This handy little ebook weighs in at only 6* pages, and is a quick, useful read for skeptics everywhere.
To be honest, it will probably prove more help...moreThis handy little ebook weighs in at only 6* pages, and is a quick, useful read for skeptics everywhere.
To be honest, it will probably prove more helpful to those acting in a professional capacity than, say, your ordinary armchair skeptic. It is very much geared toward journalists, bloggers, and others of that sort who are active in trying to debunk the myths pervasive in our society. In this case, the focus is on climate change--that is, fighting the misinformation spewed forth from the ignorant blowholes of climate deniers--but the underlying principles laid out here could undoubtedly be applied to other subjects as well, such as pseudoscience, religion, or even politics.
At any rate, that's why I didn't give it more than two stars; because it's very narrow, and it's simply not going to do much for those of us who aren't into writing articles, or blogging, or whatever. However, it is still worth taking a few minutes of your time to read, regardless. There are several enlightening points, such as this:
"When people hear misinformation, they build a mental model, with the myth providing an explanation. When the myth is debunked, a gap is left in their mental model. To deal with this dilemma, people prefer an incorrect model over and incomplete model. In the absence of a better explanation, they opt for the wrong explanation."
If nothing else, keeping these things in mind may help you the next time you find yourself in a "debate" with someone who thinks they have all the answers because of a book of Bronze Age fairytales, or because Fox News told them so.
*There are technically 9 pages, but I don't count the cover, copyright page, or references.(less)
I wish I could figure out how to explain how I feel about this book. Alas, I fear it defies explanation. Reading Letters is a very personal experience...moreI wish I could figure out how to explain how I feel about this book. Alas, I fear it defies explanation. Reading Letters is a very personal experience. I won't say it's a spiritual one--that, of course, is the sort of nonsense up with which Hitchens would not have put. However, it is a singular experience, unique to the individual, I think, and either you feel it or you don't. But I hope that everyone comes away with something, at least, some new perspective on the world, some insight into themselves, and if nothing else, I hope everyone, when they're done, will remember this:
Everybody can do something...the role of dissident is not, and should not be, a claim of membership in a communion of saints.(less)
You know who Al Franken doesn't like? Ann Coulter. Also, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, and pretty much anyone who gets their...moreYou know who Al Franken doesn't like? Ann Coulter. Also, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, and pretty much anyone who gets their paycheck from Faux News.
Oh, and the Bush administration, et al.
I can relate, which is why I snickered, giggled, and guffawed my way through reading this. It's not often that a book actually makes me laugh out loud, but Lies, despite fast approaching its 10th anniversary, is a still-relevant and utterly hilarious look at Bush II and other rightwing nutjobsmoronssociopathslunaticsmouthbreathersliars aw, fuck it.
You see, unlike the current virulent strain of conservatives, I'm actually able to remember the previous administration and what a horror show of dumbfuckery and corruption it was. Kind of like how they, once upon a time, were able to remember Clinton and tried to blame him for Dubya's shortcomings. Yet now that Obama is president, somehow the left are all monsters for pointing out that he, too, had a predecessor and that said predecessor was kind of a fuck-up. I guess it's only Democratic presidents who have to be accountable--for themselves, and for everyone else as well.
At any rate, Franken touches on this phenomenon of foisting responsibility for your failures onto the previous administration, while at the same time taking credit for all the positive things, even when that credit isn't yours to take. But let's face it: Bush is old news, except where his legacy--tax cuts for the rich, squandering a surplus, racking up a record deficit by putting two bullshit wars on a credit card--lives on. So my favorite part of this book wasn't reliving the comedy of errors that was his ill-gotten reign. No, my favorite part was the thorough ass-handing he gave Coultergeist, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, and Hannity (who used to be King of Idiot Mountain before Glenn Beck came along and stole his crown), among others.
Nobody--and I mean nobody--deserves to be torn to pieces* like these singularly awful fucks. And Franken does it with the same reasoned calm, humor and, most importantly, facts with which he recently shut down some doofus testifying at a Senate hearing about Teh Ee-vil Gays, or some such nonsense***.
