Monday, May 30, 2011

Most recent discount book buy

The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (hc) by Jane Mayer for three dollars.

I've already read this before but did not own a copy. Given that I consider this one of the most important books to have been written during the Bush administration and how well researched it is, having a copy for my bookshelf was a no-brainer.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

High praise for Dawkins

Over at Slate, A.C. Grayling, the philosopher who edited the vast history of secular western literature to create a humanist bible, 'singles out five titles that, in their various ways, provide useful perspectives "on how to live a satisfying and morally good life."'

One of the five listed is The Greatest Show on Eath: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins. It was included because it is an excellent book explaining the development of life on Earth by evolution; I'm not sure Grayling could have given Dawkins higher praise than including him among Aristotle and J.S. Mill as seminal reading for living a good life without god(s).

Having previously read a third of the book (still waiting for a chance to finish the rest of it) I can attest that it is supremely engaging and well written. The most entertaining and informative book on the subject that I have encountered, with a close possible second being The Ancestor's Tale, also by Dawkins.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A perfect example of why I despise (some) movement conservatives so very, very much

"I never cease to be amazed by the right-wing's ability to - in unison - decide that a previously uncontroversial position is now anathema" - Anonymous Liberal

"The point of departure for permanent status negotiations to realize this vision seems clear: There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized, and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent." - George W. Bush, Jan 12, 2008

A contiguous Palestinian state, based upon 1967 borders, has been the basis of US policy and a proposed peace solution in the Middle East for decades. As indicated by the above statement by President Bush, there was nothing controversial about the position. When President Bush made that statement prominent media conservatives did not declare that Israel would soon cease to exist, that America had "thrown Israel under a bus" or that the the 1967 borders were "indefensible" and "Auschwitz borders" tantamount to the forced genocide of the Israeli populace.

But when a black Democratic president with the middle name "Hussein" said nearly the same thing:

We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
American right-wing media react with mass, immediate faux hysteria.

Limbaugh: Obama Urged Israel To "Destroy Itself" And "Submit Its People To Potential Genocide." On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh said of Obama's speech: "What kind of president urges a country to destroy itself and submit its people to potential genocide?" [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 5/19/11, via Media Matters]

CNN's Dana Loesch: Obama "Sided With Terrorists." During her KFTK radio show, CNN contributor Dana Loesch claimed that in his Middle East speech Obama "sided with terrorists" and "people who believe that Israel doesn't have a right to exist." [KFTK, The Dana Show, 5/19/11, via Media Matters]

Beck: Obama's Policy On Israel Ends With "The Destruction Of Israel" And "The Western Way Of Life." ...

Geller: Obama's Middle East Policy Is "Obama's Final Solution." In a May 19 post to her Atlas Shrugs blog on President Obama's Middle East speech, Pamela Geller wrote that Obama was dooming Israel to "Auschwitz borders" and "Obama's final solution."
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that "President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus." I don't recall Romney saying the same of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when he proposed the same plan.

Always setting the bar in terms of mindless dissemination of dishonest partisan propaganda, Steve Doocy of Fox "News" falsely asserted that President Obama is the first United States president to call for a peace solution based upon the 1967 borders.

The speech is also being characterized as taking sides with the Palestinians, when in reality the general plan has widespread Jewish support.

Yet it's not this derangement and dishonesty that is the most frustrating, but that these individuals continue to exist comfortably in our political media because our press generally does not have the stomach to call the deranged and the dishonest deranged and dishonest.

And so it goes.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Quote of the day

"My argument is pretty simple, Amy. I don’t torture because it doesn’t work. I don’t torture, because it’s immoral, and it’s against the law, and it’s inconsistent with my oath of office, in which I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States. And it’s also inconsistent with American principles." - Matthew Alexander

Alexander is the former military interrogator who led a team that gained the intelligence necessary to find al Zarqawi; I previously reviewed his book on the subject, here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Quote of the day

"Ayn Rand is essentially the L. Ron Hubbard of American conservatism." - Michael Stafford

h/t Ebert (via Lippard)

Friday, May 13, 2011

And now I get it

Whenever Keith Olbermann would refer to Glenn Beck as Glenn "Lonesome Rhodes" Beck on his show Countdown I knew that Olbermann was making some kind of pop culture reference, but never bothered to look up what exactly he was alluding to. But thanks to a recommendation from Spocko, I now get it.

