Friday, February 28, 2014

Follow Friday - 147 Is the Highest Possible Break in Snooker

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Gizzimomo's Book Shelf and Tash Brilliant Book Blog.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Change the Plot. If you could, what book would you change the ending or a plot thread? Go ahead and do it . . . change it.

I wouldn't change most books. Either a book is generally bad, in which case changing the ending won't make it any better, or the book is generally good, in which case it doesn't need the ending fixed. However, one book that I would change is C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle, which is also the final book in his Chronicles of Narnia series. I wouldn't change the ending - Lewis was clearly intent on writing the Narnian version of Revelations, so the fact that the world ends and everyone who shows up in Narnia ends up going "further up and further in" to reach the Emperor Over the Sea is entirely fitting. Instead, I would change the book's treatment of Susan, the older girl of the Pevensie children. Of all of the Pevensie children, she is the one that doesn't go back to Narnia at the end of the series, because she has supposedly forgotten about it. And why has she forgotten about it? Because she became interested in boys, lipstick, and the other things many teenage girls find interesting. In C.S. Lewis' view of the world, it seems that once a girl turns into a woman, she loses the ability to appreciate places like Narnia, and becomes distanced from that Lewis considered to be "good". If I were to rewrite Susan's part of the Narnia books, she would remain a vital part of them despite (and probably because) she grew up and found boys (and implicitly, sex) interesting. The one truly grating element of the Chronicles of Narnia is the way that Lewis infantilizes women, and that's the part I'd change, starting with Susan.

Go to subsequent Follow Friday: Dunbar's Number Is 148

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Random Thought - What I've Been Reading (Because It Hasn't Been Books)

For the last month or so, I've been kind of slow posting new reviews, and that has mostly been because I haven't really been reading many books. This does not mean that I haven't been reading. Instead, I've been cutting into my massive backlog of magazines.

As I have noted before, I subscribe to a fair number of periodicals, which I have traditionally tried to read as soon as they arrived. For various reasons, mostly having to do with my living situation, I more or less stopped reading any of them about two years ago. At first, this was just a temporary thing. I'd set them aside with the intent to get back to them in a few days or weeks. And then the pile kept growing. And then the idea of digging into the increasingly large pile of unread copies of Science News and Poets & Writers was simply too overwhelming to consider. So I put off reading them. And they piled up even more, creating an ongoing negative feedback loop. After I moved into my present abode, the magazines stacked up in the corner of the living room, glowering at me and daring me to try to tackle the imposing pile.

And I simply didn't for a long time. The problem that you run into when you try to keep too many metaphorical plates spinning in the air at once is that when one starts to fall down, they all seem to fall down, and then it takes so much effort to spin them back up again, that you just don't want to do it. And about two years ago, almost all my plates fell down at once. And I'm only now getting to the point where I think I am putting them back up on their poles. So about a month ago, I needed something relatively quick to read. Rather than sort through the mostly disorganized piles of books that are still all about the house, I grabbed the top magazine in the stack and read it. And it was exactly what I needed. So I grabbed another. Soon, I was packing up two or three magazines in my work bag to read on the bus every day. Before too long, I was reading through my old and unread issues of Science News, Locus, Mason Spirit, National Geographic, Virginia, and Poets & Writers. While reading them, I remembered why I had gotten these magazines in the first place. And so I kept reading them.

I'm only about halfway through the stack right now, and I'm probably not going to stop until I get all the way to the bottom, because if I lose momentum now, I'll probably just let the pile sit and build up again. I don't know if I'm going to read the copies of Science that I have, since I never subscribed to that, even though they keep sending me complimentary copies in order to entice me into doing so. I haven't decided if I'm going to bother to read the old issues of the Economist that are in the pile - I let my subscription to that magazine lapse because keeping up with it was an enormous undertaking. I'm setting the copies of Virginia Lawyer aside. I may or may not get around to reading those. I'm licensed to practice law in Virginia, but I don't actually do much practicing law there. My legal work is entirely focused on Federal law in the District of Columbia, so knowing the ins and outs of practicing contract law, or estate law, or any other practice area in Virginia is not likely to be of much benefit to me.

But I will read the other magazines in the pile. Looking through the stack, I noticed that I even had some unread issues of Realms of Fantasy, a magazine that hasn't published a new issue in quite some time, so getting to those is something I'm looking forward to. Two years builds up quite a backlog, so it will take some time to get through the miniature mountain that built up, but I'm getting closer every day. And then I'll tackle the ARC backlog.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review - The 6th Day

Short review: In a world where cloning is illegal, Adam Gibson has been cloned so there is twice as much Schwarzenegger on screen.

Adam plus Adam
A man and his clone buddy
Set out for vengeance

Full review: In the opening moments of the movie, while ominous music plays in the background, the viewer is informed that because of the mishaps that occurred during the single attempt to create a human clone, all human cloning has been banned by a statute known as the "Sixth Day" law. The "Sixth Day" is, of course, a reference to the Genesis creation story in which man was created on the sixth day of creation, but like so many other elements of this movie, the reference seems inserted for no reason other than providing a moderately cool sounding snippet that is ignored from that point forward.

Most movies in which one actor plays two parts feel somewhat gimmicky, but The 6th Day feels like the movie's producer walked into the screenwriter's office on Friday evening and said "Write me a movie where Schwarzenegger plays two parts, we start filming first thing Monday morning." Then they went out and randomly grabbed actors who were walking by on the street, cast them in roles by random lot, and started filming using props and sets they had lying around the studio and a vintage Cadillac that the director found for sale on eBay. Okay, it's not quite that bad, and there is some decent science fiction action and adventure contained in the movie, but most of that is overshadowed by the really terrible script, comically silly plot, and generally flimsy acting. On the other hand, this is a movie featuring Schwarzenegger in two roles, so none of this should be unexpected.

Right off the bat the viewer know that that movie is about cloning. And with Schwarzenegger in the lead role of Adam, it is pretty much guaranteed that he will be the guy who gets cloned. But first the movie has to show some football, as a star quarterback gets horribly injured on the field before being carried away in an ambulance. The suited team official riding with the comatose quarterback receives an ominous sounding phone call while they ride, directing him to end the quarterback's lifetime contract with the team, at which point the film shifts away.

After the football and murder, the movie shifts to Adam and sets about establishing that Adam is an ordinary guy. An ordinary hulking huge guy. But he's kind of a retro guy too - preferring to use a real razor blade rather than the newfangled future shaving methods of the world he lives in, resulting in a somewhat serendipitous shaving cut on this morning, which also happens to be his birthday. Cementing his ordinary guy bona fides, Adam is worried about whether he has new wrinkles, and almost engages in a little bit of birthday morning sex with his ordinary yet attractive wife (played by Wendy Crewson) before they are interrupted by their ordinary yet adorable daughter. Adam also has an ordinary carpool commute to work with his best friend Hank (played by Michael Rapaport) , and an ordinary job as the co-owner of and helicopter pilot for an excursion business.

