February 27, 2012

Bonobo handshake and Sex at dawn: a paired book review

Posted in Books and Reading tagged , , , , at 12:01 pm by neotradlibrarian

I don’t have time to write anything even informal about most books I read (e.g. just finished Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire and The magician king by Lev Grossman but don’t have much original to say about those two excellent books). I finished Bonobo handshake : a memoir of love and adventure in the Congo by Vanessa Woods last fall and enjoyed it, but it also reminded me to get around to Sex at dawn : the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, which had been on my list for some time. While both were worth the time, the second really hits my reading interest profile, so I’ll take the time to explain why.


Chimps and bonobos are our two closest relatives, about equally distant from humans on the primate branch. Chimps have long been the ruler against which anthropologist and social scientists have measured humans, though they do so in very un-natural circumstances. Zoos with their limited space and direct competition for food and other resources are not like the wild. In the same way, prisons are not good models for how humans behave in less confined and controlled situations. Even when studied in the wild, a kind of uncertainty principle is in effect. Researchers commonly use food to get the chimps to come and stay where they can be studied, but this deforms natural behavior. When such studies claim to tell us something about our ancient backgrounds as “killer apes”, they must be taken with a canister of salt.


Bonobos are kind of a mirror image of chimps. Chimpazees mate only during fertile periods, like most mammals or gorillas. Bonobos mate whenever they feel like it, as do humans. (Warning – bonobos feel like it a lot). Chimpanzee males are much bigger than females as is true of gorillas and other animals which keep harems, while bonobo males are only slightly larger than females, again like humans. Chimpanzees are poster boys for nature as the war of all against all, a kind of Survivor reality show. Bonobos are like a hippie commune, with lots of cooperation, sex and no one being quite such who the daddy is.


Bonobo handshake is a personal narrative, covering Woods’ time as a volunteer working with bonobos in a sanctuary. This approach brings them up close and personal, with no doubt that they are closely related to humans. It also helps explain why they are so endangered, as are all primates except humans. As you might have guessed by this point, a Bonobo handshake involves sex and they do it to defuse situations, when they share food and just about every time they get together at all.


Sex at dawn is more of a hard science book, looking at what can be known about ancient humans and their sexuality, starting by our nearest cousins as a guide. Referencing dozens of studies of chimpanzees, bonobos, other primates and monkeys, the authors draw some conclusions and raise many more questions about where humans fit in all this. Are we more like chimpanzees or bonobos?


They next turn to pre-agricultural societies – the hunter-gatherers and foragers. Humans would have been foragers until the invention of agriculture, so most of our evolution was guided by those sets of rules and pressures. As it turns out, those societies, most of which are in the process of being wiped out, are more matriarchal, cooperative and much like bonobo society. The authors pinpoint the beginning of agriculture as a major change for human evolution. Humans get shorter, smaller and adults have a shorter life expectancy, though more children are born and survive, leading to population growth. At this point, Malthus becomes relevant.


The sections that deal with human anatomy and the detailed mechanics of sexual function in primates were the biggest news to me. Humans definitely seem to have evolved to live in multi-partner settings, both males and females. Evolution doesn’t retain things, especially sexual things, at random. The entire process appears to be fine tuned to handle lots of activity and many partners.


The bad news is that the last 10,000 years have turned this around, with an emphasis on property, collecting and limiting access to food and wealth, and a general downgrading of status for women. Since the invention of agriculture, we have lived in a male dominated society, where females are hoarded and considered to have small / no sex drive. The reality of the situation can be judged from the laws and cultural controls in place. If women really were inferior or subservient or not interested in sex, society wouldn’t need to work so hard to convince them of that. If men were naturally monogamous, then we wouldn’t have so make laws and constraints to make them so. That our culture has to work so hard to make it even remotely so is a sign of just how strong the countervailing forces are.


This has some implications for politics and culture in general. If humans evolved to be naturally cooperative and to put at a competitive disadvantage those who refused to share, that would be a long way from the libertarian view of the world. But where does this leave us? Science has little to tell us about how we should culturally evolve, but the authors make a stab at it. They suggest we acknowledge the reality of our nature and live culturally like foragers, a solution I don’t find realistic. Humans can’t go back to foraging unless we are willing to depopulate the Earth, so it would be just as realistic to acknowledge that evolution has poorly prepared for the world we live in and find ways to deal with that.