The reference is to Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, played by Andy Griffith in his film debut A Face in the Crowd (1957). The movie is about the rise and fall of a radio-then-television star who uses folksy charm, false sincerity,zany energy, and every-man wisdom to cynically sell commercial products and reactionary politics. Rhodes starts out as mostly an entertainer, but as he realizes he can use his show as a vehicle for wielding influence, he becomes drunk with power. Eventually, he is undone by his own power-mad hubris and contempt for the very people that he pretends to be a champion of. (Sound familiar?)

If you are only familiar with Andy Griffith from his role as Sheriff Taylor, then his brilliant performance alone is worth seeing the movie for. And on top of that, the movie itself still provides relevant commentary on the way that demagogues function within our media culture.

That being said, there are some key differences between Beck and Rhodes. First, Rhodes shoots to the top because of his own natural ability to draw an audience. As Alexander Zaitchik noted in Common Nonsense, Beck, however, failed in market after market and only was catapulted to stardom after media deregulation (signed into law by President Clinton) allowed his employer Clear Channel to gobble up radio markets, thus eliminating Beck's marketplace competitors.

Secondly, while Rhodes had a mean streak, he was careful (for the most part) to not reveal it to his audience. Beck, on the other hand, frequently lets his audience see just how rotten he really is.

Completely baffled

I'm logging onto my blog today - just now - and see my most recent post about having finally seen A Face in the Crowd is now missing. Entirely: not even the Google cache of it appears.

I am at a complete loss to understand how this happened. The post was up last night when I went to bed. Now it's gone.

I suppose I'll try to rewrite it later today if I can muster the energy. This is somewhat frustrating.

Update: Using a combination of memory and Google's search feature (a tedious process), I was able to recreate my original post. We'll see if it remains this time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Most recent discount books buys

Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History (pb) by Stephen Jay Gould - $0.50

Coming of Age in the Milky Way (hc) by Timothy Ferris - $1.00

Cruel and Unsual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order (hc) by Mark Crispin Miller - $1.00

Pretty soon I will need to start culling my book collection; in other words, donating books I can live without back to the library. I'm running out of space.

Quote of the day

From The Good Book

The books that help most are those that prompt most thought.
The virtue of books is to be readable.
There is no frigate like a book to take us to lands far away.
Wear the old coat and buy the new book.

Proverbs 22: 9 - 12

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Humanist Genesis

From The Good Book: A Humanist Bible (Genesis, Chapter 1) made by A.C. Grayling

9. So all things are gathered into one thing: the universe of nature, in which there are many worlds: the orbs of light in an immensity of space and time,

10. And among them their satellites, on one of which is a part of nature that mirrors nature in itself,

11. And can ponder its beauty and significance, and seek to understand it: this is humankind.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Have they no decency?

A while back I noted how atrocious it was for Glenn Beck to posit a deranged conspiracy theory that Rachel Carson - one of the founders of the environmental movement - campaigned against DDT because she secretly wanted to reduce the global human population.

This is malicious pure rotten hate that Beck is spreading. He is saying that everyone that doesn't share his deranged, delusional world view are totalitarian monsters. (You can see that Beck is full of it regarding DDT by taking a look through the archive of posts at Deltoid on DDT.) Really, how dare he defame Carson like this? Saying that a dead woman who can no longer defend herself wanted to kill people to reduce the human population and came up with a secret plot to get DDT banned to accomplish that goal. That's just so utterly despicable.

That's the sort of evil slander that is on a level with the Protocols of Zion. And just as New World Order conspiracy helps the anti-semite manufacture a world that justifies his bigotry, Beck's DDT conspiracy helps him manufacture a world that justifies his anti-environmentalist bigotry.
The thing is that it's not just Beck who engages in this sort of despicable defamation: there are entire organizations that have taken to calling Rachel Carson a mass murderer.

