Saturday, August 31, 2013

The disaster that's anti-science politicians



A great idea, don't you think?

"Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is incredibly dangerous." "Sen. David Vitter is turning out to be one of the hugest and costliest disasters in American history." "Sen. James Inhofe has turned out to be a worst case scenario come true. And now an entire nation is wondering how they'll ever recover from the disaster that is James Inhofe."

The petition is here.

Sequels

(all cover images from Amazon.com)

I'm still reading quite a bit, but it's just light-weight entertainment. And these are all sequels in series fiction, most of which I've written about before, so I don't have too much to say about any of them. (I can hear the sighs of relief already.)

Taken (2012) by Benedict Jacka, for example, is the third in his Alex Verus series of urban fantasy. Like the first two, this one is lots of fun, but it's not much different. (If you're not familiar with the series, please read my comments about the earlier books.)

The characters are still appealing - not just Verus, but Luna and Sonder (and Arachne), too. And the Dark mage/Light mage split still reminds me of America's political parties, where the Democrats tend to be almost as infuriating as the Republicans, though for different reasons.

In my comments about Cursed, I wondered if it wasn't too much like the first book in the series. Well, this one does move the series forward, a bit, as we see Luna learning about magic as an apprentice. I really liked that.

Also, this book introduces two more young mages who might become regulars in the series, too. I would be very glad of that, if so. The thing is, we already know what Alex Verus can do, and to see him do it over and over again is likely to get old (though it hasn't yet).

True, he often uses unique one-shot magical items, so those can surprise us. But I think it's his allies who'll keep the series fresh. Of course, I like that kind of thing anyway. I always have. I enjoy heroes who work with other people. Superheroes don't interest me.


Persona Non Grata (2009) by Ruth Downie is the third in her historical mystery series staring the Roman doctor, Gaius Petreius Ruso, and his British lover, Tilla, both struggling to get by, and to understand each other, in the Europe of 2000 years ago.

This time, Ruso is called back to his dysfunctional family in Gaul, and Tilla hates everything about it. Yeah, it's a pretty nasty place, where violence is a spectator sport and politics,... well, you might hate politics now, but I'm very thankful we live in the 21st Century!

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of humor in this book. If you're familiar with the series, you'll know what to expect. If not, read my comments on the first two books. (Note that I recommend you read all of these series in order of publication.) But it's kind of depressing, too.

You see, I don't normally read historical fiction, because I know enough of history to be aware of the terrible things which lie in the future for people back then. (On the other hand, I love alternate history because the future of those worlds hasn't happened yet, thus there's always the chance things will be better.)

In this case, it's historical fiction, so we know there's a thousand years of the Dark Ages ahead, and centuries more before humanity really starts to progress. And things are pretty bad for most people already!

OK, this is a mystery, but it's a mystery in a historical setting, so it's not the kind of thing I normally read. The fact that I enjoy this series is pretty remarkable then, don't you think? But the characters are great. And I can't help but wonder what will happen to them next. (Their relationship has been evolving, slowly, from book to book.)


Finally, I wanted to mention another mystery I read weeks ago, but just never got around to reviewing. Midnight Fugue (2009) by Reginald Hill is the last in his long-running Dalziel and Pascoe series (unfortunately, Hill died early last year).

I've read - and loved - the entire series, but I haven't blogged about it previously, since this is the first one I've read since I started blogging a little more than three years ago. I actually watched a BBC television production of the first book, A Clubbable Woman, first, years ago. But it so caught my attention that I had to track down the book. And then the rest of the series.

Andy Dalziel is a crude, fat, heavy-drinking Yorkshireman who's from an earlier era of policing. Peter Pascoe, his assistant, is well-educated and well-mannered, a modern detective and a completely different kind of person. And as the series continued, a whole bunch of other characters - recurring characters - were introduced, most notably Sergeant Edgar Wield.

The funny thing is, I doubt I'd like any of them if I met them in real life. Dalziel, in particular, would seem like the worst kind of person to put in any kind of authority. But I'm not sure I'd like Pascoe much better. And his (eventual) wife, Ellie,... well, I could never understand the attraction there.

But all of these people have good qualities about them. Sometimes (with Dalziel, for example) it's pretty well hidden. But they all become very sympathetic. In fact, I'd have to say they're some of the best characters in fiction, not just mystery fiction. I really cared what happened to all of them.

As the series continued, new characters helped keep the whole thing fresh. In fact, I was rather disappointed at later books in the series which didn't involve the minor characters much, which were too much Dalziel or Pascoe. And there have been other flaws, too, occasionally. But that's just nitpicking, because this is easily my favorite mystery series (and I've enjoyed other books by Reginald Hill, as well).

You very definitely need to read this series in order, so it's kind of ironic that my first post is about the very last book, isn't it? Well, all I'm going to say is that this is a fitting end to the series.

Dalziel has been out of action for awhile - in a coma for one book, then on convalescent leave - and Pascoe has taken over for him. Now, Dalziel wonders if he can take charge again, or if he's just going to be a fat old man, struggling to maintain his authority. And Pascoe has been running things for awhile, so he's not exactly eager to become a subordinate again, either. (Pascoe is not the same guy he was at the start of this series. That's neat, too.)

Time passes, and nothing lasts forever. That's an appropriate thought for the last book in a series, isn't it? I've loved this series, but it was always going to end sometime. As are we.

As far as the mystery here goes, I enjoyed it. I don't particularly like these kinds of endings (I won't say any more about it than that), but that's just personal preference. I don't read these books for the mystery, anyway. I read them for the characters.

But it was the underlying theme here which really made the book special. This really was a fitting end to the series. We even got to see some of the minor characters from the series, and that was particularly nice, for the last one.

I'm sorry it's over, but... that's life. (And I'll be equally sorry - and equally resigned - when my life is over, I'm sure.)

Looking great


Or maybe your eyes are just getting worse. Well, it's all good, right? :)

Friday, August 30, 2013

Jaclyn comes out as a liberal



This isn't new, since it was first posted almost a year ago, but I thought it was funny. And inspiring. I mean, look at Jaclyn and then look at her grandfather. That's progress, don't you think?

I noticed that she didn't tell him she was an atheist. That's how I discovered her videos. (I was just wasting time tonight, which is why I went back and watched some older ones.)

I can understand it. There's really no sense in getting the old fart too upset. Of course, no one should have to live a lie, but it's not always necessary to volunteer everything, either. Either way, I'm not going to second-guess anyone on that decision, whether to come out of the closet or stay inside.

She's very definitely out of the closet on YouTube, and she doesn't mince words. She's funny - and easy on the eyes, of course. But she doesn't mind offending people. It's an entertaining combination.