Not only does the movie take place on Adam's birthday, it is also a big business day, as Michael Drucker (played by Tony Goldwyn), the multibillionaire owner of the cloning company Replacement Technologies, has hired Adam and Hank to fly him out to an isolated mountain for some snowboarding. Adam and Hank are both given blood tests and eye tests to ensure they are up to piloting for Drucker, and then they head out to ferry some other fun-seekers out to the mountains for some fun in the snow, with Adam using a new remote piloting device to control the team's second helicopter. This leads to a sequence where Adam gives the audience some foreshadowing by challenging Hank to follow his hijinks with the remote helicopter while Hank is flying the piloted helicopter.

Eventually they end up back at their home landing pad and because everything has to happen on this one day, Adam receives some terrible news - Oliver, the family dog, has been diagnosed with an illness and has to be put to sleep because, as his wife says over the video phone "it's the law". She asks him to get a replacement clone dog of Oliver at "RePet", a company that specializes in just such a service, but because Adam is a retro kind of guy, he has misgivings because he distrusts cloning. The real conundrum in the movie is that it expects us to believe that Adam lives in a world in which going to the mall for a cloned dog is possible and economical, and yet healing a sick dog is somehow beyond a veterinarian's capabilities. Hank, who the movie has established as the "modern" counterweight to Adam's "retro" guy, owns a RePet and volunteers to serve as a pilot for Drucker's trip that afternoon even though Drucker had specifically asked for Adam to do the job, so as to allow Adam to go to the mall and check out the local RePet store. As an aside, one has to wonder why a multibillionaire like Drucker needs to charter a helicopter pilot. as we learn later, he has a helipad on the roof of the office building his giant corporation owns. One would think that he would also own a helicopter and a pilot to go with that rooftop helipad. Leaving that aside, Adam agrees, and Hank heads off to fly Drucker to the mountains, telling Drucker that he is Adam to head off the industrialists concerns. Once on the slope, things go wrong, and a new employee named Tripp who had been working for Hank and Adam appears to kill Drucker's security guards and Hank.

Meanwhile, a groggy Adam wakes up in the back of a cab at the mall. Disoriented, he finds his way to NuPet and asks a clerk some questions about cloned pets. Eventually, he decides against cloning Oliver and instead buys his daughter the incredibly creepy SimPal Cindy - a bizarre and seemingly genetically engineered doll that appears to be much more off-putting than something as simple as a cloned dog. But when Adam gets home, expecting to find the quiet of an impending surprise birthday party, he instead finds a party in full swing, with another version of himself in the middle of it. Just as he is about to go in and sort this mystery out, he is stopped by Robert and Talia, who claim to be police investigating a "6th Day" violation. When Adam tries to go into his house anyway, things turn violent and eventually end up with Adam climbing into his vintage Cadillac and leading the two, as well as two more "police" on a wild car chase that turns fatal for two of Adam's pursuers, including Talia.

But the car chase reveals the somewhat slap-dash nature of the movie. Cindy the SimPal plays something of a role in the chase, but this creepy plot element never shows up again. Adam drives around in his vintage Cadillac for the chase, but other than this scene there doesn't seem to be any indication that Adam is a lover of antique cars, and other than having it reported as stolen, the car never matters to the plot again once the chase is over. Even Adam's name, which was clearly chosen by the scriptwriter for its somewhat obviously symbolic significance, never makes any difference in the movie. Time and again, the movie drops some interesting wrinkle into the narrative only to drop it and ignore it for the rest of the movie.

After the chase, we find out that Drucker has been secretly cloning humans with the help of Dr. Griffin Weir (played by Robert Duvall), which really should surprise no one at all. They are busy cloning the two people Adam killed during his escape, who turn out not to be police, but rather security goons hired by Drucker, which also should surprise no one at all. What is surprising is that Drucker has four cold-blooded killers on his payroll, but not a single helicopter pilot, but I digress. At the same time Adam shows up on Hank's doorstep looking for help, and we get a brief look into Hank's life and his somewhat sad "virtual girlfriend". Before too long Hank is killed by Tripp who then dumps some plot exposition on Adam and is then himself killed. Adam manages to escape from Robert and Talia again, cutting off Talia's index finger and using it to start their car in the process.

The movie more or less proceeds in a completely predictable manner after this. Adam breaks in to Replacement Technologies (using Talia's finger to bypass the security systems) and finds Weir, who explains the technology they are using to clone people, including the "syncording device", which allows them to record a person's entire brain through their eyes. And at this point, any remaining semblance of seriousness this movie might have had is simply tossed out the window. While the movie resolutely stays on the topic of cloning, it treats the advance of "syncordings" as a minor byproduct in the process. But anyone who spends more than a couple of seconds thinking about it will realize that the ability to record a human's brain and then play it back is a much more incredible piece of technology. Just the applications for solving crimes would be enormous - simply bring a suspect in, take a syncording, and play it back to see if they committed the crime. Given that taking a syncording of a person takes only a fraction of a second - the "eye test" that Adam and Hank took near the beginning of the film was actually taking their syncording - you could probably get almost anyone to take one, either voluntarily or by deception. Take syncordings of great scientists and build a database of their memories. Take syncordings of your enemies and blackmail them with what they reveal. And so on. You can even syncord dead people (which is how Drucker keeps bringing back his security detail), but wouldn't that technology make murder much easier to convict someone for? Take a syncording of the dead person and see what they saw just before they died. And so on.

But the implications of this technology are entirely ignored by the movie, because if they turned to thoughtfully considering the consequences of what they introduced, there would be less time for shooting and explosions. So Drucker kidnaps Adam's wife and daughter, and Adam and clone Adam team up to get them back, although they disagree on which one of them is clone Adam. Events move relentlessly and predictably forward from that point on. Weir displays amazing naivete. Drucker proves time and again that he is even more evil than one thought. Talia reveals that four is "more times than she could count". And Adam and clone Adam show themselves to be so bad ass that they are able to take on almost endless numbers of security guards.

