December 25th, 2007

Loon

busy day ...

Well, Monday was pretty busy. The Girls got out of the house (to have a brief present exchange with another kid in the building) just long enough for us to get their presents out of the primary hiding place in the back bedroom (hard to sneak stuff out of in the middle of the night while they're sleeping) and into my office (much easier to conduct covert operations out of).

We then headed of to see The Golden Compass ... who knew that Nicole Kidman wanted to play Darth Vader so bad? A decent movie, but so thick with "borrowings" from other films that it seemed almost hallucinatory at times (and, geeze, couldn't they have let Sam Elliott have a shower and costume change after pulling him off the set of Ghost Rider?). Daughter #1 was shocked when the credits rolled, as there wasn't much tied up on any level in this one, although many of what I assume to be "plot events" from the source book had played out, and moved things along to the second film.

We "lucked out" in that the theater had the wrong film in the wrong theater, and had started running this early (for a minute or two) and said they couldn't re-wind it, so we just had to wait a bit (for them to move it to the right theater) and we got in for free.

Afterward, we ducked over to the Nordstrom's mall, hoping to get The Girls a shot at Santa, and some lunch. It turns out that the Nordstrom's Santa was off today, so we ate and then headed off to find a Hallmark store to let me pick up the having-so-far-eluded-me "Mischievous Kitten" ornament. After successfully finding the deeply-buried-in-an-office-complex Hallmark store (which still had four of these), The Girls were still into seeing Santa, so we headed on down into the Loop.

As we walked by "the store formerly known as Marshall Fields", The Wife suggested that we try for "The Macy's Santa", which turns out to have been inspired, as there was "almost no line" (in the way that rides at Disney might have "almost no line") and we were pleased to find that little, if anything, had changed from the days before the carpetbaggers had descended. The Santa visit completed (and the expensive, though quite good of The Girls, 5x7 portrait purchased), we headed home to start on the Xmas eve preparations.

We've been sort of "feeling our way" since my Mom died about Xmas. We have no friends or family within hundreds of miles, so it's just us. We've sort of settled in on doing home-made pizza for dinner, along with a dessert choice with a favorite of each of ours. Oh, and cookies ... have to make cookies for Santa (note to self: must eat cookies left out for Santa).

Having been going non-stop all day, The Girls cooperatively passed out. I, having been going non-stop all day slightly less cooperatively also passed out and The Wife ended up moving all the presents out under the tree rather than risk my not waking up (duh ... I'm here on the computer aren't I?) in time for the Santa Illusion to be maintained.

It's a mighty slim Xmas this year, as even though I am bringing in a paycheck, it's about 1/2 to 1/3 of "what we need", so we're still hemorrhaging money we don't really have. I just hope that the Venture Capital funds hit work soon so that my salary can move up to "where it ought to be" (I'm currently bringing home 1/5th of the median, 1/4 of the 25th percentile, for my job title in the office's zip code), before the shit currently in flight actually hits the fan. As it is, The Wife insisted that the only things she get for Xmas was stuff she'd gone out and "bought" for herself, and that ended up being with gift certificates she'd been given over the past year, so she's pretty much getting stuff "rewrapped". All I asked for was a renewed membership at the Museum of Contemporary Art, so we'll see how that plays out. It hasn't helped that her computer died a week back, and we've had to replace that.

Anyway, tomorrow is having The Girls dig into their presents, and our going out to dinner. I'm in one of those funky "I'm a failure" moods because we're economically so strapped. Yes, my current job is very cool, and very promising, but until either the V.C. money comes in or one of the major contracts we have floating around out there gets actually inked, it's all "make believe" that's paying "Secretary1" scale. We still could be "losing everything" and moving off to one of the various Siberias we took a look at in August before mid-year. I'm very scared and frustrated and sad and feeling like I'm letting everybody down.

Which is, I guess, about par for my emotional state for any given Xmas.

Ho, ho, ho ...


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Loon

Ho, ho, ho ...

OK, so the cynical out there might posit that I waited for Xmas to get around to reviewing Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, but it's really not that way. While it is true that I've had this sitting around for four weeks since I got done reading it (and have finished and reviewed several books in the interim), I really haven't been "saving it" for a seasonal broadside. No, the truth of the matter was that I was catching up on some organizational things today, and had cleared "to be read" books off of a shelf, making it ready for the last 30-40 books I've read ... as it turned out, this just made that shelf, so I was really forced to get around to writing about it.

Now, regular readers of my journal will recall that I recently posted my "angst" over this ... I really prefer not to spark "flame wars" with my reviews, but so many of my conservative readers are of a religious bent, and so many of my non-religious readers are of a leftist bent, that I can hardly avoid a certain level of ugliness, being one of those odd "anti-religion" conservative folks who can't seem to help but offend everybody.

