Book Log – The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster by Bobby Henderson

This is the book adaptation of a letter written to the Kansas School Board that became an internet phenomenon. It’s pretty amusing in spots, but the joke gets old. It feels like a letter that’s been remixed into a book. (Okay, okay, I get it… your heaven has a Beer Volcano and Stripper Factory).

Overall, FSM is a delightful response to the insistence of teaching creationism alongside evolution in schools, but it probably should have stayed in letter and website form.

Somewhat related, this is an example of why I don’t let on that I’m an atheist at work…

Atheism: Reponses to “Atheists surely aren’t monsters,” @issue, Dec. 28
Brand of ‘morality’ hard to define, justify
If Sam Harris is the best apologist for atheism, then believers can rest easy. From the outset, it’s unclear why Harris believes America hates atheists when 37 percent would elect an atheist president.1
But Harris’ grossest missteps come when he justifies atheistic morality. Harris claims the Bible and Quran have nothing to offer “if a person doesn’t already understand that cruelty is wrong,” but what makes cruelty wrong absent divine disapproval? Nature is cruel. Just ask the wildebeest crossing a river full of hungry crocodiles. Cruelty often carries the day in survival of the fittest at the office, the ballot box and in society. By the time Harris suggests that “moral intuitions” are “hard-wired” into us, any rational reader should be hysterical. Perhaps, Harris could suggest who did the wiring? Harris should recall Sartre’s famous paraphrase of Dostoevsky: “If God is dead, then everything is permitted.” And so should we, if an atheist is ever on the ballot.
-ROB HARRIS, Gainesville

1 Um… because 63 percent wouldn’t?

Book Log – Aliens in America

Aliens in America by Sandra Tsing Loh

I heart Sandra. I really do. I get all sorts of excited when she does commentary on Marketplace or some other NPR thingy. She reads her stuff like Meryn Cadell (especially The Sweater) who I also love and whatever happened to her anyway1?

And I have enjoyed all of her books,this one being no exception.

Except that… well… “book” is a strong term. How about four short essays? They are funny and well-written, and an enjoyable peek into Sandra’s upbringing. But there was oh, so little of it. I hadn’t expected to add another book to the 2006 log, but this one is read almost by accident.

Ah well. Every little bit counts.

1 Well, for one she apparently has a LiveJournal, and she is now a he, or in the process of becoming one. I must reads further!

Book Log – Return From The Stars

Return From The Stars by Stanislaw Lem

The Slice of Sci Fi podcast guys gushed about Lem and specifically this novel. I believe they were discussing it in the context of Solaris, a movie adapted from another one of his novels. It sat on my Amazon wishlist for a good while, until I was able to procure it through

Translated from the original Polish, it’s a story about a space traveler’s return to earth 127 years after his departure and his efforts to adapt to the new world.

It’s pretty well written, but kind of… well… dull.

I read this by a reviewer on Amazon… This is a relatively contemplative work by Lem – he saved his blatant humor for other works… [cut] This might not be the best intro for someone new to Lem. I’d recommend his lighter writing to start with. Still, it’s a good one. At the end of the book there are blurbs about his other works, and I have to agree that the other ones sound more entertaining.

So, perhaps I’ll give him another chance.

Book Log – Can’t Wait To Get To Heaven

Can’t Wait To Get To Heaven: A Novel by Fannie Flagg

I think got this book for our beach vacation earlier this year, and as I enjoyed Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man: A Novel and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe: A Novel, I added it to my To Be Read pile.

I was not terribly engaged by the read, and given that I was engaged by her previous works, I’m curious as to why. I see three possibilities…

1) Can’t Wait just isn’t as good as her previous works.
2) I’ve changed as a person since I read the other books about 10 years ago.
3) I’ve since read The Rattlesnake Master, which is a superior work in the southern-small-town-stories genre.

I’m inclined to think it’s a combination of the above.

I can’t understand why Beaufort Cranford doesn’t enjoy the same popularity as Fannie Flagg. Maybe because nobody made a movie of his one book. Possibly because he only wrote one book. , poke him on that, won’t you? Fannie is flagging, somebody’s got to pick up the slack.

Book Log – Going Postal

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

I read this a while back. I’m not sure when, but the mass market paperback came out a year ago and it’s sitting on our bookshelf with creases and dog ears, so that coupled with a vague memory of the plot makes me think I’ve read it. But I didn’t see it on the Book Log when I went looking for it a moment ago, so here it is.

I think I enjoyed it. Why not? It’s a Discworld novel.

Book Log – Thud!

Thud! by Terry Pratchett

This is another in the wacky Discworld series. Why can’t dwarves and trolls just get along?

Like M&Ms, this is very much like the last one I ate. Sugary, enjoyable, but I wouldn’t want to live on them.