Everything builds to a completely paint by numbers climax, and then Adam and clone Adam reconcile (Drucker having conveniently given them a way to determine which one is clone Adam). Clone Adam is shipped off to Argentina, but not before he muses whether he has a soul or not. And once again, the movie seems to have latched on to the most trivial possible aspect of the issues that it has raised. Through the movie we learned that multiple people were killed and then cloned with their memories placed in their new body via a syncording. Everyone treats the new person as being the same as the now dead person, but it seems like someone would wonder if that were actually true. The much referred to 6th Day laws appear to assume that the cloned person is not the same person as the dead person. Even more oddly, the people who are killed then cloned seem to regard getting killed as no big deal. But the only thing that is happening when someone is being cloned is that a new version of them is coming back, while the old version is still dead. Wouldn't the current you be rather upset at the idea that they will die, even if a completely different version of you infused with your memories might come back? As it would get in the way of having more scenes dedicated to blowing up Replacement Technologies, the movie doesn't even bother to contemplate these sorts of issues, and ends up being nothing more than a generic action movie with a thin coating of bad science fiction.

The 6th Day is is not a a completely horrible movie. This is not to say that it is a good film. It is a mediocre Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, which in the larger world of movies makes it a moderately bad movie. The movie is not so bad that it is in danger of becoming good again. It resides comfortably in the trough of mediocrity at the point where you don't feel cheated after having watched it all the way through, but unless you really like Arnold, there's not much reason to watch it again.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Musical Monday - Ghostbusters by Ray Parker, Jr.

Harold Ramis died today. Although he had a fair amount of success on-screen as a comedic actor, where Ramis truly made his mark was as a writer and a director. As the writer of comedies that have influenced everything that came afterward, Ramis is, in large part, responsible for the direction taken by filmed comedy from the 1980s forward. Ramis is probably best known for his roles in Ghostbusters (a movie that he co-wrote with Dan Aykroyd), and Stripes (a movie that he also co-wrote), but he also wrote or co-wrote Animal House, Caddyshack, Meatballs, Groundhog Day, and Analyze This, as well as several other movies. Ramis was also a comedic director, helming numerous movies including several of the movie he wrote as well as National Lampoon's Vacation. In short, comedy owes Ramis a great debt.

In Ramis' honor, Musical Monday this week is Ray Parker, Jr.'s theme song to one of the high points in Harold's career. So, to the man who gave us silly summer camp CITs and lazy malingering GIs. The man who gave us a near infinite number of February seconds. The man who gave us neurotic mob bosses. The man who gave us insanely funny fraternity members, a Dean who is the foot that will be put down, and the Deathmobile. The man who gave us backpack particle accelerators, the Keymaster, the Gatekeeper, and a giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. For all these things and all the other silly, funny, and incredible work that Ramis gave us, I am saying thank you. And we'll miss you Egon.

Previous Musical Monday: Table Top Games by The Doubleclicks (with Adam WarRock)
Subsequent Musical Monday: Your Brains by Jonathan Coulton

Ray Parker, Jr.     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Book Blogger Hop: February 21st - February 27th: Sheldon Cooper's Hacky Sacking High Score Is 43

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews asks (via Billy): This annoys me, what about you? When I click on a blogger's name and it goes to their profile and I see more than one blog listed, how do you know which one to visit? I usually don't visit.

I don't usually find this to be much of a problem. If I encounter a blogger who leaves a link to their profile that has multiple blogs listed, I usually just click on the first link in the list. If they aren't going to direct me to the blog they want me to look at, then I'm not going to expend too much mental energy figuring out which blog is the "right" one. I might even pick which blog of theirs to visit at random.

Go to subsequent Book Blogger Hop: Julius Ceasar Was Assassinated in 44 B.C.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, February 21, 2014

Follow Friday - In 146 B.C. Scipio Aemilianus Breached the Walls of Carthage, Ending the Third Punic War

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Redhead Reader and Teen Book Hoots.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What was the last book that made you cry?

To be perfectly honest, I don't recall any book ever actually making me cry. That is not to say I haven't experienced an emotional response to reading a book. Some books have made me sad. Some books have made me happy. Some books have made me angry. And so on. But I don't think I have ever been invested in a book so thoroughly that I ended up crying while reading it.

The closest I think I have come is while reading  Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The book details the story of Charlie Gordon, a mentally disabled man who undergoes an experimental treatment that has the result of tripling his intelligence. The unforeseen side effect of the treatment - which is discovered through Charlie's co-test subject the lab rat Algernon - is that the intelligence gain is temporary, and the subject will die an early death. The first half of the book is a depiction of Charlie's triumphant rise from a man with the mental acuity of a small child to a fully realized (although emotionally stunted) super-genius. This is moderately interesting and more or less standard pulp science fiction. The second half of the book describes Charlie's slow but inevitable decline from the lofty heights he had attained, back to a man with fairly substantial mental retardation. The tragedy in these pages is not just that Charlie is losing his recently won intelligence, but that he knows he is losing it. Charlie can remember being smart and remember being able to do things even though he is unable to do them any more. In the end, Gordon leaves, knowing he will die so and unable to face those who knew him when he was temporarily brilliant, leaving behind his journal and its last line, written his broken and misspelled English, plaintively requesting that someone be sure to leave flowers on Algernon's grave, because Charlie won't be around do that any more.

It is the second half of the book that is so sad and makes the book so powerful and enduring. Oddly, it is this sad ending that many editors wanted to change or eliminate, usually by having Charlie not suffer the decline in his intelligence, and not behave so boorishly that he offended the woman he was pursuing. Instead, several editors told Keyes to change to book so Charlie stayed intelligent, got the girl, and ended up living happily ever after. But if Keyes had listened to them, the resulting story probably would have still been commercially viable, but it would have been long-forgotten pablum by now. It is the tragedy of Charlie Gordon that gives the story its longevity, and which also drew from me the most intense emotional response I have had while reading a book.

Go to subsequent Follow Friday: 147 Is the Highest Possible Break in Snooker

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review - The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith

Short review: Mma Ramotswe tries to help a man set right the things he did wrong in the past, but her life is complicated by a rival detective agency. Mma Makutsi sets up her own business and finds love. Or does she?

A forgotten crime,
A desire to make amends
And a bad romance

Full review: The Kalahari Typing School for Men is the fourth installment of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series and involves a mystery that isn't really a mystery, a romance that isn't really a romance, and a competitor that isn't really a competitor. The only story in the book that isn't completely inverted is Mma Makutsi's creation of a new side business to earn extra money, but even that, involving her teaching men the secretarial skill of typing, is something of a cultural reversal.