I enjoy her videos, but this is the one I had to post. This is the one that really struck me. There's a lot of love between Jaclyn and her grandfather, but a lot of mutual incomprehension, too.

Of course, I'm not sure how much of this can be attributed to age. I suspect that her grandfather was always crazy as a loon. But then, I don't know. It's hard to even imagine him as a young man, isn't it?

Faith over facts on Bullshit Mountain



Faith-based people don't change very much, do they? The truth of their beliefs doesn't really matter, since they're going to believe them, anyway.

I posted a video clip of that Reza Aslan interview a month ago, so I wanted to post this follow-up. But also, I was struck by how similar to those ancient Christians Fox 'News' is today.

Of course, for Fox, the bottom line is money - even more than political influence. But still, facts mean nothing. Reality means nothing. What's important is what they want to believe - and what they want you to believe, too.

They'll use facts if the facts back them up. But the facts rarely back them up, so what are they going to do? They certainly won't change their mind! No, they'll just believe anyway,... and either deny the facts, or lie about them, or make up new 'facts.'

This is faith-based thinking. This is believing what you want to believe, and not really caring if it's actually true. This is Bullshit Mountain.

How evangelists sound to atheists



This is from the Atheist Experience TV show, episode #505, June 17, 2007, with Matt Dillahunty and Don Baker.

It wasn't original with them, of course. It was created by James Huger. You can read the whole thing at his website, if you want.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Narendra Dabholkar - the death of a skeptic


From the New York Times:
For nearly three decades, an earnest man named Narendra Dabholkar traveled from village to village in India, waging a personal war against the spirit world.

If a holy man had electrified the public with his miracles, Dr. Dabholkar, a former physician, would duplicate the miracles and explain, step by step, how they were performed. If a sorcerer had amassed a fortune treating infertility, he would arrange a sting operation to unmask the man as a fraud. His goal was to drive a scientist’s skepticism into the heart of India, a country still teeming with gurus, babas, astrologers, godmen and other mystical entrepreneurs.

That mission ended Tuesday, when two men ran up behind Dr. Dabholkar, 67, as he crossed a bridge, shot him at point-blank range, then jumped onto a motorbike and disappeared into the traffic coursing through this city.

Dr. Dabholkar’s killing is the latest episode in a millenniums-old wrestling match between traditionalists and reformers in India. When detectives began putting together a list of Dr. Dabholkar’s enemies, they found that it was long. He had received threats from Hindu far-right groups, been beaten by followers of angry gurus and challenged by councils upholding archaic caste laws. His home state, Maharashtra, was considering legislation he had promoted for 14 years, banning a list of practices like animal sacrifice, the magical treatment of snake bites and the sale of magic stones.

That wrestling match - between science and superstition, between skeptics and true believers, between evidence-based and faith-based thinking - continues everywhere in the world, but a skeptic doesn't risk his life here in America.

Well, all the more reason to recognize the bravery and the sacrifices of people like Dr. Dabholkar then.

And what do his opponents think?
“Instead of dying of old age, or by surgery, which causes a lot of suffering, the death Mr. Dabholkar got today was a blessing from God,” the leader, a former hypnotherapist now known as His Holiness Dr. Jayant Athavale, wrote in an editorial in the organization’s publication, Sanatan Prabhat.

'God' had nothing to do with it. Narendra Dabholkar was murdered by human beings.

Funny how 'God' is so impotent he can't do anything by himself, isn't it? Well, maybe that's not so surprising, given that he can't even demonstrate his own existence.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

This is what racism looks like


From Cowgirl Up:
This is what racism looks like.

Racism is the utter lack of compassion it takes to see a mother grieving for a boy and afraid for her own sons, and think, “Wow, that would be really easy to tweak in Photoshop to make her look stupid. Wouldn’t that be funny?”

Racism is dehumanizing. Racism robs this woman of her individuality, her humanity, and her gender. “And ain’t I a woman?” This mother ain’t a woman to “The Patriot Nation.” She’s an object to be ridiculed for mistakes she never made; mistakes, in fact, that someone intentionally added to a photo of her for the purpose of mocking her grief and fear.

Racism is someone in front of his computer whose face twists into the same mask of disgust we see in grainy old black and white films of the KKK burning schoolhouses and churches, and instead of a racial slur spilling from his curled-back lips, he sneers, “Sheeple,” or “Socialists,” or “Obamanation,” and he clicks “like” and “share” on this photo because there’s no little switch in his brain to say: “Is this right to do to a human being?” No. The filter turns off when his hate is triggered by this image. And the really scary thing is, that missing filter means he’s also missing the ability to honestly ask himself, “Am I responding this way because of this woman’s race?”

This is also what courage looks like, over there on the left.

This wasn't just to mock this woman, or even black people in general, though it was all of that. This was also to push a political narrative against Barack Obama.

How much of that was racism and how much crazy right-wing partisanship? Well, they go hand in hand, don't they?

Click on the image to enlarge it, if necessary. This was racism and right-wing political ideology and a deliberate lie, all rolled into one (as they so often are). I won't call you a racist for opposing Barack Obama. But I will call you a racist for shrugging off this kind of racism, for political purposes.

Republicans have been using racism for decades. They deliberately wooed white racists with their notorious 'Southern strategy,' because political power meant more to them than doing what was right. It still does, not even close.

If you're willing to shrug that off, then you're probably willing to overlook this, too. Oh, sure, you'll deplore the whole thing when the truth comes out, but only because the truth was discovered. You've seen the racist stuff being passed around. You probably get emails all the time. It make you wince, but you don't really care, do you? Whatever works, right?

Ron Paul deliberately sought support from white supremacists. His racist newsletters gave him both political support and money, and he made a point of wooing white supremacists. His supporters shrug that off. Oh, he really didn't mean it, right? They just don't care. If it works, it works.

This is what racism looks like. If you're willing to use racism for your own benefit, you're a racist. If there's a difference, it's immaterial, at least to me. I don't care if you really mean it or if you're just using racism for your own advantage. As far as I'm concerned, it's the same thing.

And if you're willing to just shrug if off, that's pretty much the same thing, too. Don't try to pretend there's a difference, because it's all ugly.

Replaying Fallout: New Vegas

Looking west towards Mojave Outpost

Yes, just seven months after I finished the main quest in Fallout: New Vegas, I'm back playing the game again. It's just that much fun! (You can read my earlier thoughts about it here.)

