Books of the Year, 2010

This year I followed Amy’s lead from last year and kept a log of the books I read. Apart from being a fun exercise, and making it easier to remember what I read and when, it gives me a natural opportunity to write a “best of the year” post.

So first, some statistics: this year’s haul included a total of 101 books fully read, plus about 20 more partially read but abandoned. (Not all because they were bad; some because I wasn’t in the mood, or whatever. And the worst of the lot were actually finished.) Of the fully read, there were 38 SF, 26 fantasy, 18 lit fic, 13 nonfiction; only 15 of them were re-reads. 6 were YA, 5 middle-grade. I would say that 30 of them were good enough to recommend, with the ones below especially noteworthy. There were plenty of mediocre ones, but only one terrible enough to make me want to claw my eyes out of my head. And I added two writers, Kazuo Ishiguro and Theodora Goss, to my list of “writers whose work I will read the moment it comes out,” an unusually good crop for the year.

And so: Twenty books worth reading and one worth setting on fire. (more…)

Published in: on January 3, 2011 at 09:00  Comments (4)  
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And here it is, ladies and gentlemen, your moment of Norse.

Today I encountered a line of beauty products with the curious name of Voluspa.

Question: Was the name chosen at random, simply because it contains the three letters “spa?” Or is there a plan for a whole advertising campaign: “Pamper yourself like Freyja on the eve of Ragnarök?”

Published in: on September 3, 2010 at 22:14  Comments (4)  
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Now that’s hardcore.

Washington DC just legalized gay marriage; the local archdiocese responded by ending all spousal health benefits to its employees.

Now here’s an organization with the courage of its convictions. Rather than let a single gay partner get benefits from them, they will let each and every one of their people’s spouses die. None of this Christian charity bullshit for these guys!

Published in: on March 3, 2010 at 11:52  Comments (6)  
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What a show!

If you have some free time, you need to read this. It’s an article from the Angelus, journal of the Society of St. Pius X, titled Defense of the Inquisition.

What’s fascinating about this article is that it isn’t what you think it is — if you’re expecting a modern historical reexamination, showing that the Inquisition wasn’t what we thought it was, you’re going to be mistaken. This is a modern historical reexamination showing that the Inquisition was exactly what you thought it was, and a detailed argument that this is a good thing, and ought to be reinstituted.

I wasn’t expecting that.

Published in: on February 10, 2009 at 13:30  Comments (6)  
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More madness.

A fascinating little clip, courtesy of Warren Ellis’ blog, of a video from Westboro Baptist Church. (The “God Hates Fags” crew) They got together to sing a song called “God Hates The World,” to the tune of “We Are The World.” It’s morbidly fascinating – you don’t get to see real, unabashed dystheism in the world very often. They aren’t even preaching “repent or else;” the message is very clear, God hates you and everybody else, nothing you can do will change it, he’s going to burn everyone in Hell.

It’s sort of like seeing the cultists of the Elder Gods from H. P. Lovecraft come to life; their god is going to wake up and destroy the world, but presumably they’re still worshipping him so that they’ll be eaten last?

Published in: on December 20, 2007 at 23:54  Comments (4)  
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Random tidbits

Newsweek and the Washington Post are hosting a dialogue on the subject of faith and the possibility of coexistence between religions. Contributors so far include the Dalai Lama and Mohammad Khatami. Interesting to hear them speak, and to see people’s responses.

There has been significant progress towards sequencing Neanderthal DNA, and there are hopes of having an almost complete sequence in a year or so. This opens all kinds of doors to looking at what, genetically, makes us human.

On a related note, Slate is running an article about cross-species mating, and in particular why humans could or could not breed with other species. (This was prompted by a recent paper suggesting that humans and Neanderthals may have mated, and that’s the origin of some of our modern cranial capacity genes)

Back in the land of geopolitics, a Chinese sub managed to sneak up on a US carrier group. Apart from ‘s comment that someone O4+ is going to be in seriously deep shit over this, this suggests that they’ve been doing quite well on the technology needed to make highly silent motors and so on. (Whether they did so on their own or “acquired” this technology from elsewhere is an interesting question. China’s military has certainly never suffered from not-invented-here syndrome.)

There’s really a lot having to do with China going on right now. China and Iran are cementing an alliance, with Iranian oil getting ready to flow east. (Question: Anyone have some info as to what the routes are going to be? It looks like every possible path is going to involve some combination of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, which could make for some very exciting places to put oil pipelines. Don’t forget what happened to Russia’s Caspian -> Turkey pipeline, that once upon a time went through Chechnya…) Iran may well have had observers at N Korea’s nuclear test. (Unconfirmed rumors, but wouldn’t be all that surprising if true; those countries have been working hand-in-hand on this for a while.) China is similarly making alliances with a lot of other dubious places that have useful resources, like the Sudan and Zimbabwe, but that the West by and large wants nothing to do with. This certainly makes the notion of sanctions as a weapon pretty much infeasible, since that depends on some sort of unity, and could bring us back towards a bipolar world — if, that is, China’s “burn through the environment as fast as needed to get economic progress” algorithm doesn’t hit a really nasty obstacle in the near future. Which is not something that I would bet against. (Side note: They’re burning through this a lot faster than the US or Europe ever did, because they have a much higher population, and they have old systems in place which turn into a huge social unrest risk if they don’t keep the economy flowing. Add to this an almost total willingness to sacrifice the countryside to protect the cities, again because of unrest risk, and there’s a real problem brewing in China. Not that this would be useful to the furthering of US interests or anything.)

