Goodreads Profile

All my book reviews and profile can be found here.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Challenge

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Challenge:


I Love Ships! If you don't, skip this and continue to be blissful in your ignorance. A.B.C. Whipple, author of many fine books on sailing vessels, including several in the Time-Life series, has  written a terrific book about one of the more famous clipper ship voyages. The Challenge  was the name of the Flying Cloud's bitter rival in the race to be the fastest ship plying the waters. The Challenge might have broken the Flying Clouds record except for the events that make up most of this book.

It's hard for us to remember that clipper ships were essentially freighters, a strictly commercial response to the demands of the tea trade, in which huge premiums were rewarded to the owners and skippers of ships which brought in the first of each year's tea crop from China. When gold was discovered in California, a whole new commerce sprang up supplying all the items necessary to a mob of millionaires. Even though they had to travel 15,000 miles to San Francisco, the clippers could beat the wagon trains who only had to travel 3,000. (The record, held by the Flying Cloud, was 89 days.) The design of the clippers was a most happy congruence of efficiency, aesthetics, and economy. (As an aside, another extremely interesting book deals with the same mix of beauty, efficiency, and economy in civil engineering, specifically in the history of bridge building: [book:The Tower and the Bridge|32334] by David P. Billington --I recommend this book very highly.)

In the "race," the Flying Cloud's passage, although marred by a partial dismasting and attempts at sabotage by panicky crew members, was a record breaker. The Challenge's was a disaster, ending in a near lynching of the skipper and mate and prolonged court trials of officers and crew. Yet what happened aboard the two ships was not unique, as Whipple's careful research shows. Vile and brutal conditions for the forecastle hands were part of the price for all that speed and beauty.

The author's talent for informative digression provides some of the book's most engaging chapters. Not only can he explain the developments in ship design that gave the clippers their speed, but he is also able to bring home, in landsman/s terms some of the terrifying demands of such a vessel: for example, working on the highest yardarm was like being "perched on the windowsill of a 23 story building during an earthquake." This is a fascinating book.


'via Blog this'

My response to proposals for YA book ratings

Several months ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed piece concerned about "dirty" YA books. Periodically, there is a push for some kind of ratings system, as with movie (and we all know how well that has worked.)

Most of the comments address the practicality of a rating system yet there are several assumptions behind any rating systems that bear challenging:

1. That all individuals of a certain age respond similarly to the same stimuli;

2. That content that is offensive is harmful; and

3. That we all agree which content is harmful, i.e. sex=violence=bad words in its effect.

I suggest that each of these assumptions upon which the desire for a ratings system rests is false. My rationale for each.

1. The YA category should never have been created in the first place. YA creates a false impression of “safety” even though the age group considered YA covers vastly differing ages. There is a huge difference in maturity between a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old under the best of circumstances, yet there are some very immature 20-year-olds. YA assumes a monolithic set of assumptions about a very diverse group.

2. Does reading the f-word cause harm? (Is anyone really fooled by using f**k instead of, well, you know.) Does reading about an abortion cause harm? Does reading about a shooting cause harm? There is no evidence that it does. Are these things offensive? Perhaps, but the decision to be offended rests with each individual. I may decide not to be offended by something you consider terribly offensive. Your desire to suppress, categorize, or limit what *I* want to read or what *I* want my children to read is simply not your right.

3. Most of the ratings systems seem aimed at “foul” language and/or sex with little attention being paid to violence. That reflects a particular religious preference and you certainly have every right to control what your own children read but you should be involved with their learning anyway and stop trying to coerce others into adopting your own value system. Each parent has the responsibility to oversee his/her children’s moral development, but freaking out if your child is exposed to an antithetical value provides a learning opportunity, not one for suppression.

Cross posted in the comments at http://www.thepassivevoice.com/09/2012/ya-books-ratings-and-publisher-arrogance-shh-its-about-the/

Original Wall Street Journal piece at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303657404576357622592697038.html

Another good response at http://io9.com/5809588/why-the-wall-street-journal-is-wrong-about-young-adult-books

Friday, September 28, 2012

Amazon Asks Court to Throw Out Apple App Store Lawsuit - The Digital Reader

Amazon Asks Court to Throw Out Apple App Store Lawsuit - The Digital Reader:

 "But it seems like Apple has turned its focus from innovation to litigation lately. All these lawsuits smack of rules lawyerism—take advantage of every possible opportunity to sue a competitor and slow them down, because you can. It’s sad that this is the direction the company has taken. But at the same time, I have to admit it would be foolish in the extreme to try to pretend this isn’t the way that big business has always worked."