It's not that I don't have many, many other games to play. But I just couldn't resist. At first, I thought I'd load up a saved game and try one of the DLC I'd skipped. (Since this game wasn't new, I could buy the "Ultimate Edition," which came complete with all the previously-released downloadable content. Note that the game is dirt cheap these days, especially when it goes on sale at Steam or GamersGate.)

But pretty soon, I just decided to start the whole game all over again. And I'm having a blast! I'm not doing things too differently, but some. I started the first game on Easy difficulty, but I'm on Normal now, right from the start (and I'm not noticing much difference.)

The first time, I focused on Guns as my weapon skill, but I'm using both Guns and Energy Weapons this time. My skill level isn't very high with either, since I'm splitting skill points between them. But that hasn't been a problem, either.

Ranger Station Charlie

And right from the start, I've been finding things I missed the first time. OK, they're just small locations, mostly, but they're still fun. Of course, I know what to expect from the main quests, but I can still do things differently, if I want.

For example, the first time I needed to find Primm a new sheriff, I just reprogrammed their robot to do that. It was quick and easy, and it seemed to work just fine. But the other options offer a lot more gameplay. So, this time, I tried them all before making my decision.

It's funny - if a bit embarrassing - but I was such a bad shot at the start of my first game that I apparently didn't kill anyone when I was helping Goodsprings fight off the Powder Gangers. So the Powder Gangers didn't hate me, and we just ignored each other for the rest of the game.

This time, I did much better, so we were enemies right from the start. And since, this time, I needed to talk to an ex-sheriff at the NCR Correctional Facility, to see if I'd want to hire him as Primm's sheriff, that opened up a whole new area for me.

But sure, most of this has been a replay of what's still fresh in my mind. But it's been fun, anyway. You know, there's a lot of Skyrim I haven't even touched,... but I just couldn't get interested - not even when I tried with a different character. But Fallout: New Vegas is just my kind of game, I guess.

East Las Vegas looks a little sad these days

Most likely, after my character level rises a bit, I'll try some of that DLC. The only one I've played is Old World Blues, and it was just massive. That was a whole game in itself (and you couldn't leave until you finished the quest). But if I want something new, there's a lot more DLC I haven't even touched.

I did take a brief look at Dead Money, but that one didn't appeal to me much. Well, you can't take any equipment inside - or out, I think. And I'm such a scavenger that loot is a big part of this game, for me. Old World Blues gave me some great weapons, but I don't suppose I'll want to play that one again, not yet. But Honest Hearts and Lonesome Road both look interesting.

But I'm a long way from that - my character has just reached level 10 - and who knows how long I'll want to play this, given that I've spent more than 200 hours (228 hours, to be precise) in the game already! And I have a lot of games I want to play.

There's never enough time for everything, is there?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

What America is all about


The New Mexico Supreme Court this week ruled that a wedding photographer had violated state law by refusing to serve a lesbian couple. TPM has the details here.

The owners of the photography studio argued that their actions were justified as freedom of religion. The high court disagreed. You can read the whole decision here, if you wish.

But I wanted to quote just a brief passage from Justice Richard C. Bosson's concurrence:
On a larger scale, this case provokes reflection on what this nation is all about, its promise of fairness, liberty, equality of opportunity, and justice. At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less. The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.

In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship. I therefore concur.

Nice, isn't it? This really needs to be more widely understood.

You are "free to think, to say, to believe" as you wish. Absolutely. But we don't live as isolated hermits, each on our own mountaintop. We're social animals. We live together. We survive or not, thrive or not, in groups.

And these days, we live in an advanced society with very diverse people. America, in particular, has thrived on that diversity. That freedom of religion these people are using as their argument was established as a way for diverse people to live together in peace. It was specifically designed as an instrument of tolerance, not intolerance.

You can believe whatever you want, but this is about your conduct, not your beliefs. It's not your business to demand that everyone else follow your own religious beliefs. In fact, that would be turning freedom of religion upside down. Again, freedom of religion is about tolerance, not intolerance.

You can believe that lesbians are going to 'Hell,' if you wish. But that shouldn't influence your conduct towards them. This is a diverse nation. Other people believe differently than you do. So feel free to run your own life, but don't try to run theirs.

If you want to operate a business, you need to treat your customers equally. Fairly. Look at it as the price you pay for civilization. After all, you'll benefit, too. Your neighbors may not like bigots, but you'll still be able to buy the goods and services you need, yourself.

This deserves repeating:
In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world.

If we've learned anything from history, it should be this. As an American myself, I find it embarrassing that any of us would think otherwise.

Heck of a job, Republicans!


My brother sent me this link from TPM:
A significant chunk of Louisiana Republicans evidently believe that President Barack Obama is to blame for the poor response to the hurricane that ravaged their state more than three years before he took office.

The latest survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, provided exclusively to TPM, showed an eye-popping divide among Republicans in the Bayou State when it comes to accountability for the government's post-Katrina blunders.

Twenty-eight percent said they think former President George W. Bush, who was in office at the time, was more responsible for the poor federal response while 29 percent said Obama, who was still a freshman U.S. Senator when the storm battered the Gulf Coast in 2005, was more responsible. Nearly half of Louisiana Republicans — 44 percent — said they aren't sure who to blame.

Bush was criticized heavily when he did not immediately return to Washington from his vacation in Texas after the storm had reached landfall. The government was also slow to provide relief aid and Michael Brown, then-director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), admitted in a televised interview that he learned that many of the storm's victims at the New Orleans Convention Center were without food and water well after the situation had been reported in the press.

Brown's handling of the response ultimately led to his resignation, but Bush offered an infamous endorsement of the FEMA chief only days before he stepped down.

"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," Bush said.

Yes, more Louisiana Republicans blame Barack Obama for our government's response to Hurricane Katrina - more than three years before he took office - than blame George W. Bush. Incredible, isn't it?

And a whopping 44% can't make up their mind whether Obama or Bush are more to blame!

Now, if this were anywhere else in the country, I'd assume that these Republicans simply didn't have a clue what Hurricane Katrina was. But this is Louisiana! They certainly haven't forgotten Hurricane Katrina down there!

But I guess, if there's a black man to blame for anything, they're going to blame the black man, huh? Is there any other explanation? Other than Republicans being completely insane, I mean?

PS. Here's the poll. Apparently, younger voters (ages 18-45) blame George W. Bush more than Barack Obama by nearly two to one (although a whopping 50% don't know who's more to blame).

But Republicans age 65 and older blame Obama more than Bush - for something that happened more than three years before he became president - by 42% to 24%. That's got to be from the lingering racism of those old Dixiecrats, wouldn't you say?