As Oreskes and Conway (2010, Chapter 7) document in detail, since 2007 the right-wing and libertarian organizations are calling Rachel Carson a mass-murderer. What? Did they even read about her life? This shy, humble scientist a mass murderer? Their “reasoning”: because her work led to the banning of DDT, thousands of Africans died of malaria, which might not have happened if DDT were available to them. I won’t rehash the entire ill-informed and crazy, convoluted thinking of these people, since Oreskes and Conway (2010) have done it already. The reality of the whole argument is that even if DDT had not been banned, its use would have stopped anyway because insects had evolved resistance to it. DDT was already being phased out at the time of the ban, and other pesticides that worked better and didn’t damage too many harmless animals were being used instead—because DDT didn’t work! If, as these people propose, DDT had been sprayed across the waterways of Africa, it would not have saved any lives whatsoever because of the evolution of resistance. In fact, many other pesticides that have since been used over the years are now useless because insect pests (especially mosquitoes) evolve resistance so quickly. Yet these people manage to distort history as badly as any Holocaust-denier[s]—except instead of trying to exonerate the Nazis of genocide, they turn Rachel Carson into a mass murderer.

Such strange revisionist thinking wouldn’t even be worth mentioning if it were not so common in the public discourse these days.
What enrages me is that in our mendocracy persons who engage in this sort of behavior get to be media stars and can so easily inject their ideological propaganda into the mainstream.

Monday, May 02, 2011

In the meantime ... book spotlights

Things are a bit hectic again for me (just gave up on the drafting of a post in response to bin Laden's death that I'll have to shelve for a few days or so) but I do have time for a couple of book spotlights:

Via his new twitter feed, Mark Vuletic of The Atheologian recommends a book that I had not heard of previously, but now have a copy of: Atheism in Pagan Antiquity by A.B. Drachmann. You can have a copy, too, if so inclined, as the book is public domain and available in several e-text formats (e.g. Kindle or iBooks).

Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole by Stephen Law. Just saw the title and thought it looked interesting.

The Good Book: A Humanist Bible made by A.C. Grayling. I am anxiously awaiting my copy of this one. Here Grayling has used some of the same tactics of editing that went into the canonization of the Bible in order to create a similarly structured text but comprised of secular writings that span the history of humanist thought in civilization. As the New York Times review put it

At first, “The Good Book: A Humanist Bible” (Walker & Company, $35) looks like the Bible that Christians believe in, politicians take oaths on and the Gideons put in hotel rooms. It is divided into books like Genesis, Lamentations and Proverbs. Each book is organized into chapters and verses. It is written in the stately cadences that signal the presence of important, godly matters.

Begin to read, however, and you immediately see that God is not present. Instead, there are uncredited quotations from Aristotle, Darwin, Swift, Voltaire and hundreds more pre-Christian, anti-Christian or indifferent-to-Christian thinkers, assembled into an alternative genealogy of nature, human origins and ethics. Here are history and wisdom, without the divine attribution.
Grayling has mixed in some of his own writings, too, and you will need to make use of Google in order to discover the original sources of the rest; a choice that I believe that Grayling made not merely because it mirrors the way that the Bible is a collection of writings by uncredited authors but because it encourages an active engagement with the material, setting a curious reader on a path of intellectual discovery.

To get an idea of the book's humanist charm, one need only follow the book's twitter feed or go straight to this page which provides brief excerpts of the text. A sample:

It has been well said that we should contemplate what the great did in the past, not just out of curiosity but to educate ourselves for the present. Nobility and moral beauty have an active attraction, and invite all who live in later times to nobility again; not by imitation alone, but by stimulating thought about how to live, out of bare contemplation of how some of the great once lived. Acts 1: 1- 3

Sunday, May 01, 2011

A new way to read a book

If you own an iPad (or enjoy reading on an iPhone or iPod Touch) then I highly recommend downloading the newly released - and for a limited time, lowly priced at $5 - iTunes app version of Al Gore's Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.

The Our Choice app redefines the reading experience, creating an interactive multimedia resource comprised of "animations, interactive info-graphics, pictures, audio, text, an hour of documentary video and more." Being able to easily and quickly zip around the material with a literal swipe of the finger is quite an enjoyable experience.

Not to mention that the book is an excellent, informative resource, providing invaluable insight into what might possibly be the greatest challenge facing humanity today.

And to further motivate you to give the app a try: Gore is "donating 100% of the proceeds I would otherwise receive to the Alliance for Climate Protection," an organization he founded with the purpose of raising awareness about the threat of global warming to humanity.