'via Blog this'

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Coffin Trail: A Lake District Mystery

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Coffin Trail: A Lake District Mystery:

Daniel Kind and his new girlfriend have decided to leave their jobs and move to the country, to a country house that Daniel's childhood friend had lived in. Barrie, an autistic child, had been accused of the murder of a young woman whose body had been found on an old, archaeological sacrifice stone. Barrie could never be brought to trial because he had died that same night of the murder by falling down a ravine.

Some lovely descriptive passages. One of my favorites was his homage to bookstores: He found it without difficulty, one of half a dozen small businesses grouped around a large yard. Most of the units produced and sold crafts of one sort or another: wall hangings decorated with Lakeland themes, pottery and wooden gifts, hand-made greetings cards, and teddy bears with large, beseeching eyes. The bookshop occupied a section of a converted mill, the rear of which overlooked a weir. Rain was rattling on the gravel and although Daniel ran from his car, his sweatshirt was soaked by the time he was inside. The rich aroma of Kenyan coffee blended with the smell of old books and he recognised the andante movement of Hanson’s Romantic Symphony coming from discreet speakers near the entrance. The front part of the lower floor was devoted to fiction and the rear to the cafĂ©, which spilled out on to an elevated area of decking from which on a fine day customers could sit out and watch the beck rushing by.

Some reviewers have downgraded the book because they didn't like the characters. I'm not quite sure what they might think of Jim Thompson's or the Ripley books. I don't have that perspective. I don't need to like the characters, only to find them interesting. They are here. Admittedly some of the coincidences were a bit unlikely, e.g., that DCI Hannah Scarlett should have been Daniel Kind's father's sergeant.

BTW, one of the joys of reading on a Kindle is the instant dictionary feature. I had no idea what a "beck" and a "weir" were. Respectively, they are "a brook, especially a swiftly running stream with steep banks" and "a low dam that is built across a river to raise the water level, divert the water, or control its flow." Both parochial northern England definitions. Nice words.

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin:


In high school, being a somewhat sanctimonious little shit and having become entranced by the romance of archeology, I naturally stumbled over the career of Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit whose works challenged some of the more orthodox views of the Catholic Church. He was particularly interested in the interaction and synergistic relationship of the spiritual with matter. Reviewers of other books about Teilhard have suggested it was his interest in evolution that pissed off the church; I think it was his forays into theology that resulted in his several exiles.

While fascinating, this overly hagiographic biography stumbles frequently into adoration. The author — founding member of the Teilhard Centre in London — is a woman, perhaps significant, given the importance of several women to Pere Teilhard during his life. With Lucile, for example, he conducted a twenty-year correspondence that reflected his desire to help her spiritually, yet “at another level these most personal, most intimate letters speak of a depth and intensity of love as never before in Teilhard’s life.”  Hmmmm. Lucile for her part, “longed for a fuller giving, a complete union, not only spiritual love and friendship. . .” Teilhard’s letters in response to her longing suggest he never succumbed. Well, maybe.

As a child growing up in the Auvergne, he had always sought treasures “that were incorruptible and would last.” He remembered years later being devastated when his mother threw some curls she had cut of his hair into the fire, and he saw them consumed. He had learned he was perishable. He began collecting things he thought would last — rocks replacing metal when he saw how iron would rust away.

This epiphany led to a lifelong passion for fossils. It’s the more striking then that the war would not affect him more. . . In fact, his war essays contained the seeds of most of his more fully ideas that came later. They did seek a reinterpretation of Christianity, “the need for a new image of God, the quest for a practically engaged spirituality appropriate to the needs of a contemporary world.” His vision of mankind as one, “sharing a common origin and destiny in spite of all its diversity and diversions.”

His vision of mankind as universal and one was a pervasive strain running through his thought and writings. That his writing was continually suppressed and prevented from being published by his Catholic superiors understandable but troubling to one who sees no
need for orthodoxy. (More evidence of the hagiographic nature of the book is that the Index does not appear in the book’s index, despite its mention in several places.)

I have often been accused of an optimistic outlook on things, indeed, making candy out of excrement, so to speak, but Teilhard makes me look like a piker. In China, doing fossil research, amidst the Japanese atrocities in China and seeing extraordinary extremes of hunger and
poverty, he managed to “maintain such an attitude of hope and deep belief in the future of humanity.”

[book:The Phenomenon of Man|232567], perhaps his summative work, was finished after his return to China in 1940 following a sojourn in France and America. In it he attempts to answer the question of the  significance “of the human being within the vast cosmic process of evolution.” A copy finally made its way to Rome in 1945, and he was disappointed to hear that permission to publish had been withheld. The book “demonstrates how the rise of evolution is an immense movement through time from the development of the atom to the molecule and cell to different forms of life and to human beings with greater diversity. This movement exemplifies how the development of ever greater structural complexity leads in turn to an ever greater ‘within’ of things, and increase in consciousness and reflection.” The ultimate result of the development of a more collective human consciousness is the appearance of a “super-consciousness” and “ultra-human,” which he calls the “Omega point,” i.e., God.

