August 29th, 2007


Still getting caught up ...

Of course, there is no "catching up" is there?

I had a meeting down at the CTC today with a new job coach. The Wife has become very negative about that whole process of late, but what am I going to do? I still need to get a job, be it here or (as has recently been suggested) in Anchorage, AK, so I figure I need to keep things rolling. I have another meeting with yet another new job coach (the two coaches that I had been working with over the past year have pretty much faded away, so I'm re-starting at this late date with new ones) this afternoon.

As previously noted, I made an effort while on the road to keep up with my LJFL, and succeeded in coming back to only a page or two of posts to read. However, neglecting my groups over in LibraryThing's "talk" thing ... with nearly 70 threads having new posts, and some of those threads managing to have accumulated over a hundred new posts in my absence. I have spent several intensive sessions over there trying to get caught up, but it's beginning to seem hopeless at this point!


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How odd ...

After getting hundreds of bounced spam featuring my domain forged into the "from" address, it just stopped. I guess the spammers in question have their machines set to use these for a day or so and then move on to the next. I'm glad it stopped ... wished it hadn't happened in the first place (I have heard from a couple of people that my mail was bouncing for a while there).

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Arrgh ... so behind on these!

Those who follow my regular blog (as opposed to my book review blog), know that I have been in a bit of chaos lately, and was on the road, etc. for most of the past two weeks. I brought along 2 books that I was half done with and another to start when those were finished, and I am definitely feeling the pressing weight of having 3 unwritten reviews hanging over my head at this point!

Richard Dawkins' A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love was the first one of these I got through (finishing it on 8/16 in Billings, MT). This was my second of Dawkins' books, and it took me a while to "get into the flow" of this being a collection of 30-some articles, papers, letters, and presentations he'd written over the years, generally cobbled together into thematic sections (although not specifically those themes enumerated in the sub-title).

In many ways, A Devil's Chaplain reminded me of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. It is largely a defense of science against "fuzzy thinking", especially as manifested by religion, although it also has a lot of side-issue stuff in it as well. Collections like this can be superb (being the best of the minor works of an author, collected and arranged into a coherent whole), but are more often flawed by organization, selection, and editorial laxness. Unfortunately, this is on the majority side of that equation, bogged down a bit with paeans to fallen comrades and similar diversions.

The meat of this book, however, is the part dealing with religion. Back in the 1970's Dawkins coined the term "meme" and in this he postulates that religion is a disease spread on a memetic level; in the introduction to his "The Infected Mind" section he writes:
To describe religions as mind viruses is sometimes interpreted as contemptuous or even hostile. It is both. I am often asked why I am so hostile to "organized religion". My first response is that I am not exactly friendly towards disorganized religion either. As a lover of truth, I am suspicious of strongly held beliefs that are unsupported by evidence: fairies, unicorns, werewolves, any of the infinite set of conceivable and unfalsifiable beliefs epitomized by Bertrand Russell's hypothetical china teapot orbiting the sun. The reason organized religion merits outright hostility is that, unlike belief in Russell's teapot, religion is powerful, influential, tax-exempt, and systematically passed on to children too young to defend themselves. Children are not compelled to spend their formative years memorizing loony books about teapots. Government-subsidized schools don't exclude children whose parents prefer the wrong shape of teapot. Teapot-believers don't stone teapot-unbelievers, teapot-apostates, teapot-heretics and teapot-blasphemers to death. Mothers don't warn their sons off marrying teapot-shiksas whose parents believe in three teapots rather than one. People who put the milk in first don't kneecap those who put the tea in first.
Brilliant. However, even this section is a bit uneven, despite the Viruses of the Mind piece being well worth the entire book. There is fascinating material dealing with his own schooling, reactions to the "usual suspects" trotted out when puzzling questions are addressed, and even an atheistic "call to arms" penned in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Needless to say, I am hoping that Dawkins' The God Delusion (which I own but have not managed to read as yet) builds upon the gems here and (by being a full book on the one topic) avoids the problems inherent in this format.

Of course, over-all, these are quibbles. I very much enjoyed the book once I made peace with its editorial structure, and would recommend it to anybody of the "freethought" bent. This is still in print, so should be available at your local brick-and-mortar book vendor, but is also at Amazon at a 22% discount, and is available from their new/used guys for about half off.

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A fun thing on L.T.!

I just stumbled over this ... it's a page over on LibraryThing that takes all other users' tags for books that you have and then makes a "tag cloud" for your library ... it's called the "Tag Mirror" and it pretty cool, especially considering I never give my collection any "thematic" tags, just ones indicating shelf location and date read!

Big fun, eh?

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Our trip ...

So, you were feeling pouty that I wasn't updating while we were on the road, huh?

Frankly, we had so many days with 6-10 hour drives that I was just too damn tired to deal with doing updates, hell, I was lucky to get a wireless signal and at least check my LJFL!

Anyway, we flew out of here on Wednesday, 8/15, rented a car in Denver, and drove up to Cheyenne, WY. We poked around Cheyenne for an hour or so, figured that there really "wasn't much there there" and headed on. That first day was a bitch, as we didn't get in to Billings, MT until around 2am. On Thursday, 8/16, we toured around Billings (where my aunt and uncle lived when I was a kid), and stayed there that night. Friday, 8/17, was one of our shortest drives, as we were visiting with an old college buddy who lives out that way, and drove down to his apple orchard, somewhat east of Yellowstone, that morning, then went up to check out Bozeman. It's really beautiful up that way, and we ended up going on a drive/hike up to this waterfall (the guy at the visitor's center said the walk was "a half mile or so", but didn't note that it was all uphill!). We stayed overnight in Livingston, MT and then went to back to Bozeman on Saturday morning (where my buddy was selling apples at the farmer's market), and headed west. The road from Bozeman to Spokane was amazing, and we made a side trip to check out Coeur D'Alene, ID on the way over the mountains. Just amazing views up there. We got into Spokane, WA on Saturday night and spent all day Sunday (8/19) touring around. We found some amazing neighborhoods there, and if there are jobs to be had, this likely is heading our list for "places to go if we have to go". Monday, 8/20, was another very long drive as we had to head south-west past Kennewick, WA to pick up I-84 heading back south-east through Oregon into Idaho again. We got in to Boise in the late evening, found a place downtown (ironically an Old Chicago) that was still serving dinner, then crawled back to the hotel. We actually took a "trolley tour" of downtown Boise on Tuesday 8/21, then piled into the car again and headed down to Salt Lake City. We met up with scottks and meredith on Wednesday 8/22, and they toured us around the various neighborhoods that Scott was recommending. We had lunch (and a bit of a tour) down at Temple Square before heading out on the long drive back towards Cheyenne and Denver (we were staying in Denver to make the logistics of a morning flight not so traumatic on Thursday morning).

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Of course (as reported previously), the trip home turned into a SNAFU-fest with our flight being only 5 minutes from landing at O'Hare when tornados forced the evacuation of the traffic control center in Elgin, then the tower at O'Hare, causing our flight to be diverted to Indianapolis, and eventually to our having yet another long drive to get home!

Anyway, The Girls got to see 8 states (if you count driving through several hours of Oregon and Indiana) in 8 days, got to visit 8 cities, and stay over in six of them. Quite a handy way to fill up a big chunk on one of those "visited" maps, eh?

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