I won't pretend the book is perfect. It wanders off the point in a few places, I felt, and Franken's humor falls a little flat in others, such as the play about the waitress and the tax attorney. (I'm not sure if it really ever was legitimately a play, or if it was just something Franken worked up to drive his point home, but either way it was simply reiterating points he'd already hashed out and wasn't all that funny.) Also, I could have done without his repeatedly referring to his corporate speeches as "wildly successful", "enormously popular", etc. We get it: you're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, people like you. Let's move on.
Despite its flaws, however, Lies is highly entertaining. And it's worth a read just to see the likes of Coulter and O'Reilly exposed as the lying liars they are. (And childish, hypocritical bullies, to boot.) If you're left-leaning like me, I definitely recommend a glance through the relevant chapters--for great justice! Or, you know, laughs. Whatever.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be over here eagerly awaiting the release of I Fucking Hate Those Right-Wing Motherfuckers! What do you mean it's not a real book? Shut up and get writing, Franken!
*Of course I mean that figuratively**, so don't fucking start with me.
**No I don't.
***Actually, the doofus was Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, and he testified during the DOMA hearings that children are better off with opposite-sex (i.e. straight) parents. However, the study he cited to support his position actually found that it's more beneficial for children to be raised in a nuclear family--a nuclear family being a two-parent household, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Oops. Here is a video of the Franken v. Minnery smack-down.(less)
I'll be honest: I picked this book because of the title. I know nothing about Celia Rivenbark, I have no interest in humor columns, generally, and...moreMeh.
I'll be honest: I picked this book because of the title. I know nothing about Celia Rivenbark, I have no interest in humor columns, generally, and I certainly am not a fan of chick lit. But I've been reading a lot of fiction lately, and writing a lot of fiction, so I wanted something a little different to help change things up a bit. I figured this book would fit the bill, and after all, it has been sitting on my shelf for over year, taunting me with that title. I'm a sucker for catchy, unique titles.
Unfortunately, for me, this book didn't live up to its name. Sure, it was cute and kinda snarky, like the title, but nowhere near as uproariously funny as the blurbs would have me believe. I was mildly amused, at best. Probably I would have found it funnier if I were married and had a couple of screaming hell-beasts kids running around. Or if I were Southern. But I'm just not that kind of girl. And honestly, this book struck me as little more than the inane ramblings of an upper-middle class soccer mom lamenting the would-be challenges of her comparatively privileged existence. Yawn.
It's not really a bad book, though, for all that. So if you're looking for something light for a beach read, or to keep you entertained on a long trip, or just something to cleanse your palate between heavier undertakings, hey, go for it, what the hell. I don't necessarily recommend it, myself, but to each his own. And if you're more like the author than I am, hopefully you'll enjoy it.(less)
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is not your typical book on philosophy. It does not contain carefully constructed arguments establishing or support...moreThe Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is not your typical book on philosophy. It does not contain carefully constructed arguments establishing or supporting a particular school of thought, as you might expect, but rather the reflections of a man who was ruler of arguably the greatest empire in antiquity. These are thoughts on the qualities and virtues Marcus held in esteem, on his personal beliefs and his views on the world around him, sometimes religious, sometimes social, and his exhortations to himself to become a better person.
"Whatever anyone does or says, I must be a good man. It is as if an emerald, or gold or purple, were always saying: 'Whatever anyone does or says, I must be an emerald and keep my own colour'."
The original title of the Meditations was, in Greek*, something like: To Himself. Because, in actuality, these writings by Marcus Aurelius were never intended by him for public consumption, but were instead the ponderings and reminders and admonitions from Marcus to Marcus. A rather sophisticated diary, more or less. Therefore, there is a lot of repetition to be found here. Marcus knew his own shortcomings and was continually exhorting himself against anger, to be kind to others, to be content with the life Fate had given him to, and so on. But in between these constant reminders, and the rather tedious recitation of Marcus's** personal beliefs about life, death, and Providence, are a few gems worth digging to find.
"All things of the body stream away like a river, all things of the mind are dreams and delusion; life is warfare, and a visit in a strange land; the only lasting fame is oblivion."