The primary mystery in the book isn't actually a mystery at all: The reader knows who the culprit in the tale is from the beginning, because he is Mma Ramotswe's client and he tells her of the wrongs he committed years before, making this a kind of inverted mystery where the criminal and crime is identified at the beginning, but the victims must be located. After an epiphany, the client decided that he needed to find the people he had injured as a young man and make amends with them, a choice that led him to hire a private detective to do the leg work. Through the book, Mma Ramotswe uses her usual techniques of calling people on the phone, talking to people over cups of tea, and otherwise pursuing the truth to find both the woman whose radio was stolen, and the woman whose heart was broken and ferret out how their lives had gone since her client knew them. In the end, Mma Ramotswe is able to get the information her client wants, but more importantly, she is able to serve as a kind of confessor for him, patiently guiding him to make the real sacrifices in order to meaningfully atone for the crimes he had committed. And that, I think, is one of the most critical point made in the book - in order to truly seek forgiveness, one has to take actual action. This story line is also the first time that the AIDS epidemic is directly referenced in the book, in the form of a child who has been afflicted with the disease.

The story line that gives the book its title revolves around Mma Makutsi's efforts to earn more money. Although she enjoys the titles of assistant detective and assistant manager that come with her dual roles working for the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, Mma Makutsi is aware that neither business can afford to raise her salary by any substantial amount. But, as she both takes care of her brother and sends a portion of her paychecks home to the rest of her family, she realizes that her finances are stretched to the breaking point. After briefly considering opening a driving school (notwithstanding the fact that she cannot drive), Mma Makutsi settles upon the idea of opening a typing school aimed at training men to type based upon the theory that while men are too proud to stoop so low as to attend an institution like the Botswana Secretarial College, they would benefit from learning to type so as to be better able to use the computer keyboards entering office use. Putting her formidable organizational skills to the task, Mma Makutsi soon acquires the typewriters, space, and students she needs to make her business a success. Soon, she is engaged in teaching men how to type, a situation that seems to make some of her students uncomfortable, although in the end they seem reconciled to it, as her obvious expertise shines through.

And while Mma Makutsi's start-up business seems to get off to an almost improbably successful start, and it also leads to another significant plot point as she engages in a dalliance with a well-dressed student of the school named Bernard Seleliping. In the course of her romance, Mma Makutsi is taken to an expensive bar and a fancy restaurant, but unbeknownst to her her relationship is threatened by her suitor's duplicity. Early in the book Mma Ramotswe discovers that a new detective agency has opened in Gabarone - the Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency, run by former police officer Cephas Buthelezi, a man who turns out to be arrogant, overbearingly sexist, and dismissive of both Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi. This story line is more or less dropped until substantially later in the book when a disgruntled former client of Mr. Buthelezi's shows up on Mma Ramotswe's door. She believes that her husband has been cheating on her, and is dissatisfied by Buthelezi's finding that her husband has been spending his time in church, a suggestion that she simply does not believe. Before too long, the reader realizes that the church the wayward husband has been going to is the same one Mma Makutsi has been using to give her typing lessons.

This results in yet another moral dilemma for Mma Ramotswe, as she figures out that the romantic suitor she has been hearing about from Mma Makutsi is none other than the wandering husband of her new client. As is typical of the series, the real problem is not unraveling the mystery, which is almost a trivial exercise, but rather trying to figure out how to resolve the situation. Mma Ramotswe likes Mma Makutsi, and doesn't want her to get hurt by the revelation that her paramour is a married man and also feels an obligation to her client who happens to be Mr. Seleliping's wife. As usual, Mma Ramotswe deals with the issue in her direct and fairly forthright manner, and Mma Makutsi unknowingly solves the moral dilemma on her own. But the interesting development in this story line is the transformation of the character of Mma Makutsi, from someone who was mostly just an object of pity renowned for her score of 97% at the Botswana Secretarial College to a fully realized individual who is aware of her own worth both as an employee and as a romantic figure.

Like the previous books in the series, The Kalahari Typing School for Men is a book with a gentle and almost languid sensibility. There is a mystery, but it involves a stolen radio and a broken relationship, not a murder or a bank heist. There is a romance of sorts, but it is a placid one, involving getting drinks at fancy bars and dinner at fancy restaurants before fizzling out from disinterest leavened with a helping of dishonesty. Mma Ramotswe has some trouble with her newly adopted children, but this difficulty fades after a fairly easy prescription is applied. Even the competitor that dominates much of the discussion in the early portion of the book basically blows away like a dead leaf on the wind. The plot-lines all come very close to resolving in ways that are simply too serendipitously convenient, but stop just short of crossing that line. The problems Mma Ramotswe and those around her face are mundane and in some cases almost trivial, but they are solved, not so much by chance, but rather because those facing these problems approach them with common sense, a willingness to engage in hard work, and caring and compassion. The Kalahari Typing School for Men is a quiet book, but it is quiet in the best way.

Previous book in the series: Morality for Beautiful Girls
Subsequent book in the series: The Full Cupboard of Life

Alexander McCall Smith     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, February 17, 2014

Musical Artist - Tabletop Games by The Doubleclicks (featuring Adam WarRock)

So the Doubleclicks are going to be on Wil Wheaton's internet show Table Top to play Lords of Vegas, and I say it is about time that these two great flavors of nerdity were combined.

For anyone who does not know, Table Top is a regular feature on the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel created by Felicia Day working in collaboration with Wil Wheaton and numerous other nerdy celebrities. The format for the show is simple: Wil gathers together three nerdy guest stars such as Anne Wheaton, Ron Roddenberry, Amy Dallen, Kate Micucci, Veronica Belmont, Phil LaMarr, and John Scalzi, and then the four of them play a tabletop board game such as Settlers of Catan, Smash Up, or Carcassonne (or sometimes, play a couple of shorter tabletop board games like Tsuro or 12 Days) while being filmed. Wil gives the viewer a rough overview of the rules before the game, and then the four players set about playing and bantering among themselves until someone wins (or in the case of a cooperative game, until everyone at the table wins or loses). There is a brief after game segment where Wil talks with the people on the "loser's couch" (a group that he is unusually frequently a member of), and then goes to congratulate the winner and present him with a trophy that must be immediately returned (in the first season), or a certificate recognizing the victor for a nonsensical achievement (in the second season). That's pretty much the show. And it is brilliant, because the love Wil (and most of his guests) have for Table Top gaming shines through in each episode. It is also a great way to see games that you have not played and decide if they look like something you would be interested in trying.

And this week two of the guests on the show will be Angela and Aubrey Webber, bringing their love of games with them. And they are so excited that they decided to write a song about tabletop games and name it Tabletop Games, which even includes a rapping break by nerdy rap star Adam WarRock. The combination of Wil Wheaton and the Doubleclicks is sure to make for the best episode of the show to ever hit You Tube.

Subsequent Musical Monday: Ghostbusters by Ray Parker, Jr.