PPS. Here's another poll from the same time period. But while the first was just Louisiana Republicans, this one polls all Louisiana voters. I think the contrast is interesting. Even in such a red state as this, in a formerly Confederate state in the Deep South, Barack Obama has a 41% approval rating (vs 28% for Republican Governor Bobby Jindal).

Of course, 37% of the state is African-American and/or Hispanic. And I think that everything, pretty much, is about race in Louisiana. If you look further down the poll, you can see huge racial disparities in the response to just about every question.

(One big exception, oddly enough, is in background checks for all gun sales. 85% of African Americans support that, but so do 72% of white Louisiana voters and 72% of "other." So, of course, there's not the slightest chance of actually getting that accomplished, is there?)

Friday, August 23, 2013

The miracle tree, weeping tears



Yeah, and I'm weeping tears, too, I'm laughing so hard. You know, only religious belief could make ordinary people this batshit crazy.

OK, it's probably more sad than funny, but this is aphid excrement, people! How could you not laugh at that?

Still on this urban fantasy kick

(cover image from Amazon.com)

I'm still on this urban fantasy kick, I guess. I start a book while I'm waiting for my mom (I've been driving her where she needs to go this summer), and when I get home, I don't want to stop reading.

Anyway, both of these books are sequels to series I started a month ago. Cursed (2012) by Benedict Jacka is the second in his Alex Verus series. It was just as fun as the first, Fated, though there's really nothing new to it.

This time, it's not only his friend - and brand-new apprentice - Luna who's in trouble, but also the giant spider, Arachne, one of the few remaining magical creatures in the world. And again, the Light mages in his world prove to be as dangerous, and seemingly as unethical, as the Dark.

There's really nothing new here. Even the minor characters are pretty nearly identical to those in Fated (with a few exceptions, by necessity), and there's really no advancement in the overall situation. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed it. I still like the main character, and I'm not bored with the setting (yet). But I'm not sure how long that will continue.

That's the problem with series fiction. Even when it's just fantasy, an author needs to have something new to say. The setting, after all, is only fresh in the first book (and when it comes to fantasy, often not even then). I can't read the same book over and over again, yet if the author changes too much, he risks losing what made the idea fun in the first place.

Cursed was great, don't get me wrong. But somehow, I feel like I shouldn't have enjoyed it as much as I did. It's almost too similar to the first book.


Whispers Underground (2012) by Ben Aaronovitch, the third book in his Peter Grant series, does a better job at this. (See my reviews of the first two books here.) Not too much changes - less than between the first two books - but enough.

This time, Constable Grant is helping to investigate a stabbing, and ends up on a long jaunt through the London sewers. Of course, there's magic involved. (The cover of the book says, "The perfect blend of CSI and Harry Potter," which I thought was pretty funny,... and fairly accurate, too.)

Now, we'd seen most of these characters before (except for the suspects, of course), but Aaronovitch seems to be adding new people to the series in every book. And not only are relationships developing, but so is the whole magical situation.

Part of this is undoubtedly that Peter Grant is just an apprentice mage. So the series (so far, at least) has been showing his development both as a police detective and as a magic-wielder. But part of it is also that Grant has a scientific mind. He asks questions and, when he doesn't get an answer, he runs experiments.

At the same time, magic seems to be increasing in the world. No one knows why. So the series seems to progress. I don't know where it's going, but it does seem to be going somewhere.

The plot of this particular book is,... well, unbelievable, even for fantasy. But that doesn't seem very important. The main character, Peter Grant, just gets more likable all the time. And his friends are very appealing, too.

This is the freshest, the most original, fantasy series I've read in awhile. Much as I've been enjoying the previous series by Benedict Jacka, this one really seems special. True, I had some problems with Moon Over Soho, the second book in the series. But I can't say the same with this one. I highly recommend it (but make sure you read the series in order of publication).

PS. Here are a couple of quotes from the book, just showing the humor and the writing style of it:
According to Frank if you evacuate one of the families from a block, all the others will want to know why they weren't evacuated, too. But if you go and evacuate everyone as a precaution, then a good quarter will refuse to leave their flats on principle. Plus, if you evacuate them you become responsible for finding them a safe haven and keeping them fed and watered. (Page 127)
I often forget how good a driver Nightingale is, especially in the Jag. He insinuates himself through traffic like a tiger padding through a jungle, or at least how I imagine a tiger pads through a jungle. For all I know the damned things swagger through the forest like rottweilers at a poodle show. (Page 172)

___
Note: You can find my other book reviews here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Liberal Fox News


Here's another one from Daily Kos:
This seems a bit far afield, even in the Kremlinology business: A conservative group is bitterly complaining that Fox News shifting generic Fox word-sayer Megyn Kelly to a more prominent timeslot is a Fox News plot to advance their pro-homosexual agenda.
But America's Survival, Inc. (ASI), which bills itself as a "public policy organization," said that replacing Hannity with Kelly would be a jump-the-shark moment for the conservative cable news channel. "Pushing Sean Hannity out of the 9:00 p.m. slot, to make way for pro-homosexual advocate Megyn Kelly, is another sign of the channel's left-ward drift and decline," ASI President Cliff Kincaid said in a press release, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

These people are yours, Fox News. You broke em, you bought em. Good luck with that.

For the record, I bill myself as a "public policy organization" as well. My public policy is that America should perhaps be hearing a bit less from the dumb people, and a bit more from the smarter people. I realize this has roughly the same chances of success as attempting to revive one of the stuffed birds in a natural history museum, but there you go.

Yeah, and after firing Glenn Beck, too! It's scary how far to the left Fox 'News' is moving, isn't it? :)


Of course, Megyn Kelly isn't liberal, not even slightly. But there is a grain of truth to this, don't you think?

The business model at Fox 'News' has always been old white men (their target demographic) combined with young, hot women who agree with everything those old men say. For the most part, these women have been nearly indistinguishable - young, blonde, gorgeous (again, to appeal to the old men who watch the show).

But Megyn Kelly is no dummy. She's stood out from the army of blonde clones in part by occasionally - never more than occasionally - taking a stance which differed from the accepted wisdom on Fox. And she is, of course, very, very hot.

She's also younger than the old men she's supplanting. And whether right-wingers want to believe it or not, we do progress in this country. You get few people supporting racial segregation these days - not publicly, at least - and even fewer supporting slavery. And "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" very quickly went from becoming the timidly-liberal position to the conservative position. Progress.

I doubt if Kelly is really a " pro-homosexual advocate," and she's certainly not liberal, but I doubt if she's as big a Neanderthal as Sean Hannity. Certainly, she's a whole lot smarter than he is. And that scares the real loons, like America's Survival, Inc.