On the To Be Read pile:

*The Ancestor’s Tale: A pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins
*Darwin’s Children by Greg Bear
*Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared M. Diamond
*Can’t Wait To Get To Heaven by Fannie Flagg
*Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
*Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
*A whole slew of Janet Evanovich books given to for early Xmas.

Book Log – Shiksa Goddess

Shiksa Goddess (or, How I Spent My Forties) by Wendy Wasserstein.

This book was recommended by one of the Motley Fool folks on their Eclectic Library discussion board. Non-fictional Essays are more or less my favorite type of book, so I was sold.

I’ve never seen a Wasserstein work on stage, nor do I think I’ve read any. In fact, before I read this book I knew two things about her: 1) She was a somewhat famous playwright and b) She died in January 2006.

While the essays were well written, nothing in there jumped out at me as amazing. Some stories are sad, some amusing. There was somewhat of a black cloud over the reading, as her sister died young and she is writing about how her mother was terribly concerned about Wendy’s health. Here I am, knowing she would be dead 5 years later (at the way too young age of 55), so even her optimistic essays get a tinge of unintentional melancholy.

She seems a nice lady and in fact writes an entire essay about her own niceness, and how she often uses it to her advantage. The one essay that made me think a bit was about gov’t funding of the arts (Wendy was for it, and I remain on the fence). So, since she got me to think a bit, I’ll call the book a win.

Book Log – NeverWhere

NeverWhere by Neil Gaiman

Brefly, an unremarkable London man with a mediocre life falls between the cracks of society for a while to join a quest in the magical London Below.

Skimming his bibliography on WikiPedia, I see I have read Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, The Sandman, Don’t Panic: The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion, American Gods and, I’m assuming here, some text he wrote for SimCity 2000.

I originally bought NeverWhere for my brother’s birthday present back in August, but turned out he already had it. So, I put it on my To Be Read pile, and sent him the Serenity essay book as a replacement.

So, I’ve read it, but like most of his books, I end up thinking, “Well. That was that.” I expect that this book will have no lasting impact on my life or worldview, but it was a fine distraction for a couple hours, much like Terry Pratchett’s stuff (whom he cowrote Good Omens with). It gave me something to read on a recent night when I couldn’t get back to sleep after Steakette had woken us up. So, there’s that.

Probably, I should have bought a copy of the Serenity essays for myself.

Book Log – Black Box Voting

Black Box Voting by Bev Harris with David Allen.

I’m not sure where to start with this one, except to say I felt a twinge of pointlessness when I cast my vote this morning on a Diebold touchscreen voting machine.

Ms. Harris paints a very bleak picture; some of it is making mountains out of molehills, but by and large she has done some important investigative reporting regarding the potential for chicanery in our modern voting system. Her central point, that we need a voting system that can be independently verified without specialized computer knowledge (basically, a paper version of the ballot as backup), is absolutely correct.

On a personally disturbing note, one chapter deals with the questionable ownership of voting machine companies. In particular, Peter Kiewit Sons, Inc., an Omaha company, is intricately involved with the voting machine company ES&S, and has a history of shady dealings with it’s large contracting services (highways and such things). The name Kiewit rang a bell with me, and when they mentioned Omaha, I remembered: Berkshire Hathaway world headquarters is at 1440 Kiewit Plaza, Omaha, NE. That made sense, though, as Kiewit is a major builder in Omaha.

But a few days later, I was flipping through a compilation of Warren Buffett’s Letters to Shareholders where he mentions a new director coming onto the board: Walter Scott, Jr., of Peter Kiewit Sons. The description of Scott on the Berk site is Chairman of Level 3 Communications, a successor to certain businesses of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc. which is engaged in telecommunications and computer outsourcing.

More likely this gives credibility to Scott rather than detract from Berkshire, but I’m keeping my eyes open on this one.

The other personal connection has to do with the Georgia election a few years back which gets a lot of focus of the book. Ms. Harris details the sloppiness in upgrading and patching machine code at the last minute, without oversight or certification. I remembered that at the time of that election, I was in an improv group known as BRIC Comedy. One of the founders, Eric, also worked as a IT technician, and apparently he had the voter machine gig because he was called away from workshop on election night to deal with machines that were purportedly breaking down everywhere, much like what was described by Ms. Harris in her book.

An interesting epilogue that I discovered when surfing the web for more info on all this is that Bev Harris and David Allen split idealogically in 2004 as to how to fight this fight. One of them has, the other Bev reportedly rewrote another edition of Black Box Voting to diminish the reporting of David Allen’s contributions. (David Allen published the first round of books, including the one I have thanks to , through his company Plan 9 Publishing).

Perhaps she was angry with him because, at least in the version I was reading, Pages 213-226 were missing, demonstrating that Plan 9 Publishing has much of the same production values as Plan 9 from Outer Space.