Even Teilhard was not immune to doubt, and he wrote toward the end of his life: “How is it, then, that as I look around me, still dazzled by
what I have seen, I find that I am almost the only person of my kind [what did he mean by kind, here? Priest or human?:], the only one to
have seen? . . . How, most of all, can it be that ‘when I come down from the mountain’ and in spite of the glorious vision I still retain, I find that I am so little a better man, so little at peace, so incapable of expressing my actions, and thus adequately communicating to others, the wonderful unity that I feel encompassing me? Is there, in fact, a Universal Christ, is there a Divine Milieu? Or am I, after all, simply the dupe of a mirage in my own mind? I often ask myself that question.”  To which I might respond, does it really matter?

Teilhard was a fascinating man who was clearly dedicated to his beliefs and the Church. Despite the book's adulatory nature, one senses the inner turmoil and struggle faced by Teilhard as he sought to make sense out of the universe.

'via Blog this'

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Buried Prey

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Buried Prey:

Finally Sandford returns to the focus on investigation which he does well. While late in the series, this book takes us back to Davenport's very early days as a cop, and it's one of the better books, since the emphasis is on investigation.

While a block of old buildings is being torn down as part of a redevelopment project, the skeletons of two girls are dug up while working on the foundation for a new building. That triggers Davenport's memory back many years before, when he was a uniform cop, two young girls disappeared. Driven to both find evidence of the girls and to track down the "perp" and to get noticed by the brass so he can get out of uniform, Lucas works 24/7 chasing down every possible lead, but they consistently run up against dead ends. And the girls are never found. The one major suspect is tracked down, but - well you'll have to find out for yourself which suspect I reference.

Fast forward to the present and the skeletons, Lucas, despite that it's a Minneapolis Police case, with renewed energy, starts his own re-investigation. It's the hunt that provides interest for me and the killer in Buried Prey is especially devious which makes the chase that much more interesting. It's when Sandford starts in on the peripheral personal relationships that I have difficulty controlling my snooze control and anti-barf mechanisms. But then Richard Ferrone's narration brings it back.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Sokal-style hoax by an anti-religious philosopher « Why Evolution Is True

A Sokal-style hoax by an anti-religious philosopher « Why Evolution Is True:

"By the way, I thought you might find this funny. I wrote a spoof abstract full of theological gibberish (Sokal-style) and submitted it to two theology conferences, both of which accepted it right away. It got into the proceedings of the Reformational Philosophy conference. See Robert A. Maundy (an anagram of my name) on p. 22 of the program proceedings".


The original Sokal hoax waswonderful and you can find all the details here.

'via Blog this'

Monday, September 24, 2012

Elizabeth Samet Reviews Kevin Powers's "The Yellow Birds" | The New Republic

Elizabeth Samet Reviews Kevin Powers's "The Yellow Birds" | The New Republic:

 "The book disclosed to me a lie at the heart of popular representations of war: what Wilfred Owen, in his anthemic World War I poem called “the old lie.” No one who had witnessed the death of a soldier poisoned by gas, insisted Owen, could ever again say to glory-seeking children: “Dulce et decorum est/ pro patria mori”—it is sweet and beautiful to die for one’s country. The Latin lines comes from Horace, whom Owen uses as something of a straw man; the Roman poet’s thoughts on dying for one’s country were rather more complicated. But the mendacity of war was no secret to Horace or, for that matter, to Homer. Listen carefully to Achilles in Iliad 9, as translated by Robert Fagles: “The same honor waits/ for the coward and the brave.” The dissonant counter-narrative of war is as old as the old lie itself. But only after the unprecedented horrors of World War I did exposing the old lie become the central project of Anglophone war literature."

'via Blog this'

Geoffrey Kabaservice Reviews Joseph Crespino's "Strom Thurmond's America" | The New Republic

Geoffrey Kabaservice Reviews Joseph Crespino's "Strom Thurmond's America" | The New Republic:

Quote: "As Joseph Crespino’s new biography makes clear, Thurmond lacked the integrity even of his own publicly proclaimed racism. As the Dixiecrats’ presidential candidate in 1948, Thurmond demagogically declared that the entire U.S. Army couldn’t force white southerners to “admit the nigger race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” But two decades earlier he had fathered an illegitimate daughter with his family’s African American servant. Thurmond maintained warm relations with his daughter, Essie Mae, even while building his political career on claims of black inferiority and condemnation of miscegenation. He kept his daughter a secret until his death at age one hundred in 2003."

