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February 09, 2013

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Recent Reading

  • Edzard Ernst & Simon Singh: Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine

    Edzard Ernst & Simon Singh: Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine
    (10/09/2014) Treatments that have been demonstrated to be safe and effective quickly become conventional, leaving only quackery and worse in the ‘alternative’ category. Examples of such proven bogosity include homeopathy (although that is now a marketing term used very loosely), aromatherapy, and acupuncture. All have been demonstrated, in fair trials, to be bunk. Laetrile is worse than bunk and no, it's not an effing ‘vitamin’. (****)

  • Arthur C. Clarke: The Fountains of Paradise

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    Barbara Tuchman: The Guns of August
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  • Ian Kershaw: Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris

    Ian Kershaw: Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris
    (8/13/2014) This is volume one of a horrifyingly thorough two-volume biography (volume two is entitled ‘Nemesis’). Hitler was a raving bore from before WWI, but went over the edge – and found a talent for rhetoric and propaganda – after Germany's defeat. But the key to the main puzzle: It wasn't that Germans mysteriously bought the outrageous soap that Hitler was selling, but that he was a brilliant salesman for an already popular product made even more popular by the horrible and destructive Treaty of Versailles. Hitler sold it, in concentrated form, by the truck-load as the only solution to Germany's desperate humiliation. (****)

  • Robert M Gates: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War

    Robert M Gates: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War
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  • General Stanley McChrystal: My Share of the Task: A Memoir

    General Stanley McChrystal: My Share of the Task: A Memoir
    (7/13/2014) Btw, the Pentagon's Inspector General concluded that reporter Michael Hastings, um, misrepresented conversations with officers under McChrystal's command (gee, I didn't see that coming!), and the general is willing to let it go at that. Mrs. McChrystal thought that his retirement was long overdue, anyway. (****)

  • Daniel C. Dennett: Consciousness Explained

    Daniel C. Dennett: Consciousness Explained
    (7/9/2014) Lots of good stuff here, but I'll have to read it again, maybe in a month or so after I've had some time to digest this run through. It seemed that he was being a bit obtuse, perhaps semantically so, on a few points, but ... well, I have to read it again. It's a long one, so I think I'll try something a bit lighter in the mean time.

    Yeah, who am I kidding? (****)

  • Daniel C. Dennett: Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking

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  • Victor J. Stenger: God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist

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    (6/1/2014) Stenger's project is to show that, when fairly and precisely examined as any scientific hypothesis would be (Gould's ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ be damned), the notion of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic ‘God’ fails. Stenger succeeds sometimes quite impressively, but frequently manages only to prove his devotion to the conclusion. (E.g., in a bizarre passage accusing Justice Scalia of religious bias, Stenger forgets to refer to anything ever written or said by Scalia on the subject of proper legal interpretation, and also that a devout Roman Catholic, voting his religious beliefs, would have to rule against the death penalty!) The book is thus valuable in places but too deeply flawed to recommend.

    Stenger's arguments against divine creation apply across the board, but his argument against providence is specific to this one particular God and His generally agreed attributes, whose existence is thus rendered implausible in the way that an alibi becomes implausible in the face of DNA evidence to the contrary: Not absolutely, but well beyond all reasonable doubt.

    But ‘reasonable’: Aye, there's the rub. (**)

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    Daniel C. Dennett: Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
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    Fred Hoyle: A for Andromeda
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  • Kai Bird: American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

    Kai Bird: American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
    (4/7/2014) The authors' left-wing political biases are remarkably naked here (although I'm not sure that they know that), and I was frequently forced to wonder if the ‘facts’ presented, e.g., that someone or other ‘lied’ about or ‘covered-up’ this or that detail or motivation. The authors' efforts to argue away the clear evidence that Oppenheimer was, in the late 1930s, a member (however ‘deviationist’ he could be) of the CPUSA, is particularly remarkable. In the end, I'm not entirely sure what I learned about that detail of Oppenheimer's life and what was just BS, so I'm glad that I read the book, and very glad that I am finished. Sigh. (***)

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    Michael Norman: Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath
    (3/26/2014) By the way, MacArthur, the tender-egoed, preening jackass, was significantly responsible for the starved condition of the soldiers at Bataan before they were defeated. But on the plus side, he was a brilliant self-promoter! (*****)

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