Well, you can never be fanatic enough for the fanatics, can you? We saw that during the French Revolution, on the left, and we're seeing it in the Republican Party today, on the right.

But Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes are in this to make money. Yes, they're old white men with a far-right political ideology, but money still comes first for them. There's no question about that. And the Fox 'News' audience is dying off. Their average veiwer is more than 65 years old. (How much older? No one knows, because pollsters only track "65 and older.")

Despite the complaints of America's Survival, Megyn Kelly still appeals to the old white men who currently watch Fox. But she's got a lot better chance of attracting younger viewers, too, than the monochrome Sean Hannity.

I'm sure she won't rock the boat too far. She's much too smart for that. But she's clearly determined to stand out from the younger blondes Fox keeps hiring. She's not going to do that on looks alone. She's hot, but no hotter than all the rest of them.

And when it comes to gay rights, even right-wingers are coming to see that they're losing,... badly. Attitudes are changing remarkably quickly, and although they won't like it, the Republican Party will change along with the rest of the country (dragging its feet, kicking and screaming, all the way).

Fanatics may not see that, and Republican leaders have filled the party with fanatics. But Fox 'News' executives are in this to make money, and they won't let ideology stand in their way. I wouldn't be surprised to see Fox lead the rest of the Republican Party on this issue. After all, where are their viewers going to go? (And what did David Frum say? "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we're discovering that we work for Fox.")

We've already seen Fox 'News' and the Republican Party pay lip service to racial equality, while also pushing racism as hard as they can. The GOP base, filled with the Dixiecrats wooed to the party by its notorious 'Southern strategy,' understands this to be a necessary nod to 'political correctness.' That doesn't make them less racist.

Likewise, if the GOP starts changing its mind on gay rights, it's likely to be only lip service - certainly, at first. The real fanatics won't like it, but where are they going to go?

Voter fraud

From Daily Kos:
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler (R), currently seen as a serious challenger to Gov. Hickenlooper, has been on a crusade to end the plague of fraudulent voting by noncitizens.

Today's Denver Post reports that Gessler had given Boulder County DA Stan Garnett a list of 17 noncitizens voting in Boulder County. But yesterday,
... Garnett's office found that all 17 people were citizens and were able to easily verify their status ...

So. Final results of Gessler's investigation for Boulder county? That would be ... ZERO.

This won't matter. Gessler's supporters are faith-based, not evidence-based, and it's an article of faith among Republicans that they're losing elections because of voter fraud. After all, it couldn't be because they've gone completely batshit crazy, could it?

The Bush Administration spent eight years desperately searching for voter fraud - even firing federal prosecutors who were more concerned with real crime - and they came up with nothing.

Of course, 'voter fraud' is also a convenient excuse for voter suppression. Not every state is like Texas, which freely admits to discriminating against Democrats. No, in most states, Republicans want to pretend to have noble motives for discrimination and voter suppression.

You'd have to be crazy to believe them, but 'crazy' is their target demographic.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"Marianne, the Magus, and the Manticore" by Sheri S. Tepper

(cover image from Amazon.com)

Marianne, the Magus, and the Manticore (1985) by Sheri S. Tepper is the first in a fantasy trilogy (though this story is complete in itself) which has been out of print for awhile and very hard to find. Lucky for me, a friend found the whole trilogy and sent it to me when she finished it. (Thanks, Kate!)

You see, I'd been wanting these books, because I have other friends, whose tastes tend to match my own, who've recommended them. And I'm a fan of Sheri Tepper, anyway. Grass and The Gate to Women's Country are my favorite Tepper books, but I've enjoyed nearly everything I've read by her.

Tepper writes from a very pronounced feminist perspective. In fact, I feel I would have known the author of this book even if her name hadn't been on the cover. Now, I don't want an author's philosophy to get in the way of the story, even when I agree with it (as I generally do in Tepper's case). But Tepper usually - not always - avoids that. She can hit us over the head sometimes, but she still tells a good story (as she does here).

Marianne is a young woman who's been victimized by her half-brother since her parents died. He tried to rape her when she was just 13, he continues to have full control over her inheritance, and, as it turns out, he's been attacking her with magic for years. Marianne resists, passively.

It's easy to sympathize with Marianne, but I had a harder time actually liking her. She is such a victim. She won't stand up for herself, she's timid beyond belief, and while that's understandable, it's not particularly likable.

She's such a victim that even the good guy in the book sees her, at least in part, as sexual prey. That guy is much older than her, too, which seems a bit creepy. It's not that Marianne is a child, since she's 25 when the book begins. But she seems so much younger. Emotionally, she still seems 13.

And given that this guy also looks just like her half-brother - indeed, he's some kind of relative, since they're all part of an apparently inbred clan - well, that's rather creepy, too. None of this is truly disturbing - it's not that bad - but it did seem a bit creepy.

As it turns out, magic exists. And Marianne's half-brother takes orders from a powerful mage, a woman, who casts Marianne into a magical world, a very bleak world, without even her memories. Marianne survives, passively.

To this point, I was still wondering if I really liked Marianne - or really liked the book, in fact. True, the magic realm is very imaginative. I did enjoy that. But as I say, Marianne was such a victim that it was easier to sympathize with her than really like her.

Well, by the end of the book, Marianne is no longer a victim. Indeed, she becomes rather scary. It takes awhile, but eventually she gets angry - and I mean angry! Her solution to this situation is rather disturbing in itself.

I really liked the ending. I could understand her anger, and it was plausible (given the fantasy premise, of course) that her anger would finally explode like this. Finally, she's no longer a victim! But with this much anger, she could very definitely turn into a villain, herself. Has she?

I doubt if that's where this trilogy is going, but I have to wonder. I liked Marianne a lot more once she got angry enough to stop being a victim. But I'm still not sure I really like her, given the results of that anger. And I'm not entirely sure I like the man who fought to rescue her, either. It's something to think about.

I did like the book, and I'll be reading the sequel eventually.

___
Note: My other book reviews, including others by Sheri Tepper, are here.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

TV journalism


Note: Sorry, guys, I couldn't get this to fit well in my columns, not without completely degrading the image (not sure why, but I'm no expert on this stuff). If you can't read it, please click on the link or on the image itself.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Act of Killing


This may be on the Comedy Channel, but there's nothing funny about it. It is, however, informative, fascinating, and... rather disturbing. (I'm talking about the interview, not the documentary, which I haven't seen, but certainly sounds more than just "rather" disturbing.)

This is not something we should forget. So I thought I'd post the extended interview here.