'via Blog this'

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Hitler's Pope

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Hitler's Pope:


The beatification process has begun to  make Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) a saint. Aside  from whatever we might think about how saints  are created by the church as an institution, I  suspect everyone would agree that any saint  should have a reasonably spotless reputation.

John Henry Newman, a famous British convert  to Catholicism in the eighteenth century,  once wrote that “It is not good for a Pope to live  twenty years. It is an anomaly and bears no  good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to  contradict him, does not know facts, and does  cruel things without meaning it.” The papacy  alters a man’s consciousness. He becomes a  solitary individual. Paul VI recognized this solitude  and penned a note to himself that described  this loneliness and power, “assume  every responsibility for guiding others, even  when it seems illogical and perhaps absurd.  And to suffer alone. . . Me and God.”

Cornwell, aware of the rumors surrounding  Pius’s actions during WWII with regard to the Jewish  problem in Germany, decided to do the definitive  research into these accusations. He was given  unprecedented access to Vatican files. He was  sure that Pius would be vindicated. What he discovered  surprised and saddened him. The secret  files revealed a man obsessed with power who maneuvered  with Hitler and the German Catholic  Church in such a way that helped to bring Hitler to  power.  It’s important to remember that the papacy as  we know it today is very different from that which  preceded the nineteenth century. It is an invention.  Prior to the rise of almost instant world-wide communication,  power was distributed through great  councils and a hierarchy that left much discretion to  local control. It was “more a final court of appeal  than a uniquely initiating autocracy.”

Pacelli played  a key role in strengthening the central authority of  the papacy. This was in part a reaction to the oppression  the Catholic Church had suffered at the  hands of the state in the early nineteenth century.  There was also a struggle between those who  urged more central authority for the pope and  those who were anxious to decentralize and distribute  more authority to the bishops. The centralists  won at the First Vatican Council of 1870 when the  pope was declared “infallible” in matters of faith  and morals and the undisputed leader of the  church. Pacelli, as a Vatican lawyer, played a substantial  role in redrafting the Church’s laws in such  a way as to grant future popes “unchallenged  domination.” The Code of Canon Law was initiated  in 1917 and distributed to Catholic clergy.  Pacelli received special dispensation to study at  home for his seminary training. Ostensibly, this  was because of his nervous stomach’s inability to  handle seminary food. Whatever the case, the influence  of his mother remained very strong.

Following his ordination, he began work on his  doctorate, studying with the Jesuits. This was at  the time of the Dreyfus trials in France, and—  despite his subsequent pardon and evidence of innocence—Jesuit publications continued to  warn of the dangers of Jews: “wherever Jews  had been granted citizenship the outcome had  been the ruination of Christians.” Anti-Semitism  had a long history in the Catholic Church, and it  was the sixteenth century pope Paul IV who instituted  the ghetto and required Jews to wear a  distinctive yellow badge.

In the 1920s, Germany had one of the largest  — and best-educated — Catholic populations  in the world. As papal nuncio, it was  Pacelli’s role to create a pact between the German  state and the Church, a pact resisted by  Protestants and many Catholics who believed  his vision was too authoritarian.  Pacelli remained pro-German all his life. He  failed to publicly condemn any of the mass killings  the Germans had begun. Even the slaughter  of Catholic priests in Poland and the handicapped  under the euthanasia program were  never condemned.  Cornwell shows that Pacelli was Hitler’s best  ally. Despite appeals from many, including  some top German commanders in Italy, he refused  to condemn Hitler’s acts, self-righteously  concluding that Hitler was preferable to Stalin  since Hitler was willing to pay lip service to  Christianity. In return, Pius XII received full  control of the Church in Germany. Cornwell  documents how Pacelli had been fully informed  of the “persecution unleashed against the Jews  at the very point when he was to enter into substantive  negotiations for a concordat with its perpetrators.”  Hitler even justified the concordat by  suggesting that it would be “especially significant  in the urgent struggle against international  Jewry.”

It is unclear whether Pacelli understood the  wider implications of his diplomatic maneuvers  that led to Hitler’s supremacy, but he supported  Hitler to the very end, sending Hitler his personal  congratulations following the unsuccessful  bomb assassination attempt in 1939. His failure  to condemn the persecution of the Jews rendered  Hitler invaluable aid.  Cornwell’s ultimate judgment of Pacelli is that  his life was a “fatal combination of high spiritual  aspirations in conflict with soaring ambitions for  power and control. . . not a portrait of evil but of  fatal moral dislocation – a separation of authority  from Christian love. The consequences of that  rupture were collusion with tyranny and ultimately  violence.”

Anti-Semitism alone does not  explain Pacelli’s silence, although clearly he regarded  the Jews as a contemporary as well as  ancient enemy of his church. He placed papal  power and the accumulation of even more  power to the papacy as the highest value.  Cornwell answers in the affirmative to the question  he poses, “Was there something in the  modern ideology of papal power that encouraged  the Holy See to acquiesce in the face of  Hitler’s evil, rather than oppose it?”