The Doubleclicks     Adam WarRock     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Book Blogger Hop: February 14th - February 20th: 42 Remains the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews asks (via Billy): How do you handle unsolicited books that appear in your mailbox? Do you add them to your queue? Do you write to the sender and explain you didn't ask for the book and are not sure when you will be able to read and review the book? Or do you simply not read the book at all?

I don't think I've ever gotten a physical copy of a book unsolicited, but I have had a fair number of unsolicited electronic copies of books arrive in my e-mail. And I always do the same thing with them: I toss them in a folder that is marked "Rejected Book Requests" and forget about them. I don't feel any obligation to read or review books that I didn't ask for, and consider it to be somewhat presumptuous of the sender to think that they don't even need to ask me if I am interested in their book before sending it to me.

Go to subsequent Book Blogger Hop: Sheldon Cooper's Hacky Sacking High Score Is 43

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, February 14, 2014

Follow Friday - Botswana Is the Setting for the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, and Is 145th in World Population

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Tween 2 Teen Books and Literary Chameleon.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Find a “new to you blogger” and feature their button on your post this week. Tell us why this blogger stands out to you.

Because the blogger was supposed to be someone new to me, I more or less chose at random. I chose Redhead Reader because I like redheads and liked the name. The blog is written by Massachusetts native Elizabeth Stiert, who happens to be a redhead who loves reading (I know, that's a surprise isn't it). I admire her eclectic reading list, which seems to include selections from every genre except romance, and her desire to become a published author herself, which is an aspiration that I can relate to. I am also happy to note that her list of bookish pet peeves is very similar to mine, although given that it is fifth on her list, her hatred of stickers on books is probably not quite as intense as mine.

Follow Friday     Home

Monday, February 10, 2014

Musical Monday - Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song by Rachel Bloom

I went to see Frozen this past weekend. And yes, it is as good as you have been told. It is a brilliantly told story of sisterly love intermingled with the complications imposed by politics and magic that has an ending that is different in many ways from other Disney movies, and yet completely perfect in every way. And I'll probably feature some of the songs from its soundtrack as Musical Monday selections on some future date.

But that day is not today. Despite Frozen being as good as it is, throughout the movie I couldn't help but think of Rachel Bloom's hilarious (and brutally accurate) satire of Disney princess songs. Perhaps this is because the story of Frozen manages to avoid many of the cliches that we associate with Disney movies. But what Rachel's song reminds us is that a version of these stories that was true to the historical time periods they were set in would include copious amounts of virulent plague, horrifying prejudice, casual torture, and staggering inequality. Versions of these tales that merely aspired to be true to the Grimm's Fairy Tale versions that inspired them would be loaded with as much blood and gore as the typical modern day slasher film.

So, even though a movie like Frozen is a wonderful piece of art, when I watch it I see the historical version inside my head. In this context, the line in the song about how the plague was created by jealous witches looms large, because it explains the fear felt by Elsa and her parents over revealing her powers over ice and snow. In the movie, the danger this represented takes the form of the Duke of Weselton, who talks about how terrible it is that there is a sorceress at large and advocates killing Elsa. But almost no one else seems to really take the buffoonish Duke seriously. In a historically accurate version, accusations of sorcery would be terrifying, because they would tap into the pervasive superstition of the populace, and would likely lead to terrible persecution. But this is a Disney movie, so that is glossed over, and everyone ends up loving Elsa's magical snow powers.

Previous Musical Monday: Dimetrodon by The Doubleclicks
Subsequent Musical Monday: Tabletop Games by The Doubleclicks (featuring Adam WarRock)

Rachel Bloom     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Book Blogger Hop February 7th - February 13th: Judah Ben-Hur Was Called 41 When He Was a Roman Warship Slave

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews asks (via Billy): What is the highest number of books you received in one day either in the mail or from UPS or FedEx?

I think the largest number of packages that I have had delivered to me on one day is three. I tend to get one or two packages a week rather than one or two in a day most of the time, and I've never really had a day where I got a lot of packages at once. That isn't to say that I haven't brought lots of books into the house at once. I'm just much more likely to be transporting them myself than having them delivered to me. For example, my largest haul of books in a single day is still the day I acquired 1,297 books at a library book sale. But in that case, they weren't shipped, but rather I had to go to the library book sale, buy them, load them in my car, and bring them back to my dwelling.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, February 7, 2014

Follow Friday - Bilbo Invited 144 Hobbits to His Eleventy-First Birthday Party (Which Was Also Frodo's Thirty-Third)

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - YA Asylum and Literary Chameleon.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: If you could read a book for the “first time” again, which book would it be? Why?

My initial reaction to this question is to say The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings, because they remain brilliant works of fantasy fiction and to be able to experience them once again for the first time would be magical.

But the question makes one consider how what we have read in the past affects what we read now. Reading Tolkien's books was a formative experience for me as a reader, and helped make me into a fantasy fiction fan. Had I not read those books, would I have picked up Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain? Would I have read Michael Moorcock's books about Elric and Corum and Hawkmoon? And my experience reading every one of those books (and every other book I have read since then) is filtered through a lens created by my knowledge of the books I read before, including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. To make it possible for me to read Tolkien's books anew, you would have to alter my perceptions of every other book I read since I first read his books. In some cases, you would have to radically alter my perceptions.

The point is, in our reading lives, everything is connected and everything influences everything that comes after it. To remove the knowledge of a book, especially a book you loved enough to want to experience again, you would have to change so many of your memories as they relate to other things that you almost certainly wouldn't even be recognizably you any more. As much as I'd like to experience the joy of Bilbo and Frodo's adventures again for the first time, I simply can't, because the version of me that would be required to accomplish such a thing would be so very different from the me now.

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Biased Opinion - 22 Responses to 22 Creationist Questions

Matt Stopera of BuzzFeed asked self-identified creationists to pose some questions to people who believe in evolution, resulting in the article 22 Messages from Creationists to People Who Believe in Evolution. What followed was a very sad collection of terrible questions from people who have been betrayed by their teachers and failed by the education system. Because I love science fiction, I am very interested in science, and think a strong science education curriculum is of critical importance for our schools. Needless to say, the questions posed in the article saddened me by the obvious ignorance that they displayed.

If you are a creationist, at least try to come up with some arguments that have not been debunked a hundred times over. The questions that this collection of creationists posed seem to have been, in their minds, "gotcha" questions probing unsolvable conundrums. What these questions really are are examples of the fact that creationists really don't understand even the basics of science at all. I have endeavored to answer these questions, which are rendered in italics below. The questions are phrased as presented in the article, with the original spelling, punctuation, and grammar intact. My answers follow each question.

1. Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?

Yes, Nye is. He's teaching them actual science.

2. Are you scared of a Divine Creator?

I'm not Nye, so I can't respond directly, but I'm guessing he probably isn't. Nye might even be a believer for all I know. Many people are religious and still accept the findings of science. Ken Miller of Brown University, for example, is one of the most prominent advocates of biology education in the United States and is a practicing Roman Catholic.

I, personally, am not a believer, but that is because I remain unconvinced that there is evidence supporting any of the claims relating to a god or gods. I am not, however, scared of a "Divine Creator". If you are a Christian, ask yourself if you are scared of Vishnu, a divine figure worshiped by millions of Hindus. If you are not, then you might be able to understand why I am not sacred of your chosen divine being.

3. Is it completely illogical that the Earth was created mature? i.e. trees created with rings . . . Adam created as an adult . . .

Yes. It is. In order for an idea to be "logical" it has to be supported by a chain of argumentation that starts with facts. In short, you need to start with some sort of evidence in order to come up with a logical explanation. If you start with no evidence or faulty evidence, then your conclusions are entirely useless. The stumbling block you have is that there is no evidence supporting the notion that the Earth was created mature. Lacking facts to start with, there is no way to get to a logically valid conclusion that the Earth was created "mature".

To put it another way, think about this: Could the Earth have been created last Thursday with all of the people in place and your memories implanted? That's just as likely as your scenario of a "mature Earth", because neither are supported by any facts. So one has to wonder why you don't believe in Last Thursdayism.

4. Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?

No, the second law of thermodynamics doesn't disprove evolution. These sorts of questions always make me wonder what the questioner imagines scientists know about science. Do they think that scientists don't know about the laws of thermodynamics? Do they think that biologists around the world are sitting in their labs ignorant of basic science and they will be stunned when a creationist walks in and starts talking about the second law of thermodynamics? Or do they think that biologists actually do know about the second law and are just hoping that no one notices that their discipline's unifying theory violates it?

To address the point specifically - the second law of thermodynamics does not disprove evolution, because the second law only applies to closed systems, and the Earth is not a closed system. We are constantly bombarded by energy from the Sun (which, by the way, is increasing in entropy, which is why the Sun will eventually run out of fuel and die). Nye actually pointed this out in the debate.

5. How do you explain a sunset if their [sic] is no God?

Sunsets are caused when the Earth rotates the face you are on away from the Sun. Because the Sun's light now has to pass through more atmosphere than it normally does, the light you see is more distorted than usual, resulting in the array of colors you see. This is fairly basic science, and you should know this already. That you don't is an indictment of your education.

Note: This explanation holds true whether the Earth is a sphere or flat. It the Sun is going "down" towards the horizon of a flat Earth, then its light will pass through greater amounts of atmosphere as it gets closer to setting, resulting in the same kind of distortion and the same kind of array of colors.

6. If the Big Bang Theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, why do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories?

The laws of thermodynamics don't "debunk" the Big Bang and evolution. Once again, I have to wonder what people who ask this sort of question think that scientists know about science. The laws of thermodynamics are not some sort of secret knowledge. In fact, the laws of thermodynamics are part of the core science curriculum at many universities. It is simply implausible that someone would be a practicing scientists and not have some familiarity with these laws. Any theory that contradicted those laws would be discarded by the scientific community, so the fact that neither the theory of evolution nor the Big Bang theory are in danger of being discarded is pretty good evidence that scientists don't think they conflict.

And they don't conflict. As I noted before, the Earth isn't a closed system, so thermodynamics has almost nothing to say about evolution. And the laws of thermodynamics, being derived from observations about the universe, clearly support the Big Bang theory. What you see around you is an old and cold universe, with massively larger amounts of entropy than were present at the Big Bang. The history of the universe as described by the Big Bang theory and subsequent cosmology is exactly what one would expect in a universe in which the laws of thermodynamics were in force.

7. What about noetics?

Noetics is a branch of metaphysics that deals with problems of the mind. Metaphysics are, by definition, not really part of science. Metaphysics, like a lot of philosophy, can be used to frame questions to be answered by science, but really doesn't have anything at all to say about the conclusions that are reached via the application of science.

I wonder if you are trying to raise the question of the origin of consciousness in a roundabout way. The question this bring to mind is do you think the idea of consciousness is somehow incompatible with a naturalistic world? What do you base this conclusion upon?

8. Where do you derive objective meaning in life?

How do you derive objective meaning in life? If you say God provides meaning in your life, then what happens if God changes his mind? That's not very objective is it? If God can't change his mind and can't change the "objective meaning" (for any reason, including "it isn't in God's nature"), then why does one need God to have objective meaning? Personally, I doubt whether there is objective meaning to be found, and I certainly haven't found a convincing argument that there even could be.

In any event, one has to wonder how this related to the truth or falsity of the theory of evolution in any way. This seems to be a fairly common tactic for creationists when trying to debate science - you bring up questions and issues that are entirely unrelated to science. Suppose that objective meaning exists. How does that show the theory of evolution is or is not true?

9. If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate? By chance?

No, not by chance. As a result of the functioning of our universe. It seems that a common thought process among creationists is that if something isn't actively directed, then there is no alternative other than "chance". This is simply wrong. Look at the tides in our oceans. Nothing directs them to rise and fall. They simply rise and fall as a result of the gravity exerted by the Moon and Sun. And they rise and fall in a predictable pattern. In fact, the regularity and predictability of our natural universe is the reason that we can do science - the ability to predict what will happen by using derived theories in effect is science.

Chemistry, physics, biology, and all of the other branches of science are all descriptions of how our universe works. By observing the world around us and then formulating theories about how it functions, we are able to make predictions about what will happen in the future and unravel mysteries about what happened in the past. Science clearly shows how chemicals plus energy results in reactions that form the building blocks of life.

I'll also note that single-celled organisms are highly complex and appear quite late in the development of life. Numerous simpler forms existed long before single-celled organisms. It took a billion or so years of the existence of life on Earth before the first single celled organisms arose.

10. I believe in the Big Bang Theory . . . God said it and BANG it happened.

Okay, so? The Big Bang theory says nothing about what happened before it took place. So how do you come to the conclusion that God was there? Merely asserting the existence of God isn't actually an answer, and it has no bearing on science. Science depends upon evidence. Without evidence, a scientist says "I don't know". Since you are apparently making a scientific claim, what evidence do you have to support your contention?

11. Why do evolutionists/secularists/huminists [sic]/non-God believing people reject the idea of their [sic] being a creator God, but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extra-terrestrial sources?

