha Round of talks is clear evidence of that. Everyone recognizes that their collapse is a shameful failure and that the consequences are not likely to be beneficial — but that doesn’t seem to matter. The reason, of course, is that “all politics is local.” Gilbert concludes on the pessimistic note that old hatreds and intolerance still play a large role on the global stage.

An advantage of enforced rulesets is that they limit the need for every organization to prove that he is tough enough to protect itself in all ways. Rulesets help end the state of anarchy, which increases Peace and averts destruction of lives and property. Enforced local security rulesets have helped drive the murder rate down a hundred times in the past millennium. Enforced trade rule sets too can save many lives, by preventing countries from having to posture before the anonymous crowd.

The rest of this post are quotes from the research article which I may use later for my final project, tentatively entitled System Administrations for Phenotypes.

“People punish wrongdoers, intervening even when they themselves have not been harmed.” (Kurzban et al 3)

“Punishment has been linked with the evolution of cooperation in groups (Boyd & Richerson, 1992), a connection which has strengthened in recent years (Boyd, Gintis, Bowles, & Richerson, 2003; Fehr & Gächter, 2002).” 4)

“Indeed, Gintis, Smith, and Bowles (2001) found that punishment can yield signaling benefits when high quality individuals have reduced costs or increased benefits associated with punishment… That is, these models imply that selection pressures favored cognitive mechanisms whose operation is mediated by the presence of an audience” (Kurzban et al 5)

“Participants punished (i.e., chose the latter, less profitable option) 74% of the time.” (Kurzban et al 6)

“The presence of others has long been known to have effects on decisions to engage in more pro-social (Latane, 1970), and less anti-social (Diener, Fraser, Beaman, & Kelem, 1976) behavior, consistent with the view that people are concerned about others’ perceptions of them, especially in the domain of morality (Jones & Pittman, 1982). … Kurzban (2001), for example, showed that in a public goods game, having people exchange mutual oblique eye-gazes (but no information about others’ contributions) increased contributions to the public good in (all-male) groups compared to a control condition with no eye-gaze.” (Kurzban et al 8)

“Five experimental sessions were held in the Penn Laboratory for Evolutionary Experimental Psychology (PLEEP) at the University of Pennsylvania.” (Kurzban et al 10)

“The relatively high frequency of (D,C) is extremely unusual, a result for which we have no good explanation.” (Kurzban et al 17)

“Quite unexpectedly, in the Participants condition, at least one subject attempted to deceive others by announcing a false outcome.” (Kurzban et al 18)

“Under anonymous conditions, people did punish, but relatively little…In contrast, punishment increased when even one person knew the decisions made by the participant… No participants indicated in their free responses that they were punishing because they were being observed.” (Kurzban et al 19)

“This suggests that observation might activate emotional systems (e.g., anger) and attenuate systems for computing one’s own economic interest… These results, combined with those from the present study, suggest that anonymity has a weaker effect in the context of second party punishment than in third-party punishment.” (Kurzban et al 20)

“Demand characteristics refer to features of an experiment that allow participants to infer what is expected of them and, thereby, cause them to act in that way, limiting the inferences that can be drawn from the experiment (Orne, 1962).” (Kurzban et al 21)

“Second, arguments regarding the putatively modular system underlying punishment suggest that mere cues of social presence, such as eyespots, might exert effects similar to actual social presence (e.g., Haley & Fessler, 2005).” (Kurzban et al 23)