Of the two books, Sex at dawn hits my reading profile more directly. I want a book that teaches me something new, that reveals science I was unaware of and that provides history and context to support its narrative. After all, without context, history and science are really dry and dusty, but with them it provides a framework on which to hang further data.

January 21, 2012

1877 : America’s year of living violently / by Michael A Bellesiles.

Posted in Books and Reading tagged , , at 1:08 pm by neotradlibrarian

For more Americans, and even for most of those with an interest in history, the years 1866 – 1900 pass in kind of a blur. It’s where our knowledge of presidents fades. In high school, teachers talk about the Industrial Revolution, an amorphous enough concept to cover many bases. With the Spanish-American War (1898), things get interesting again – Teddy, Model Ts, the Wright brothers. In working on a book, I came across a passing reference to some labor problems in 1877, so when I saw this book, I thought I would get some background. Did I ever. Turns out 1877 was a major turning point, with many lessons about just what America was and would become.


Historians talk of the “Panic of 1873”, but it wasn’t a panic, but a major depression that lasted for six years. By 1877, the country had reached bottom. Millions had no jobs, no food and no place to live. There did not seem to be any hope left that things would turn around. The government reacted with austerity measures, sure that a free market, the only solution compatible with a growing social Darwinism, was the only reasonable approach. Then the problems began.


In the run up to the 1876 elections, white supremacists in the South started a vicious campaign of voter suppression. Blacks and anyone who would vote for Republicans was targeted. House burnings, rape and murder. Only the Army had kept the lid on the violence, but the post-war Army was small and not up to the task. Republicans were not interested in re-igniting the Civil War and sought compromise. Southern Democrats were and didn’t. In 1876, states with majority black population voted overwhelmingly for white supremacist politicians. This violence was the original basis of the “solid South”.


This stolen election threw the entire presidential process into doubt. If guns and violence could elect a president, then could the republic survive? A North that was tired of the “Negro question” gave in. Hayes became president and white rule of the South was confirmed. The old slave codes were modified and became the Jim Crow laws. This changed the entire country. While the Union had won militarily, the white supremacists won culturally. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, moved to Florida, hired black servants and settled in.


This was also a climatic year for the Native Americans. Custer had been defeated in 1876, but 1877 saw the Sioux hunted and eliminated as a force. Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce reacted to theft of their lands by white settlers and fled, setting off a tragic drama that could only have one ending. Texas and New Mexico also sought to bring order to their non-white natives, the Hispanics who had lived there for generations. As in the South, no white man was ever prosecuted for killing a non-white, but non-white could cause a riot by asking to be treated fairly. In California, the Chinese were hated even more that the Hispanics, with violence often breaking out.


Over all of this ran a fear of poverty. Buttressed by a scientific seeming social Darwinism, the middle class identified itself as industrious and hard working. Those who failed to reach middle class were by definition not hard working and evolutionary failures. They should not be rescued or even helped, as that would stunt their ability to raise themselves up. Churches and charities worked to separate the “worthy poor” from the supposed army of tramps. And it was considered an army. Newspapers reported on masses of highly organized and secretive tramps who were just waiting to fall upon some isolated house, always in some distant state. In reality the tramps were displaced agricultural workers, traveling as always to seek work and avoid starvation, their number swollen by the depression. The Paris Commune (virtually unknown to modern Americans) was cited as the tramps’ goal – disorder, anarchy and crime. Harsh measures were taken. Charity work was stopped. Vagrants arrested and jailed. Being unemployed became a crime, even though unemployment was high.


In concert with this, the Molly Maguires were raised to an existential threat to the nation. This loose alliance of workers seeking wage protection, job security and safety improvements was demonized as a world-wide (mainly Irish and mainly mining) conspiracy. The conditions in mines were such that “wage slave” was an apt phrase. But seeking any change or improvement brought harsh repression. Innocent men were executed, police and militia operated as ordered by the mine owners and government officials (usually the same people).