The move to beatify Pius XII should come to a  screeching halt. The sanctification of someone  whose moral authority has been documented to  be considerably less than holy would render the  entire concept of sainthood as meaningless if  not foolish – if it isn’t already. If Pius were to be  beatified, his policies would be confirmed,  “endorsing the modern ideology of papal power  and justifying Pacelli’s wartime record.”


'via Blog this'

The drugs don't work: a modern medical scandal | Ben Goldacre | Business | The Guardian

The drugs don't work: a modern medical scandal | Ben Goldacre | Business | The Guardian:

 "Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials throw up results that companies don't like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug's true effects. Regulators see most of the trial data, but only from early on in a drug's life, and even then they don't give this data to doctors or patients, or even to other parts of government. This distorted evidence is then communicated and applied in a distorted fashion."

'via Blog this'

Friday, September 21, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Midnight Sin

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Midnight Sin:


A very interesting police procedural with some minor flaws that, for me, did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. It follows the experiences of Hollins, a rookie cop, in a mythical suburb of Kansas City.  Hollings' first test involves a gas station holdup where Burkitt, a rather self-absorbed cop who wants nothing more than to be a detective, arrives first on the scene, followed by Hollings and Thompson, his training officer.  What happens next is the subject of an IAD investigation but Hollins and Thompson are shot, not badly wounded,  Thompson shoots the perp in the ass,  Burkitt shoots out an exit sign, but all exit seemingly unscathed.  Then a series of rapes occur, Hollings gets suckered into doing some things he shouldn't, and IA starts to look into several things.  And watch out for the three Bees.  "Yeah, that happens.  But a young, smart kid like you won't be on patrol very long.  Keep out of trouble and you'll move up the ranks real fast.  Just watch out for those three B’s." "Three bees?” "Yeah, booze, broads and bucks.  If you get into a bind in any one of those, you get all fucked up.  Almost any time a cop's career got ruined, it was over one of those things."  And especially Bullet Brenda.

Reminiscent of early Wambaugh, although I found the POV shifts from third to first person jarring.  That and occasional missteps like the following: "face of innocence just wreaked  [sic] of being a cop. "  I also found the ending quite unsatisfactory, but if it's the first book in a possible series, excusable, I suppose.

Nevertheless, if you like gritty, authentic cop stories, this is a good one.


'via Blog this'

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?:

I love books like this:  they challenge the mind and lead to great discussions.

Michael Sandel teaches a very popular course at Harvard entitled “Justice.”  It’s available in video through the iTunes University (a phenomenal resource, I might add.) Sandel uses a series of hypothetical situations to focus the class on the different ways philosophers would have analyzed and puzzled out solutions to the problems raised in the hypotheticals.  (This somewhat Socratic method is also used very effectively in several magnificent series created by Fred Friendly:  The Constitution: That Delicate Balance  and Ethics in America I & II - both available for free and I cannot recommend them too highly.)*

Sandel, reprises some of the major themes of that course in this fascinating book. I listened to this book as an audiobook and it’s read by Sandel who does an excellent narration.  He again begins by posing several moral dilemmas and uses those as jumping off points for a discussion of the three philosophical theories and asking how they might help us decide what constitutes justice: that which provides the maximum good to the largest possible number of people; individual freedoms as opposed to collective virtues; or that which promotes the development of harmonious communities.

One example of a moral dilemma is taken from a true story.  A platoon sergeant in Afghanistan was behind Taliban lines with three other soldiers on patrol when they came across two goat herders with their flock.  Knowing that if they released the goat herders their position might be revealed they had to make a decision: whether to kill the goat herders and possibly save themselves, or whether to let them go and assume they were innocent civilians. They had no way to simply disable the man and boy and leave them. The sergeant polled his men and the vote was to kill them, but, examining his “Christian conscience” the sergeant decided to let them live. They were later ambushed by the Taliban and all of his men were killed and he barely escaped having been severely injured. In fact the rescue chopper sent to rescue them was shot down killing those on board. The sergeant later said he had made the wrong decision and should have killed the goat herders. Thank goodness I have never been faced with such a dilemma.