Some of these reflections and philosophical tidbits resonated very strongly with me, as I'm sure they will with others, or at least spark a few deep thoughts and introspection. But I think perhaps the Meditations will be more compatible on the whole with people who share Marcus's particular brand of spirituality--not necessarily the paganism, of course, since monotheism is all the rage these days, but the general shape of his belief structure that has survived the ages. Personally, as an atheist, there was much in this book I simply could not get behind. For example, Marcus believed very strongly in Providence; the gods will provide. He believed they take an active interest in our lives, and that they have spun out the threads of our Fate and determined how they weave into the larger Whole. Those are nice thoughts, I suppose, but not ones I happen to share.
Nor do I share the belief that, because the gods have preordained the course of our lives, we should therefore be content with our lot, regardless, and not complain or wish it were otherwise. That particular philosophy is all well and good, of course, if you're at the top of the hierarchy, but I assure you that the view from below is not so good. When you're at the bottom, it's difficult to accept the men were born for each other mentality, to simply be happy with your shitty life, and not wish it were better or want to change it. Which is exactly why philosophies of this sort were invented in the first place, naturally; because if it's personally beneficial to you to perpetuate a desperately unequal class system, you don't want the lowly wretches beneath you thinking they could ever be anything besides proletarian drudges.
But perhaps I should stop there before this deteriorates into a disgruntled sociopolitical diatribe that has little to do with philosophy. My point is: I guess I'm just not much of a Stoic. I'm more of an Epicurus than an Epictetus, myself, and I think people who find their views aligned more with the latter will enjoy the Meditations more than I did.
That said, however, regardless of your personal beliefs, I feel this book is definitely worth a read for the historical context alone. I mean, how often do we really get insight into the private thoughts of a Roman emperor? (I mean, the really private thoughts, since he never meant anyone else to read these.) And not even one of the batshit Caesars, either, but one of the best loved, who earned the title of "philosopher king" in his lifetime. Surely his Meditations are worth a few hours of your time? If you're a fast reader, and if you skip or skim the notes, you can probably finish this in an afternoon, and perhaps you'll walk away with some food for thought.
*Yes, he wrote his meditations in Greek; I am not confusing my apples with my Romans.
**Marcus's. Ess-apostrophe-ess. Can we just discuss for a moment how concerned I am with the prevalence of Marcus' in the notes of my edition? I'm under the impression that Martin Hammond is from England, though I may be wrong, and maybe grammar is different in the UK, I don't know. But where I come from, since we are only discussing one Marcus, the possessive should be Marcus's. Only if there were two or more Marcuses would the possessive be Marcus'. Honestly. These academics need to learn how to use Google. Type "plural possessive" into search bar, get 1.5 million results in 0.11 seconds. NOT THAT DIFFICULT. (technologicallychallengedduck.png)(less)
I really wanted this to be more interesting than it is. Dudes, it's Orwell, for Christ's sake. But after six months of dutifully reading this blog, I'...moreI really wanted this to be more interesting than it is. Dudes, it's Orwell, for Christ's sake. But after six months of dutifully reading this blog, I've had enough. There's only so many entries composed entirely of descriptions of the local weather, flora, fauna, and accounting of eggs a girl can take. I mean, really.(less)
The Demon-Haunted World should be, in my opinion, required reading for any literate human being with a modicum of intelligence and the responsibility...moreThe Demon-Haunted World should be, in my opinion, required reading for any literate human being with a modicum of intelligence and the responsibility of being a contributing member of society, especially a society as awash in fantastic claims, pseudoscience, misinformation, and an overwhelming tendency toward credulity as ours.
Thus spake Dr. Sagan. Accordingly, he applies this and other tools of critical thinking at the heart of the scientific process as he examines such phenomena as UFO sightings, alien abductions, crop circles, faith healing, and "channelling", among other various religious and so-called New Age notions. More important, however, than his arguments against the veracity of these claims--some of which may seem outdated to readers after more than a decade since the book's original publication--is that Sagan, drawing on many recognizable influences on the public consciousness, as well as personal experiences with colleagues and acquaintances, draws our attention to the startling variety of ways in which we allow ourselves to be "bamboozled," as he liked to say, by pretty or flashy claims that prey on our hopes, our fears, our desires, and even our deep-seated neuroses.