Sunday, August 11, 2013

Light completely stopped for a full minute


This just blows my mind:
The fastest thing in the universe has come to a complete stop for a record-breaking minute. At full pelt, light would travel about 18 million kilometres in that time – that's more than 20 round trips to the moon.

"One minute is extremely, extremely long," says Thomas Krauss at the University of St Andrews, UK. "This is indeed a major milestone." ...

While light normally travels at just under 300 million metres per second in a vacuum, physicists managed to slow it down to just 17 metres per second in 1999 and then halt it completely two years later, though only for a fraction of a second. Earlier this year, researchers kept it still for 16 seconds using cold atoms.

Isn't that just incredible? Stopping light at all, let alone for a whole minute? And they don't think they've reached the limit yet, either.

I remember reading science fiction about this concept, though even then they just slowed light, rather than stopping it completely (admittedly, for much longer periods of time). But it's not just fiction, now. It's real.

OK, OK, light gets slowed down in a prism (as in the photo above), too. Indeed, I think it slows down when moving through any medium - even air - as the light-speed limit is when light moves through a vacuum. Still, this is pretty neat stuff, don't you think?

Innocent students turned away from Obama speech


From Daily Kos:
The rightwing echo chamber reverberates with the sound of outrage:
FreedomWorks: Obama Bars College Republicans from Speech, Labels Them Security Threat

Town Hall: College Republicans Deemed Security Threat at Obama Speech

The Blaze: College Republicans Say They Weren't Allowed Into Obama's Speech Because They Were Deemed a Security Threat

OK, anyone want to guess what happens next? Yep.

The National Review rehashed the story today in the form of an interview with one of the "victims": Courtney Scott, Treasurer of the Missouri College Republicans. In the course of doing so they accidentally blundered into a bit of reporting.

Bad move.
At about 3:40 p.m., an individual, whom Scott believes to have been a police officer because of his clothing, which included a hat emblazoned with the letters "PD," stopped the group short of the gymnasium where Obama was scheduled to speak. He told them that they would not be able to proceed further. The group showed him their tickets, but the man said the doors had already closed and that they could not be let in. The tickets stated that the doors opened at 1:45 p.m. and did not state when the doors were scheduled to close. President Obama was scheduled to begin speaking at 4:00.

Emphasis mine. I realize that if you are a College Republican you are hoping to matriculate into a world where the rules do not apply to you - but strolling to the vicinity of the entrance with less than 20 minutes to go and then whining because the Secret Service won't unlock the doors for you? Surely some things are simply beyond the bounds of reason, even for conservatives.

To their credit, The Blaze updated its original post with a statement from the Secret Service (though not one which really addressed the issue here), but those other websites did not. And the comments at all of them demonstrate how clueless their readers really are.

This had nothing to do with being College Republicans,... except for the whining afterwards. That, I'm afraid, is all too typical.

Thinning the herd


Friday, August 9, 2013

"Terra Incognita" by Ruth Downie

(cover image from Amazon.com)

Terra Incognita (2008, also published as Ruso and the Demented Doctor) by Ruth Downie is the sequel to Medicus, her first book about Roman doctor, and unintentional detective, Gaius Petreius Ruso and his slave/girlfriend, Tilla.

This time, Ruso and Tilla have traveled with the Legion to Britannia's northern border, where Tilla was born and her tribe still lives in varying degrees of accommodation to the Roman invaders. Rebellion is just under the surface, especially with the recent appearance of the Stag Man, apparently sent by the British gods.

Now, a soldier has been killed - decapitated - and Tilla's former boyfriend is accused of the crime, while the previous doctor at the fort, locked up as a madman, claims to have committed the murder, himself.

As usual, Ruso is just trying to get by - trying to do his job while keeping his superiors happy, and his girlfriend, too. But for Tilla, this is all tied up with her family's murder and her own enslavement and rape, not to mention her conflicted feelings about the Romans in general.

Like the first book, this one is a lot of fun. Ruso and Tilla are both appealing characters, plus there are plenty of others who just seem very... human. In an afterward, Downie admits that we don't know much about this time and this land. This is just fiction, and probably not particularly realistic fiction, at that.

But that's OK with me. I'm not a big fan of historical fiction, nor do I usually care much about the mystery in mysteries. All I want is an entertaining story with appealing characters, and this certainly fits the bill.

Terra Incognita is very similar to Medicus, so if you liked that book, you'll probably enjoy this one, too. You don't necessarily have to read these in order, but since the relationship between Ruso and Tilla progresses, that wouldn't be a bad idea.

Both are sympathetic characters, but they're very different people from very different backgrounds. So there's plenty of misunderstanding between them, with makes their romance (for it is a romance) rather rocky,... and humorous. The mystery just provides the background to that.

This sort of thing always appeals to me, but not to everyone, I know. Terra Incognita is just light-weight entertainment, but if that's what you want, you could certainly do worse. I'll be continuing with the series, myself.

___
PS. See this page for more book reviews.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Anti-suffragette cartoons

(all images from The Week, except as noted)

My brother sent me this link to "12 cruel anti-suffragette cartoons," and 93 years after women won the right to vote, I'm struck by how much has changed,... and how little.

You see, I'm still still seeing this kind of thing, though the details might be different. Take this cartoon:


Right. If we grant equal rights to other people, that means losing those rights ourselves, huh? Now that women can vote, we men can't?

Obviously, that's ridiculous, but I've actually heard right-wingers claim that allowing homosexuals to marry will mean the end of marriage for heterosexuals. That didn't make any sense a century ago, and it still doesn't. So why are we still hearing it?

Here are some other examples:


Maybe you don't think that's insulting? Well, try this:


Ooh, ankles! Can you see the expression on the faces of those men? I think I'm insulted by that one. But it gets worse. I found this cartoon at another website:


Yeah, only ugly women want equal rights, huh? But I frequently hear similar comments today from those loony 'men's rights' advocates. If a woman dares to speak up, you can bet you'll hear negative comments about her appearance (which doesn't, unfortunately, stop the threats of rape, either).

Here's another which could be taken directly from modern misogynists:


Why would women even want to vote? Well, clearly it's just to tear down men, right? Ask any 'men's rights' advocate today and he'll tell you the same thing.

There are lots more of these. A common theme is that families will suffer:


"America When Femininized"? That sounds like Rush Limbaugh! And it's the "suffragist-feminist ideal family life" to abandon their families? Oh, we poor, poor males who have to take up the slack...

This might be the worst of these, though:


If you can't read that, it says:
For a Suffragette.

The Ducking — Stool and a nice deep pool,
Were our fore-fathers plan for a scold;
And could I have my way, each Suffragette to-day,
Should "take the chair" and find the water cold.