A really intriguing case was that of how we view our bodies. The Libertarian argues we own our bodies and therefore can do whatever we want with them.  Can we then sell our body parts? Let’s envision the poor Indian who desperately wants to send his children to college.  He sells one kidney.  Problems yet?  Now along comes a second child and the man is willing to sell his second kidney for his child even knowing that he cannot survive. How many of us would approve of his decision? Is he despicable? or a hero?  So if he is despciable, how about the man who throws himself in front of the train to push his child out of the way who wandered on to the tracks.  I suspect most people would consider him a hero, yet he is deliberately sacrificing his life for that of the child?  How is that different from the Indian?  A real case involved a prisoner in the Califonia prison system (http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Prison-Dad-s-Kidney-Plea-Refused-by-UC-Ethicists-2952021.php) who wanted to donate his remaining kidney to his daughter (the first donation had failed to take.)  How is his willingness to self-sacrifice his life for his child different from the fellow with the fellow who saves his daughter from the train? The UC Ethics board denied his request.  So does their decision mean that the state owns his body and can determine what to do with it?  And what if a pregnant woman decided to sell (does it make a difference if it’s a donation as opposed to a sale?) her fetus? What are the rights of the state?

Sandel uses the last couple of chapters to state his own preference of what constitutes Justice. I found these the least interesting of the book.  The best part if his weaving of the hypotheticals with a deep understanding of the historical and philosophical viewpoints.

Listening to this book, I was reminded of a talk I heard given by Rushworth Kidder whose point was that deciding between good and evil is easy;  the hard decisions are those that require choosing between two goods each of which may have a different outcome.

My wife and I listened to this book on a trip and the dilemmas posed some very lively discussions.


* http://www.learner.org/resources/series72.html and http://www.learner.org/resources/series81.html


'via Blog this'

Monday, September 17, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion:


"This book is about why it’s so hard for us to get along. We are indeed all stuck here for a while, so let’s at least do what we can to understand why we are so easily divided into hostile groups, . . Politics and religion are both expressions of our underlying moral psychology, and an understanding of that psychology can help to bring people together. My goal in this book is to drain some of the heat, anger, and divisiveness out of these topics and replace them with awe, wonder, and curiosity. We are downright lucky that we evolved this complex moral psychology that allowed our species to burst out of the forests and savannas and into the delights, comforts, and extraordinary peacefulness of modern societies in just a few thousand years. . . I want to show you that an obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition. It is a feature of our evolutionary design, not a bug or error that crept into minds that would otherwise be objective and rational."

I hardly feel qualified to make any kind of judgments on this book having little background in philosophy, especially moral philosophy, so I especially appreciate Haidt's lucid summary of the development of moral philosophy through examples and hypotheticals.

I remember several years ago having a visit from the local anti-abortion denizens, nice people, very concerned about youth, etc. They steered the conversation to abortion, their favorite topic.  Being of a liberal and hopefully rational and reasoned mindset myself, I described a book I had recently read,[book:The Facts of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy|672216] by Harold J. Morowitz, James Trefil, a small, excellent analysis of  the abortion debate that contains a plea for looking at the issue rationally.  I described their suggestion that we need to decide what constitutes "human" and then see when the fetus acquires the capability (cerebral cortex) to be human, etc. etc.  To which the response was, "well, I don't believe that."   All debate and discussions ceases when that statement arrives.  Now, I could have said, well, you old biddy, I don't give a fuck what you believe, I'm trying to find some common ground here."  But, my mother having raised me as a good little boy who is always polite to old people, I merely sat there rather stunned.   That's the problem.  How do you create a discussion of issues when either side can just say, well, I don't believe that.

This is not just a conservative or right-wing problem.  Try having a rational or reasonable discussion about the merits of circumcision, climate. autism, raw milk or veganism.  I guarantee the true believers will immediately assemble with truckloads of vitriol.  We all suffer from what Haidt calls "confirmation bias," that is, our gut tells us what to believe first and then we seek out justifications for that belief.

Haidt's book reaffirms what has become fairly obvious: we divide ourselves into tribes and those tribes  consist of like-minded people which we use to validate our intuitive predispositions.  His stated goal is to attempt to find a way to bridge the divide between two different moral world views., and to find a way for each side to at least understand the other's perspective.

Both left and right  are motivated by the moral foundations of care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity.  But they differ qualitatively:  liberals tend to care more about suffering and violence; conservatives  care about harm done to others but not as intensely. Conservatives, on the other hand, place more emphasis on fairness, i.e. getting what you deserve. Both sides value liberty but have differing definition as to what constitutes the oppressor.

The biggest divisions relate to  sanctity, authority and loyalty.  You can easily guess where the preferences of conservatives and liberals lie.  Haidt suggests that  liberals will fail to gain wider acceptance until they come to terms with those three moral values and find someway to create their own vocabulary validating them.  I would add that liberals will have to be more accepting of groups, particularly religious ones (as much as I despise them,) which serve an evolutionary need to discount selfishness and promote group adherence and benefits.