By demonstrating just how often and how easily so many of us--even those who should really know better--can be led astray from the path of reason, as well as reminding us of the very real dangers (as evidenced by our relatively recent history) of allowing ourselves to slip back into superstition and belief in baseless claims, Dr. Sagan illuminates the reader to the dire necessity for all of us to hone a healthy sense of skepticism. But the aim of The Demon-Haunted World is not only to inform the reader, but also to instruct; in what I believe to be the most important part of the book, the "Baloney Detection Kit", Sagan clearly and carefully delineates the methods of critical analysis, which equips us with the tools to judge the credibility of various claims and phenomena for ourselves.
As someone who was already familiar with these methods, however, my favorite part of Demon-Haunted World was not the Baloney Detection Kit, but the correlations Dr. Sagan drew between the current alien abduction phenomenon and historical accounts of visitation by demons. I literally grew up hearing stories about UFO sightings and alien encounters; as a member of Gen-Y, they're as much a part of my consciousness (whether I like it or not) as McDonald's, AIDS, and the internet. Thus, I've spent rather more time than I would prefer contemplating the idea and drawing my own conclusions about whether or not a bunch of sexually deviant extraterrestrials are really beaming people up and poking around their no-no spots for some nefarious purpose. Yet somehow it never occurred to me that there might be a connection between reports of spacefaring rapists and the incubi/succubi of old, and I'm eager to explore these correlations further, as well as the possible psychological reasons hinted at by Dr. Sagan. I can only hope that he expounded on this idea further in one of his books I've yet to read.
Despite these positive points, though, I must admit that I wasn't all that fond of Demon-Haunted World. At the time, I had recently finished The Varieties of Scientific Experience and Cosmos, both of which instantly achieved status as two of my favorites, so I ventured into reading yet another of the late, great Dr. Sagan's tomes with high expectations. Perhaps for that reason more than any other, I found myself rather disappointed. For me, this book lacked a lot of the awe and majesty of science present throughout Cosmos; instead of his characteristic and inimitable way of presenting science that makes it not only accessible, but also seem like a hell of a lot of fun actually, his tone in Demon-Haunted World conveyed to me a feeling of science being an absolute imperative. And while I agree that science is vitally important, and I share the wish that more people would take an active interest in it, not everyone wants to be a scientist. The world needs historians and writers and musicians and teachers and librarians (etc., etc., etc.) too, Carl. (But I still love you. RIP.)
Furthermore, I was a bit disappointed with his overall tone regarding things like television shows, such as X-Files. First of all, I would like to think that most people are intelligent enough to realize these shows are fiction--nobody is taking X-Files as gospel, okay? Secondly:
"Imagination will often take us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere."
For a man who has previously put so much importance on imagination, Dr. Sagan seems in Demon-Haunted World to have little patience for people actually using theirs. Perhaps, though, I'm overreacting; I do tend to get a little tetchy when people treat, or appear to be treating, fiction as if it has no value. (It does, especially sci-fi and fantasy, but I won't expound upon my arguments here.) So I'll give Sagan the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was not actually attacking fiction and, more specifically, fictional television, as such, but merely focusing heavily (and perhaps even exaggerating) on their more negative aspects in order to make a point about the quality and presentation of science on television at the time.
All in all, though, the intrinsic value of The Demon-Haunted World far outweighs its negative points. I think it's a great book that teaches an important lesson, and I recommend it to anyone who's interested in refreshing or sharpening their critical thinking skills in defense against the outrageous phenomena, corporate consumer propaganda, deliberate dissemination of misinformation, pseudoscience, and general superstition rampant in our society. Actually, come to that, I also recommend it to all the gullible twits who buy that crap wholesale; they're the ones who really need to hone a healthy sense of skepticism.(less)
Vonnegut summarized this book far better than I ever could when he said:
"Find here a major fraction of this stunningly valuable legacy left to all of...moreVonnegut summarized this book far better than I ever could when he said:
"Find here a major fraction of this stunningly valuable legacy left to all of us by a great human being. I miss him so."