Well, first off, most don't. The vast majority of secular people believe that life evolved on Earth without any kind of aid or assistance from aliens or other extra-terrestrial influences other than the energy from the Sun in the form of sunlight and gravity, and the Moon in the form of gravity.

Now, some secular scientists have stated that the most plausible potential designer that might exist would be aliens, because material extra-terrestrial entities are plausible, although not likely. In those cases, the scientists were entertaining a hypothetical that took the form of "if intelligent design were true, what is the most plausible way it could have happened", but they weren't actually saying they think that intelligent design is true - primarily because there is no evidence supporting the idea that intelligent design is true. There is no evidence for extra-terrestrial seeding of life or, to use the formal term "directed panspermia", but since it doesn't violate any of the known laws of the universe, a scientists might say it is plausible that it could have happened. The problem is, there's no evidence for it, just like there is no evidence for a designer deity.

12. There is no in between . . . the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds necessary for an "official proof".

Sadly, you have been let down by your education, because on this point you are simply wrong. We have found dozens of fossilized hominids. If you had done a bit of research on Wikipedia, you'd know this, because they have a fairly long list showing all of the hominid fossils that we have found. Not only have we found several examples of australopithicus afarensis, the species that "Lucy" was a member of, we have found several examples of the "in between" fossils you, in your ignorance, claim don't exist - australopithicus africanus, homo habilis, homo erectus, and on and on.

Also, exactly what is an "official proof"?

13. Does metamorphosis help support evolution?

Yes. Is there some reason you would think it doesn't? This is another question that makes me wonder what creationists think scientists do all day. Do they think that they sit around coming up with theories, and then when someone says "tadpoles metamorphose into frogs" they hit themselves on the forehead and say "darn, I forgot about them"? Evolutionary biologists are well acquainted with frogs, and butterflies, and moths, and all the other species that transform during their lifetimes. The fact that such creatures do this is not only accounted for in evolutionary theory, it is integrated into it and serves as a supporting piece of evidence for it.

14. If Evolution is a Theory (like creationism or the Bible) then why is evolution taught as fact?

Let's start off by noting that neither creationism or the Bible are "theories" as science uses the term. The Bible is a book of mythology that some people regard as being important. But it isn't actually a theory any more than a book of Greek mythology would be a theory. Creationism isn't a theory either, because creationism isn't a comprehensive scientific explanation supported by numerous facts and subject to potential falsification.

The crux of the problem here is that you seem to have a misunderstanding of what a "theory" means in science, and how theories relate to facts. In science, facts are trivial. You have brown hair. That's a fact. You have two eyes. That's a fact. What a theory is in science is a comprehensive explanation that takes those facts and weaves them together into a comprehensive whole. The branch of science that is used to make nuclear weapons and power plants is called "atomic theory". There is not going to be some point at which it will be renamed "atomic fact", because to call it "atomic fact" would be to be going backwards. That objects fall to the Earth when dropped from a tree is a fact. The explanation for why they do so is the theory of gravity. Theories in science are more important than facts.

15. Because science by definition is a "theory" - not testable, observable, nor repeatable why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in school?

First off, you have a deep misunderstanding of science. In science a theory by definition has to be testable, observable, and repeatable. Einstein's theory of relativity was considered to be an interesting hypothesis, but what solidified it as a theory was that scientists went out and tested the predictions it made. One prediction, for example, was that heavy objects (like our Sun) would bend light as it passed by them, creating an effect that would allow an observer to see something that was actually behind the Sun. This prediction was tested in 1919 by Arthur Eddington and found to be accurate. Without the testing, the theory would have been interesting, but not useful.

And the simple fact is that the evidence for the theory of evolution has, in fact, been tested, observed, and repeated. By contrast, creationism and intelligent design have not been tested. There is no real plausible test that one could make for "creationism", and the handful of proposed tests for intelligent design have either been incoherent, or have resulted in strong evidence against intelligent design being true. There is simply no evidence supporting either the creation or intelligent design hypothesis, which makes them not science. You may as well have asked why astrology and casting magic spells isn't taught in schools.

16. What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase in genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process?

The answer to your question is actually included in your question: Mutations. The most common way for mutations to increase information is for a gene sequence to be duplicated by mutation, and then altered. The idea that mutations can only destroy information or work with existing information is an unsupported claim that has been advanced by some creationist apologists, and there is simply no evidence that such a claim is true. Not only that, it is a claim that is contradicted by observed evidence, as scientists have actually observed mutations increasing information in the genomes of creatures in experiments.

17. What purpose do you think you are here for if you do not believe in salvation?

Once again, what does this question have to do with the truth or falsity of evolution? Many scientists and other people who accept the findings of science are believers, and believe in salvation just as much as you do. Whether we are here for salvation or not has no bearing whatsoever on whether the theory of evolution is true or not. I could stipulate for the purpose of this argument that "salvation" is necessary, and it would say nothing about whether evolution was true.

But to answer your question directly: People give themselves purpose. You chose the promise of salvation as your purpose, which is fine for you. But that's just an evidence free choice that you made. Why is it so hard for you to believe other people choose to find their purpose in other things?

Finally, what do you think we need salvation from? Being human? Being condemned by God? If you think God makes the rules, and the rules are what will condemn you, aren't you saying we need to be saved from God? Do you think we need to be saved from the rules you believe your God laid down?

18. Why have we found only 1 "Lucy" when we have found more than 1 of everything else?

There's only one "Lucy", because the term Lucy refers to a specific fossil. But Lucy was a member of the species australopithicus afarensis, and we've found numerous fossil examples of that species. Quite simply, your claim that we've only found one "Lucy" is a falsehood rooted in your ignorance.

To a certain extent, this kind of ignorance isn't your fault: Someone blatantly lied to you during your education, and you accepted their lie as being factual. On the other hand, you've clearly never actually tried to evaluate this claim at all, because if you had, you'd have found that there are many australopithicus afarensis fossils that have been uncovered over the last several decades.

19. Can you believe "the big bang" without "faith"?

Yes. This is a fairly standard creationist ploy - the claim that "it takes just as much faith to believe in science as it does to believe in my religion" - and it is both very tiresome and very stupid. Science is based upon evidence. The only "faith" you need to accept the findings of science is the faith that we can actually observe the universe around us, and that's not faith by any reasonable definition of the word.

The Big Bang theory is based upon the observations of the universe. Scientists weren't sitting around one day saying to themselves "we need to come up with a story about the origin of the universe". They were studying our universe, noticed that certain things, like the redshift of the galaxies, implied something, and then set about testing it by means like looking for the background microwave radiation of the universe. The made observations, figured out what they implied, and then tested to see if their conclusions were correct. That's how science works. No faith required.