To some extent that's why I am so puzzled by the right's celebration of Ayn Rand who promoted the antithesis of group-think by celebrating independence and selfishness, i.e. think of yourself first and what benefits accrue to yourself through your actions.  She hated coercion both governmental and religious, in particular, yet both encourage group adherence and loyalty.

I just wonder how much of what Haidt says come from his intuitive side (the elephant) and how much from the rational or reasoning part (the rider.)

Here's a quote that struck me:  "And why do so many Westerners, even secular ones, continue to see choices about food and sex as being heavily loaded with moral significance? Liberals sometimes say that religious conservatives are sexual prudes for whom anything other than missionary-position intercourse within marriage is a sin. But conservatives can just as well make fun of liberal struggles to choose a balanced breakfast—balanced among moral concerns about free-range eggs, fair-trade coffee, naturalness, and a variety of toxins, some of which (such as genetically modified corn and soybeans) pose a greater threat spiritually than biologically."


'via Blog this'

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Injustice For All

This has potential to be a good story, a real page turner that suffered from multiple shifts in time sequences and characters. Joe Dillard is a former defense attorney turned prosecutor. When his friend commits suicide because of some ill treatment by a local judge, everything begins to unravel as the friend's son is sought for the murder and Dillard's boss asks him to file charges that Dillard considers unethical. Oh yes, he's also haunted by the execution of an innocent client. And, oh yes, his wife has breast cancer, but his son is a great baseball player who, of course, gets good grades. Corrupt sherriffs, but a really good one, too. Lots of problems with this book: a facile ending, too many side-trips, shifting POV's, tense changes, too predictable, etc. And yet the story pulled me along. Probably be a great, if somewhat frustrating, airplane book. This this review is disjointed? Read the book. And I swear that animal on the cover looks like a sealion.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Groklaw - Apple v Samsung Foreman Gets More Things Wrong ~pj

Groklaw - Apple v Samsung Foreman Gets More Things Wrong ~pj:

'via Blog this'

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion:


Here's a quote that struck me:  "And why do so many Westerners, even secular ones, continue to see choices about food and sex as being heavily loaded with moral significance? Liberals sometimes say that religious conservatives are sexual prudes for whom anything other than missionary-position intercourse within marriage is a sin. But conservatives can just as well make fun of liberal struggles to choose a balanced breakfast—balanced among moral concerns about free-range eggs, fair-trade coffee, naturalness, and a variety of toxins, some of which (such as genetically modified corn and soybeans) pose a greater threat spiritually than biologically."  and another:

"This book is about why it’s so hard for us to get along. We are indeed all stuck here for a while, so let’s at least do what we can to understand why we are so easily divided into hostile groups, . . Politics and religion are both expressions of our underlying moral psychology, and an understanding of that psychology can help to bring people together. My goal in this book is to drain some of the heat, anger, and divisiveness out of these topics and replace them with awe, wonder, and curiosity. We are downright lucky that we evolved this complex moral psychology that allowed our species to burst out of the forests and savannas and into the delights, comforts, and extraordinary peacefulness of modern societies in just a few thousand years. . . I want to show you that an obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition. It is a feature of our evolutionary design, not a bug or error that crept into minds that would otherwise be objective and rational."


'via Blog this'

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Phenomenon of Teilhard

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Phenomenon of Teilhard:


N.B. This is not really a book but a series of interviews with people about Teilhard's work.

I had more than a passing interest in Teilhard de Chardin when I was in high school in Switzerland and tried reading some of his stuff in French. I suspect I was more taken with the controversy between his writings, which were for a while placed on the Index, and the Catholic Church.  The formal condemnation occurred in 1962 just as I was entering high school:

"The above-mentioned works abound in such ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, as to offend Catholic doctrine... For this reason, the most eminent and most revered Fathers of the Holy Office exhort all Ordinaries as well as the superiors of Religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities, effectively to protect the minds, particularly of the youth, against the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers". (^ Warning Considering the Writings of Father Teilhard de Chardin, Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, June 30, 1962.)

One might argue that the antipathy of the Church is what made Teilhard famous and of interest.  Certainly that was true in my case, and I suspect many other. Teilhard was trained as a paleontologist and priest who struggled with the interaction of faith and science. He came to believe that evolution was a straight line with the endpoint, or Omega, as being God. “The end of the world: the overthrow of equilibrium, detaching the mind, fulfilled at last, from its material matrix, so that it will henceforth rest with all its weight on God-Omega.” (The Phenomenon of Man) Unfortunately, we now know a great deal more about evolution and understand its way-points, dead-ends, fits and starts, and branches.  He also became embroiled in the infamous Piltdown Man scandal.