Anyway. Don't mistake the delay in the review for not wanting to rave about The God Delusion, as I really feel that Dawkins hit a home run with this. Avoiding many of the pit-falls that I've noted in other similar books, Dawkins not only picks apart religion point-for-point, but also slogs into the standard counter-arguments relied on by the faithful. From clearly showing that Einstein was a non-believer to establishing that Hitler considered himself a "good Catholic" (despite having a great deal of disdain for religion for coddling "the weak"), many theistic straw men are torn down. Once again, I have put way too many scraps of paper in a book, which would (were I to dig out "the really good parts") make this review go on for pages and pages. I'll try to flesh out the sense of this with some key bits, but I encourage you to check out the extensive quoting for these and other points throughout the book!

Dawkins did a wonderful job with the structure of the book, at first looking at what might lie behind religion, in "A Deeply Religious Non-Believer", where he sketches out that the feeling of awe and wonder that an atheistic scientist experiences when trying to make sense of the enormity and complexity of the universe is a religious feeling, but it is not a supernatural religious feeling. One can experience the connection with "things larger than oneself" without turning off the mind and freezing one's world-view in some bronze-age mythos! He then walks through the development of religions in "The God Hypothesis", where polytheism cedes to monotheism, and how ill-based on reality nearly all manifestations of "religious doctrine" are. Dawkins then looks to the other side, presenting a chapter on "Arguments for God's Existence", and fairly easily knocks these aside, leading to "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God" where a wide array of logical, scientific, and historical evidence plays against the hypothesis of a "typical" (i.e. supernatural) God.

At this point Dawkins returns to his main area of expertise, and takes a look at "The Roots of Religion" ... why is there religion? From very early on these patterns have been with us, what good do they serve? On the way to answering these questions he moves to another... "The Roots of Morality: Why Are We Good?" ... much has been written on this topic in context of logic games such as "the prisoner's dilemma", and it come out that your average human being is reasonably "good" most of the time simply because it's a better "strategy" for a social animal. This does bring up the question of why so many "religious" people outright assume that if you do not "go to church" (especially whatever brand it is that they go to), you can not possibly be moral, with the rather ugly implication that these religion-blinded folks implicitly assume that if they did not have their regular indoctrination sessions they would be killing, raping, and pillaging. Personally, looking at places in the world where religion has a strong hand, there may be something there ... but only in the case of religious people being unleashed on their unsuspecting neighbors!

Here is where "it gets good". First Dawkins looks at "The 'Good' Book and the Changing Moral Zeitgeist" of how much "cherry picking" modern monotheists indulge in to allow themselves to tip-toe around the ugly sadistic mess that are their "holy books". In this section he also addresses the question of Hitler and Stalin and Mao, who, while arguably (or nominally) atheistic, were actually "popes" of religions of the state or religions of the Leader. In none of these cases was there the rational discourse of the scientific atheist, but the emotion-driven passion for the "in group" and devotion to a Leader or a State indistinguishable from "religion". The next chapter, "What's Wrong With Religion? Why Are We So Hostile?" looks at the predictable, unavoidable ways that religion perverts everything it touches, from "Fundamentalism and the subversion of science" (a sub-chapter heading) to "How 'moderation' in faith fosters fanaticism" (another). Where faith is, reason is not, or is in such a convoluted distortion of itself that it is slave to the dark aspects of faith. One of the darkest, is how religion systematically destroys children, this is one of Dawkins' on-going themes and in "Childhood, Abuse, and the Escape from Religion" he walks the reader through the nightmare scenario that 90% of the world accepts as "business as usual".

Frankly, at this point, I would have liked to have seen Dawkins go on a red-faced, busting blood vessels, anti-religion rant ... but wouldn't that have been the religious way of closing? Rather, he goes into "A Much Needed Gap?" which starts off dealing with the "God of the gaps" idea (basically the "if we can't explain it ... it must be GOD!" sort of twaddle) and closes with a delightful "thought experiment" called "The mother of all burkas" (another sub-heading), which points out that we, as creatures evolved in the "Middle World", the place of rocks, and trees, and clouds and predictable slow-moving "stuff" can't fully "get" the micro-cosmic or the macro-cosmic, unless we approach it from a scientific viewpoint. The religious viewpoint is viewing the whole amazing universe through that little eye-slit in the burka, and saying "this is how things are, there is nothing beyond the human-scale, so if it is, it's the work of some image of ourself that we call God" (my paraphrase, not Dawkins' words). Which really puts in context how small and pitiful the religious world-view is in relation to the awe and wonder of a scientific, atheistic approach to the universe!

Needless to say, this is one of those "Everybody Needs To Read This!!!" books. It's in your local brick-and-mortar store, but Amazon has it for more than a third off of cover. Anybody with doubts about religion (or on-going irritation with the Religious) really really ought to read The God Delusion, and those of you who still cling to your narrow-band imaginary friends, this one should open your eyes to why the rest of us think you may be dangerous, and are certainly in the grip of an unnecessary "delusion"!


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