What kind of person would think that's appropriate? Seriously, how sick would you have to be?

But I hear the same kinds of attacks on feminists even today. The style might be different - and they're definitely cruder - but the sentiment hasn't changed.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Moon Over Soho" by Ben Aaronovitch

(cover image from Amazon.com)

Moon Over Soho (2011) by Ben Aaronovitch is the sequel to Midnight Riot, an urban fantasy about a young London cop/apprentice wizard.

I really liked that one, which had appealing characters in a light-weight, often humorous, read, but with serious consequences. And this one follows that pattern, beginning and ending with the most serious, even tragic, consequence of the first book.

Like the first, this book easily held my attention, and I thought it was a lot of fun. But IMHO, it wasn't up to the standards of Midnight Riot.

For some reason, I had trouble keeping the characters straight in Moon Over Soho. It wasn't that I'd set the book down for awhile, either. In mid-book, I just realized that I didn't know exactly who was who. I didn't backtrack, to try to figure it out, because it wasn't that important. I got the gist of it OK. But I still have to consider that a problem.

Also, this book is mostly just Peter Grant, while the first had him working with all sorts of policemen and other weird characters. This wasn't completely different, but there was less of that here. Also - and this, too, is just personal preference, I know - I really don't like super-villains, especially recurring super-villains, which one villain in this book threatens to be.

I did enjoy Moon Over Soho, and I plan to continue with the series. And there are parts of this book I really did like which I won't mention for fear of giving away spoilers (spoilers of the first book, mostly, but still nothing I want to do).

You definitely need to read these in order of publication, so don't start with this one, anyway. If you enjoyed the first book, you'll enjoy the sequel. It's not quite that good, but then, you wouldn't expect it to be, would you? After all, you already know the setting and the basic situation.

But one thing Aaronovitch seems to be doing very well is showing us a changing world. This isn't just a magical situation, but a fluid magical situation. In previous years, it looked like magic was dying. Now, it seems to be growing again.

Peter Grant has a scientific mindset (unusual in a fantasy, wouldn't you say?). He studies magic in a way his predecessors don't seem to have considered. As he learns more about what's going on - learning more about magic, as well as learning more about the changes going on in his world - we learn more about it. And that's intriguing.

It's especially intriguing because we're talking about series fiction here. This really has the potential of keeping the series fresh. At any rate, I'm anxious to see where the story goes next.

____
Note: More book reviews, including others by Ben Aaronovitch, are here.

Ballotproof


Texas, Florida, and North Carolina. What do those states have in common, besides seceding from our country in 1861 and having Republican legislatures and governors today? All three are red states turning blue.

We're not seeing voter suppression here in Nebraska, because there's no need for it. We're a solidly red state. Republicans don't need to suppress voting, because they're going to win every election, anyway.

But Barack Obama won North Carolina in 2008, and he won Florida in 2008 and 2012, though it was very close in both years. And believe it or not, Texas isn't far from that, unless Republicans can successfully suppress Hispanic voting (and keep gerrymandering districts to keep the state government overwhelmingly Republican).

Southern states couldn't do this until the five Republicans on the Supreme Court overthrew the Voting Rights Act of 1965, despite the fact that it was renewed by Congress in 2006 on votes of 390 to 33 in the House and 98 to zero in the Senate. (So much for Justice Scalia's concerns about invalidating "democratically adopted legislation," huh?)

Well, Republicans will do anything, apparently, to maintain their political power. They're not doing this in every state - not seriously trying, at least - because they don't need to. But if this works, they will. After all, it's either that or change.

And when you're talking about people who still call the Civil War the 'War of Northern Aggression,' change doesn't come easy.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Looking for the truth, spiritually

Unfortunately, I don't just blog here. Foolishly, I also get into these online discussions elsewhere. Yeah, it's the old problem of someone, somewhere on the Internet, being wrong. :)

OK, I enjoy an intelligent debate. I like to find intelligent people who disagree with me, because I want my beliefs to be true. So I want to hear what other people have to say. I think I have good reasons for my beliefs, but if they're not challenged, how can I know that?

But most people will only go so far. It's not that we continue to disagree. I expect that. But often, people will simply refuse to answer questions which they can't answer, questions which demonstrate why they're wrong. They'll often just ignore the points I make, apparently because they have no rebuttal.

I'm not surprised by this when it comes to right-wing fundamentalists. But, sometimes, I find people I probably agree with about most things... who still seem to have some faith-based belief which they won't question. And that does surprise me.

(Note that I'm not unaware of the fact that it could be me who's wrong. I don't think I am, but I welcome rational arguments otherwise. That's kind of the whole point of this, isn't it?)

I was reminded of this in comments recently at my local newspaper from a person who calls himself/herself "Just Watching." The thread is a little hard to follow, but it started when he praised my previous comment about faith-based thinking.

Ironically, given how our discussion turned out, he noted how people inevitably make claims before every Olympics. (I don't know why he said this, but it turned out to be surprisingly pertinent to the discussion.)
You know before every Olympics Games there are a wave of people making claims ...This happens all the time, in every country the Olympics are in...They usually never happen.....but if one gets it right, then that person that made that warning , Well, they become a person of great interest.

As I say, I don't know why he said that, but I'm in full agreement with it. It sounds like a perfect example of Sir Francis Bacon's wise observation that "The general root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other."

If enough people warn of danger at the Olympics (note that we've been facing the threat of terrorism for a long time - and specifically at the Olympics at least since 1972) then, sooner or later, when there is an attack at an Olympics, someone, somewhere, is bound to have predicted that. But to find anything significant in that (at least, unless that person was involved in the attack) is just superstition.

Apparently, as it turned out, that's not what Just Watching was getting at, so I have no idea what he was really trying to say there. But I didn't reply to that, anyway, but to another comment he made: "Keep looking for the truth..and you will find it."

My reply (in part):
I'm afraid I disagree. Everyone claims to be looking for the truth. Indeed, people throughout history have looked for the truth. So I don't think that looking for the truth is the real issue here. The issue is how you look for the truth.

Progress really got going when we discovered the scientific method. It's not perfect, but it's easily the best way we've ever discovered of looking for the truth. It's not just evidence-based. It also works with human nature, instead of against it. ...

Looking for the truth does you no good at all unless your mechanism, the way you look for the truth, is effective.

Yeah, that's pedantic, no doubt. But this is a very important point for me, so I try to make it whenever I can.

Just Watching replied:
When I say "Keep looking for the truth..and you will find it." I mean both scientific and spiritually.

If you've read anything else here, you can probably imagine how I responded to that! :)
Is there an effective method of looking for the truth spiritually, Just Watching? ...