The idea of the Omega Point is interesting in light of Watson (the IBM supercomputer) and Ray Kurzweil’s concept of the singularity. Now that I’m older, I still have a lot of respect for Teilhard’s scientific work and his attempts to reconcile what he learned in science with what he had been taught as a Jesuit. Regretfully, most of  resolves into just wishful thinking.  Teilhard’s search for a unifying theory  (reconciling the material and the spiritual) echoes that of many others. I fear (not really a fear since I find it quite satisfying) that ultimately we will discover we are nothing more than chance random associations of molecules.

What’s interesting about his thought is the preeminence of evolution and its importance in the progression of man to the Omega Point. a linear progression toward complexity and greater consciousness, humans become responsible for evolutionary progress and continuity (interesting given his experiences in WW I.)   To reach our mature form requires a self-reflection and understanding of our evolution and consciousness. Matter was not an inert substance to be manipulated but has a “luminous” quality that’s important to the unification, the ultimate singularity which is God.   Nonsense, but interesting from the point of view of idea evolution.

This a a short audiotape that presents a commentary on Teilhard’s life and beliefs.   I have it as an mp3 file if anyone wants a copy, I could mail a CD.

My review of his biography is at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/37583277.

Also reading[book:The Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution, and the Search for Peking Man|208930]


'via Blog this'

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864:


In November, 1864, Colonel John Milton Chivington, also known as the "Fighting Parson" (he would often appear in the pulpit wearing two guns,) led several hundred regular and irregular (I doubt if prunes would have helped) Colorado army troops down on an Indian village at Sand Creek. Hundreds of Indian women and children were killed and mutilated. Ironically, the village was flying the American flag. Duane Schultz describes why the village was flying the American flag and the aftermath of the massacre in Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre. November 1864.

In 1851, the Treaty of Horse Creek had ceded land to various tribes. In return, the Indians, mostly Cheyenne and Arapaho, agreed not to attack whites crossing their land. The U.S. agreed to pay$50,000 a year for 50 years. (This was later changed to 10 years without informing the tribes.) Concurrently, Denver was about to undergo an enormous boom during the winter of 1858-59 when gold was discovered in the hills. Almost overnight it increased in size to some 6,000, adding buildings wherever possible. One Indian walked into the first newspaper building and announced how impressed he was with the presses but could not understand why anyone would build in a creek bed. He raised his hand over his head showing how deep the water could rise. No one paid attention until the next year when the snow pack melted and the presses were finally located several miles downstream. The enormous population increases meant expanded stagecoach traffic. Indians would occasionally accompany the stages as they bumped along at ten mph with 9 passengers inside and perhaps 7 on top. There was a great deal of hatred for the Indians.

     Chivington was a rather complex character. Viciously antislavery, he was once threatened with tar and feathering unless he stopped his pro-abolition sermons. The next Sunday he placed two pistols on the pulpit and proceeded to lash out at the pro-slavery forces in the congregation. He received no further threats. Denver was only 250 miles from Texas so when the Civil War broke out the national government raised 15,000 troops to protect Colorado (and its gold.) The threat from Texas failed to materialize. Chivington meanwhile had risen to the rank of Colonel and distinguished himself in battle becoming a bonafide hero. It became necessary for Governor Evans (the founder of Northwestern University) to justify payment of all those troops. He desperately needed a war. The local Cheyenne, Arapaho and Cherokee refused to cooperate despite numerous treaty violations by the government. Then came the Sioux uprising in New Ulm, Minnesota. Out of fear, soldiers and whites began shooting Indians on sight. The regular army was not eager for war and wrote several reports detailing how war could be avoided. In fact, Major Edward Wynkoop, at considerable risk to himself and his men, negotiated with the Arapaho and Cheyenne. He promised them a safe conduct to Denver. When he and the chiefs arrived he was shocked to learn that Evans refused to meet and would not discuss peace terms. Evans still had to justify to Washington the large army force he insisted he needed. Wynkoop was relieved of command and Evans told the Indians if they removed themselves to Sand Creek and Smoky Hill they would not be attacked.

     Chivington remarked on the day before the attack that "I long to be wading in gore." He was granted his wish. His 700 troops surprised the camp at sunrise and shot every Indian in sight including those walking toward the troops with their hands in the air. All semblance of order was lost and most of his few casualties were from friendly fire. He and his soldiers took scalps and mutilated the bodies. It was this action more than anything that resulted in his downfall. The Senate found his conduct reprehensible and he even lost the support of the Denver crowd when it was learned he had conspired to kill one of the officers who testified against him. The Indians, of course, lost all faith in anything they were told, and the Cheyenne moved north to combine with the Sioux where they were to meet another self-righteous colonel with somewhat different results at Little Big Horn. Ironically Chivington's wife and son were killed by a marauding Indian war party several years later. He had been forced out of the army and had started a freight line which would have prospered had it not suffered from attacks by unfriendly Indians.


'via Blog this'