As do I.
The Varieties of Scientific Experience is largely a transcription of Professor Sagan's (and he truly deserves that title) 1985 Gifford Lectures, which may sound, to the uninitiated, rather dry and uninteresting. However, as I read this book I found myself wholly engrossed, as if he was speaking directly to me. Not only are his arguments, theories and points for consideration as relevant and evocative today as twenty-five years ago, but Sagan also, in his inimitable way, once again succeeds in relating higher scientific and theological concepts in a way that is both eloquent and accessible to the common person.
Intelligent, insightful and poignant, Varieties is both an entertaining and thought-provoking read. I would recommend it to anyone who, in our increasingly enlightened age, struggles with how to reconcile prevailing religious beliefs, or the desire for spirituality, with what we know to be logical or true through science.(less)
I'm not sure what I could possibly say about Cosmos that hasn't already been said by countless others in the 28 years since its publication, and likel...moreI'm not sure what I could possibly say about Cosmos that hasn't already been said by countless others in the 28 years since its publication, and likely in a far more intelligent and eloquent way than I ever could. But upon recently reading this book for the first time (which may seem a bit belated, but I am, after all, only 23) it instantly became one of my favorites, a status not easily attained by any book, and so I feel compelled to say something, to expound upon its many virtues and why it has endeared itself to me so completely.
"One glance at [a book:] and you hear the voice of another person--perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time."
Perhaps prophetically, this is exactly the effect the late great Dr. Sagan acheived with this book. Through the power and fluid elegance of his prose, while reading Cosmos I could almost hear that familiar and somehow majestic voice (which in large part, I believe, made the PBS miniseries of the same name so wholly entrancing), as if the two of us were old friends having a leisurely, albeit profoundly intellectual, chat over coffee. Not exactly what one might expect from a book largely concerned with science, but this is just one of many qualities that makes it not only endearing to the reader, but also--and perhaps more importantly--accessible, making even the smattering of complex equations seem casual and undaunting.
Aside from the beauty of its prose, which is at times poetic in its depth and its eloquence, Cosmos is also wholly engaging and fascinating in the depth and scope of its subects. Sagan succinctly and expertly covers everything from the birth of stars to the birth of science, the origins of life on Earth to the possibility of life on other planets, and our far distant and recent (in the grand cosmic scheme of things) past to the possibilities for our distant future. And yes, because science is constantly evolving and, as Dr. Sagan states, self-correcting, some of the information and theories covered may now be outdated, but I still believe that Cosmos is well worth reading. Not only can it serve as a friendly, accessible, and engrossing jumping-off point for we common folk who are interested in delving deeper into science but may feel a bit intimidated, it is also, if nothing else, worth reading for the beautifully poignant and evocative insights and the oft-philosophical tidbits contained therein.
"We are the local embodiment of the Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars...."
My only complaints about Cosmos are these: the last two or three chapters lag just a bit, incorporating several topics that seem extraneous and unnecessary, and somewhat lose the smooth, easy flow present throughout the rest of the book; and though I feel that, in the current world political climate, the section discussing nuclear arms is still as relevant today as then, I can't help but think that anybody above the age of 12 and possessing a fully-functioning cerebral cortex is already aware of the potential consequences of nuclear war (gamma burst, radiation poisoning, junk in the atmosphere, nuclear winter, death, doom, destruction, we get it already). However, I can concede on this last point that, at the time of publication, the aftermath of a full-scale nuclear war was perhaps still a pretty hot topic. And in the grand scheme, these negative points make up only a negligible fraction of this otherwise fantastic book, and do not in anyway detract from its intrinsic value or from its overall enjoyability.
All in all, Cosmos is a thoroughly enthralling read that takes you on a breath-taking journey from the inception of the Universe to futures that may never be, and allows us to ponder--when considering our own epic journey from starstuff to "assemblages of a billion billion billion atoms contemplating the evolution of atoms"--what it truly means to be human and what our place, our purpose, is in the vast expanse of "this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky".(less)