Really, China is in an interesting fix. They got where they are today by being the cheapest producer of all sorts of things. Now other Asian countries, especially in SE Asia, are thinking about competing with them; so what will China do? Keep trying to undercut them, or move into higher-end markets? The latter is more sustainable in general, but it doesn’t necessarily scale to a huge population quite as smoothly, and China has been moving so fast that it hasn’t really had time to transfer the benefits from its previous wave of growth to the population as a whole, so the moderating factor that that would create isn’t available. And trouble from the countryside, local riots, complete collapses of regions due to ecosystem failure, and so on, keep happening more and more often, while people keep streaming into already-overloaded cities. It reminds me a bit of the USSR: it looks awfully menacing on the outside, but if you look at their underlying logistics and infrastructure, there’s a very different thing going on.

Dammit, I’m not nearly enough of a China expert. Perhaps I’m going to need to start on that.

Published in: on November 15, 2006 at 16:10  Comments (2)  
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Silly buggers

For those of you who haven’t seen this, the Rev. Ted Haggard, a prominent conservative leader, (and who was prominently featured in the recent documentary Jesus Camp, btw) recently resigned after admitting to the at least partial truth of allegations that he’s been popping meth and screwing male prostitutes. But he qualified his admission:

One of the nation’s most influential conservative Christian leaders, the Rev. Ted Haggard, said today he bought methamphetamine and received a massage from a self-described male escort. But Haggard denied allegations by the man that he ever used the drug or had sex with him.

You know, this makes me miss straightforward bullshit like “I didn’t inhale!”

(Incidentally — this story is prompting so much amusement in no small part because, what a shock, the Rev. Haggard spends a lot of time preaching against homosexuals. Until a few days ago, he was one of the up-and-coming powers of the religious right wing. Hey, with habits like these, maybe he should run for Congress…)

Published in: on November 3, 2006 at 14:53  Comments (13)  
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Faith-based organizations

Well, it looks like some faith-based organizations are being extremely active in continued earthquake relief in Pakistan. Miltant Islamists, in particular. (Has our government really thought this whole faith-based routine through? cf. on Tuesday, the President ordered DHS to create a faith-based division. No word yet on which faiths will be invited to participate.)

(And the article cited suggests that “there is hope that [these] groups… are trading the mantle of militancy for social work.” I’m not really sure why they think that radical groups engaging in social work means they’re going to stop killing people; Hamas has been running schools and hospitals for years, in parallel with suicide bombing campaigns, and they’re far from the only ones)

Published in: on March 9, 2006 at 13:02  Comments Off on Faith-based organizations  
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A wolf in sheep’s clothing

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, and supposedly an Evangelical Christian, responded to calls for “Creation Care” (i.e., stewardship of the world) from the National Association of Evangelicals, in an interesting fashion: (Source article)

Mr. Inhofe said the vast majority of the nation’s evangelical groups would oppose global warming legislation as inconsistent with a conservative agenda that also includes opposition to abortion rights and gay rights. He said the National Evangelical Association had been “led down a liberal path” by environmentalists and others who have convinced the group that issues like poverty and the environment are worth their efforts.

This is a fascinating little statement: it’s probably the most concise summary I’ve ever seen of how certain individuals have decided to preach doctrines completely at odds with everything Jesus ever preached, up to and including some pretty vile doctrines, (poverty is not worth Christians’ efforts?!) under the rather thin excuse of “real conservatives don’t believe in this!”

Just a reminder to my Christian friends that just because someone calls himself an Evangelical and a conservative doesn’t mean he actually believes in something you’d want to associate yourself with…

Published in: on November 7, 2005 at 10:45  Comments (6)  
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When evolution is outlawed…

Apparently, our President wants equal time for intelligent design in American schools, saying that “both sides ought to be properly taught” so “people can understand what the debate is about.”

It’s probably not really worth too much discussion in this forum, but it’s fascinating to see how this culture of false debate has emerged. If a public figure were to go out and say that the sky is green, the press would simply report it, and then ask someone else what color they say the sky is, satisfied that by presenting “both sides” of the issue they’ve discharged their duty, and (seeing that there are clearly two sides who disagree) now being able to describe it as a disputed issue. What you won’t hear is the press actually checking the facts themselves; such things are “not their department.” This is especially true when there are a large number of people who, for one reason or another, feel strongly about backing whomever it was who made the false statement; the media are really averse to flat-out contradicting someone when that may alienate readers.

But if a political movement grows, and out of fear of contradicting them nobody ever says they’re wrong, where do we end up?

The rather simple problem with the “debate” over the teaching of evolution, which nobody ever seems quite willing to say, is that the reason we don’t teach “intelligent design” or other forms of ersatz creationism in school isn’t because there’s a secular humanist bias, or because we don’t want to favor one religion over another; it’s for the rather simple reason that these things are false, and known to be false. The fact that one group strenuously advocates for them doesn’t make them any more true, and no matter how loud these groups are, the fact that people are out there saying something does not make it true, nor does it make the debate legitimate or worth people’s time; if a thousand people claim the sky is green, even by divine revelation, the sky will still be blue, and trying to convince them will still be an elaborate waste of time.

Or to say this in a more religious context, we are given senses and a faculty of reason, and we do not derive our laws and our sense of the universe from omens and signs. As R. Jeremia said, the Torah has already been given at Sinai; that is, the set of divine interventions needed to create this world was done at the creation of the world, and so the world is complete within its own context: we can study it in its own right, without having to resort to revelations “explaining” for us things which our own senses can understand on their own. (Baba Metzia, 59a-b) (Yes, I realize that making a religious argument in this context seems odd, but I don’t believe there’s any fundamental contradiction between religion and reason; only when people start misunderstanding the difference between stories and the world around them, to the extent that they reject the evidence of their own senses.)

And now, our president has decided that he needs to weigh in on this issue, because without his wisdom and guidance, where would we be?

Published in: on August 3, 2005 at 10:09  Comments (35)  
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