If you really can look for the truth both scientifically and spiritually, what method do you use for the latter? As I know you agree, the scientific method works. It's proven itself to be a very effective method of distinguishing the truth from delusion and wishful-thinking.

Is there a similar method which is effective in looking for the truth spiritually? Given that spiritualists and religious believers never come to a consensus about anything, really, it's hard to think that there is. And if there isn't, then "looking for the truth" spiritually is going to be a complete waste of time, don't you think?

He never answered this question. We continued to debate this, and I must have asked that specific question ("Is there an effective method of looking for the truth spiritually?") five or six times, but he just ignored it every time. Well, clearly the answer was no, that he did not have an effective way of looking for the truth "spiritually," but he simply did not want to face the implications of that.

At first, he just said that it depended on what I meant by "spiritual." But as I pointed out, I hadn't used the word. He had. It was his statement about "looking for the truth spiritually" that I was questioning. So why ask me to define it?

He never did say what he meant by "spiritual." Eventually, he posted a link to Wikipedia, the very first words of which said, "The term spirituality lacks a definitive definition." Heh, heh. As I pointed out to  him, I didn't care about the debates of lexicographers. All I wanted to know is what he meant by the word, when he used it in our discussion.

But the really funny thing is that he referred back to his first post, repeating this a second time:
You know before every Olympics Games there are a wave of people making claims ...This happens all the time, in every country the Olympics are in...They usually never happen.....but if one gets it right, then that person that made that warning , Well, they become a person of great interest.

But then he added this:
How is it we have records of some people warning us about things they could not possible know about...Our law enforcement, and military, and intelligence groups, know about many of these events. ...

Some things in the history of mankind, can not be explained by our current understanding of science, or science does offer up some possible reason, but we do not see the connection to the spiritual realm at first.

Yup. Instead of being a perfect example of superstition - how many, many people warn about danger at the Olympics and how, every so often, one of them turns out to be right, just through the laws of probability - this is now evidence of psychic powers. Incredible, isn't it?

Indeed, later on he claimed that some people become psychic after brain injuries, too. But where's his evidence of such an extraordinary claim? Where's his evidence that psychic powers exist at all? I tried to pin him down, but he just went back to the Olympics again. "Waves" of people make predictions of danger at every Olympics and, every so often, there actually is danger at an Olympics, therefore... the explanation must be in the spiritual realm, huh?

When he said that "we do not see the connection to the spiritual realm at first," that begs the question: When have we ever discovered a connection to the spiritual realm? Over and over again in human history, we've discovered that things we thought were supernatural turned out to have a natural explanation. (The Sun, for example, is not a god driving a golden chariot across the sky.) But never once the reverse. Ever. So why assume - without good evidence, or even a definition of what you mean by the term - that the "spiritual realm" exists at all?

I was just blown away by his response. He continued to ignore my repeated question, "Is there an effective method of looking for the truth spiritually?" Likewise, he completely ignored my request for specifics on his claims of psychic powers. He just assumed that psychic powers really exist, without bothering to demonstrate that,... and then he further assumed that those powers must be "spiritual," rather than just something science hasn't discovered yet.

Clearly, this is an intelligent guy (or gal). And he's apparently not conventionally religious. But he's still faith-based. He wants to believe what he wants to believe, and if the questions get too difficult, he just ignores them.

I just don't get it. I'd love to believe in psychic powers. And if anything like that could be demonstrated to exist, scientists would fall all over themselves in their eagerness to research it.

Just think about it. This would open up a whole new realm in science. Scientists love this kind of thing! As Isaac Asimov once said, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...'" The merest hint of something like this is enough to catch the attention of scientists.

And for the rest of us, it would be amazing. Who could think otherwise? But first - for me, at least - you have to demonstrate that it's actually true. And no, that doesn't mean pointing to newspaper articles where credulous people claim incredible things and gullible - or just ambitious - reporters print them (although Just Watching didn't even do that much).

After all, you can find people who'll claim anything you want to believe - literally anything. You can find 'eye-witness testimony' to alien abductions, Bigfoot, and the resurrection of Elvis Presley, among others. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. (And I'll point out that scientists are the experts on evidence - although even scientists, some of them, can be fooled by a clever magic trick.)

As I say, this exchange really surprised me. But I guess it shouldn't have. Sadly, faith-based thinking is not restricted to right-wing Republicans. It's just human nature, apparently.

Royal baby's first words - a Piers Morgan interview



It's quite a coup for Piers Morgan, to get the first interview with Prince George Alexander Louis, isn't it?

Friday, August 2, 2013

"Billy Boyle" by James R. Benn

(cover image from Amazon.com)

Billy Boyle (2006) by James R. Benn is a mystery set during World War II, and the first in a series with the title character, a young Boston detective.

Billy Boyle has hardly ever been outside of South Boston, where he lives surrounded by his large Irish family, most of them cops. He grew up wanting to be a cop, and nepotism has served him well. He became a detective, in fact, because his family slipped him the answers to the test questions.

After Pearl Harbor, it's pretty clear that young Boston cops will be drafted, so his family works to keep him safe. (In particular, as IRA supporters, none of them have any desire to fight for the English.) They pull strings to get him into officer candidate school - where he graduates dead last - and then to get him a staff position in Washington, or so they think.

In reality, 'Uncle Ike' is General Dwight D. Eisenhower, newly appointed to command the U.S. Army in Europe, so Billy ends up on a plane to London, pretty much the last place he wants to be, especially during the Blitz. Pretty soon, he gets involved in the hunt for a spy and for a murderer - not necessarily the same person.

Billy isn't a particularly impressive young man, but he's not a bad cop. And although he'd only been a detective for three days before Pearl Harbor, it turns out that he isn't completely useless at that, either. Well, he grew up listening to his homicide detective father (if not paying as much attention as he wishes now).

I guess the way to put it is that he's not nearly as useless as he seems at first. And he's not a bad kid, either. His prejudice against the English doesn't last long in London, and he makes some surprising new friends.

If you know much history of World War II, you might guess the answer to the mystery of the spy, at least in part. But the murder doesn't stop with just one, and that was both unexpected and tragic. The tragedy of war is clearly shown here, too. This might be a light-weight, even humorous, mystery, but it definitely has a serious side.

Billy is an appealing character who becomes even more likeable as time goes by. The murder mystery was fine (but I read mysteries for the characters, not for the mystery). I didn't particularly like Billy's actions at the end of the book, but... I don't know. I'm a sucker for World War II stories.

All in all, I really enjoyed this. I'll definitely be continuing with the series.

___
Note: My other book reviews are here.