20. How can you look at the world and not believe someone created/thought of it? It's Amazing!!!

This is another fairly common creationist ploy. It amounts more or less to "look at the trees, aren't they beautiful, they are so magnificent that they must be the work of a creator". The problem is, this line of thinking is simply wrong.

The existence of something is not evidence that someone created it. By itself, a thing's existence is evidence for its existence, and nothing more. It is only when something is put into context that something can tell us more. But what is the context of the entire universe? What are you comparing the universe to in order to determine that it must have been created? When we try to determine that something is created, or in other words, non-natural, we compare it to things that occur naturally. But if you say the entire world was created, what is your basis for comparison? You have none.

Further, while our world is, to a certain extent, amazing, it is hard to believe it was created. Most of the planet is uninhabitable for us. Many parts of the planet will kill you. Yes, beautiful flowers exist, but so do tapeworms and parasites that bore into the eyeballs of their hosts. If you step off of the Earth, every other place in the Solar System will kill you instantly. The world may be amazing, but it is also deadly and horrifying too.

21. Relating to the big bang theory . . . where did the exploding star come from?

You clearly don't understand the Big Bang theory, because there is no "exploding star". Some creationist "teachers" have confused the Big Bang with some sort of actual explosion of a preexisting entity, so that might be where this idea of yours comes from, but it bears no relation at all to actual Big Bang theory. The Big Bang theory states that all matter in the universe was at one point compressed into a singularity - a single point of immeasurably dense matter and energy, which then expanded (not exploded) - an expansion that is still continuing. Our observations of this expansion are what led scientists to the Big Bang theory. As to where the initial singularity came from, we don't know. The Big Bang theory only carries us backwards in time to a point after the inception of the universe called the "Planck Time". The theory says nothing about what happened before then.

22. If we come from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?

First, we didn't come from any monkey species alive today. We share a common ancestor with the monkeys we share the world with now, and that ancestor was probably a very monkey-like creature. Some members of that species became isolated from the others, and subject to the pressures of natural selection in their environment, developed into a different strain of monkeys. This process repeated several times until it resulted in the diverse array of simian species we see today. Evolution is not a line from one discrete species to another singular discrete species. It is a continually branching tree, with subsets of populations continually developing new branches.

Second, you are a white American. Your ancestors were Europeans. If your ancestors came from Europe, why are there still Europeans?

Biased Opinions     Home

Monday, February 3, 2014

Musical Monday - Dimetrodon by The Doubleclicks

Okay, so despite my deep and abiding love for The Doubleclicks, this wasn't my first choice for this week's Musical Monday. This song, Dimetrodon, extolling the glories of the massive shark eating pre-dinosaur lizards, would have been a Musical Monday selection at some point, but my original plan was to have a different song right now.

At first, I wanted to use Bruno Mars' The Lazy Song, because the alternate official video features Leonard Nimoy being an irascible old coot who is simply not putting up with any crap today. But that video, while available on YouTube, is blocked for viewing on other sites.

So instead, I decided to pick the song A Little Fall of Rain from the musical Les Misérables, sung by Lea Salonga and Michael Ball as part of the 25th Anniversary "Dream Cast" concert. I saw a community theater production of the play this past weekend, and it made me think of how storytelling works, and how to signal the importance of events to the audience. But that video, also on YouTube, is also blocked for viewing on other sites.

And so I picked the Doubleclicks video for their adorable song Dimetrodon. I picked it because the song is funny and cute, but also to illustrate a larger point. And that point is this: The people who block videos from being used on other sites are really penalizing no one but themselves. If you are concerned with your music being sold, what you are looking for is exposure - the opportunity for people to hear what you have to offer and decide they want to hear more of that. This is why music is played on the radio. Recording labels aren't being altruistic and letting radio stations play that music to fill air time because they are being benevolent. They are doing it so that you, the listener, will hear the latest song and decide you really need to purchase it and listen to it whenever you want to. There is a royalty system where labels are supposed to get compensated for radio plays, but it is so screwed up that I'm not sure if anyone ever sees any money out of it.

And the videos of musical performances on YouTube serve much the same purpose. People see a Bruno Mars video, or a Lady Gaga video, or a Les Misérables video on YouTube and some decide they want to own a copy of the music they have just listened to. And to a certain extent, having a video on YouTube does meet this goal. But when you prevent the video from being embedded elsewhere, you limit the reach of your video, and limit its ability to draw in new viewers and listeners. What I think we are seeing with rights holders who make the choice to impose these limitations is the reflexive action of "old media", which seeks to exert heavy handed control over their property.

But this sort of heavy handed control deprives those rights holders of the power of the internet. On the other hand, a group like The Doubleclicks or the other internet savvy musicians such as Jonathan Coulton, Paul & Storm, Molly Lewis, and others have figured out that if they simply put the seeds out there, they will be able to grow their audience. The Doubleclicks started by simply putting their songs on YouTube. People listened to their music. Based upon this, they were able to book concerts. And then they were able to record a CD. And then another. And now Aubrey and Angela have a Kickstarter campaign going where they seem likely to meet every stretch goal they have set. By not restricting their music, they have created fans, and by creating fans, they have found success, or more to the point created success. While "old media" was foundering about trying exert elusive control, The Doubleclicks created a career for themselves by essentially making their music available for free and then letting people choose to buy it. They, and not the slowly dying record labels, are the future of the music industry.

Previous Musical Monday: Let Her Go by Passenger

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Book Blogger Hop January 31st - February 6th: Forty Is the Highest Number Ever Counted to on Sesame Street

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews asks (via Billy): When you receive new books in the mail, do the older ones get moved to the bottom of your list or do go strictly "by the book" and keep your list with older books first and then the new ones?

Although I am quite picky about a lot of things having to do with the organization of my books, this isn't one of them. My usual apathy in this area is probably substantially exacerbated by the fact that right now my books are horribly disorganized in general, mostly because I am currently living in a space that is simply far too small to reasonably accommodate my book collection. Sadly, right now a large portion of my books are boxed up and stacked against a wall in a huge floor to ceiling pile.

However, when I receive review copies of books in the mail, they get cataloged and then go onto my immediate "to read" shelf, which at this point is actually two shelves. There isn't much rhyme or reason to the arrangement of the books on these two shelves, and when I go to pick one to read, my selection is usually made on the basis of what seems interesting at the time rather than which book has been sitting there the longest. I'll get to all of the books on the shelf eventually, but it is certain that I'll read some books that I received later before some books that I received sooner.

Go to previous Book Blogger Hop: 39 Is the Atomic Number of Yttrium

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