In an environment where workers faced cut after cut while the factory and mine owners prospered, workers had few alternatives to starvation. Finally driven to extremes, the Great Strike of 1877 broke out. Rail workers, later joined by others, closed down freight traffic, allowing the mail and passenger lines to operate. The workers shut down the saloons and were non-violent in the main. In reaction, the powers that be brought in the militia and Federal troops, who often opened fire on unarmed strikers. Faced with armed troops under the command of railroad executives, the strike collapsed.


It was overall an unimaginably violent era. Governments were kept deliberately weak in the South and West, empowering individuals to seek their own vengeance or justice. That lynch mobs usually targeted the non-whites was taken as a sign that they needed a firm hand to prevent their getting out of control. Killers were rarely convicted of murder, as self-defense (even against an unarmed opponent) was a well recognized defense.


This very violent year laid the groundwork for much that would follow. Workers understood that they needed unity and political power before they would be heard – and started to develop it. Blacks understood just how abandoned they were and worked to build what they could in the ruins of their hopes – school and churches. Women responded to the troubles by banding together to fight one of the main causes of violence and poverty – alcohol. Churches recognized the need for a “social gospel” as an alternative to the gospel of wealth. These movements would take decades to come to fruition, but they would be the basis of Populist and Progressive reforms.


As a final note, I would mention that the author’s previous work, Arming America, was successfully attacked by gun advocates for unsupported footnotes and sources. This book uses newspaper accounts as its main sources. In my reading, it brings together many pieces that I had known about earlier. That kind of synthesis is what makes the book so valuable. I not only learned new things, I was shown how those things fit together. The past is indeed another country.

December 10, 2011

America’s Quarterback: Bart Starr and the Rise of the National Football League by Keith Dunnavant

Posted in Books and Reading at 12:57 pm by neotradlibrarian

Bart Starr deserves to be the icon that he is and Dunnavant explains why.  Throughout his life, Starr was just who he wanted to be, a straightforward, honest, caring human. He was also one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game – not one of the most talented, but one of the most accomplished. Unfortunately, he was overshadowed during his playing career, but the exquisite Johnny Unitas and the legend that was Vince Lombardi.  This book goes a ways toward making it clear just what an exceptional player and human Starr has been.

Overall, this does fall a little short of When Pride Still Mattered: Lombardi by David Maraniss, but it is a major step up from most sports biographies, such as anything yet written about Brett Favre. One doesn’t need to be a packer fan or even an NFL fan to read and appreciate this book. The author clearly had great connections, as so many people were willing to tell all they knew about Bart. The only weak points are when he tries to link out to the wider culture, which lacks depth.

As a Packer fan and one old enough to remember Starr playing, I didn’t think I would learn that much, as I knew the basic story. A 17th round draft choice at a time most teams only carried two quarterbacks. A very bad Packer team. A strong and upright man who gave his all on the field and off, heavily involved in charity work. Lombardi’s coach on the field, the one who led the many all-stars to five titles in seven years.

But there was a lot I did not know. Bart’s father, who was never satisfied with his accomplishments. Bart’s brother, who died of tetanus as a child and had been the athletic one. Just how determined Bart was to be someone, no matter the odd. How obsessively he worked to maximize his talent. Bart sitting on the bench as a senior as Alabama suffered loss after loss. No way he should ever have been drafted after that. How close he was to being cut by the no-talent Packers.  How Lombardi traded for a more talented quarterback because he didn’t think Starr had it in him to lead the team to victory. The many injuries, which he never talked about, playing entire seasons at the end of his career when he could barely lift his arms above his head. But through it all, Starr behaved with grace, responding to every challenge by working harder, studying more, watching more film, putting in more time.

The numbers show that he was a great quarterback – he threw very few interceptions and we know that the team that wins the turn over battle wins the game. And he didn’t do it with dink and dunk passes, but with a yards per attempt that ranks very high. Sometimes diminished as the guy who handed off to Taylor and Hornung, he carried the team to the last two titles. His running backs for the Ice Bowl were Donnie Anderson and Chuck Mercein. He was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls, hands down the best player on the field. He called the plays, unlike modern quarterbacks, and was a master of the audible. Without him, Lombardi would not have been Lombardi but maybe Chuck Noll.

None of it happens if Starr is not the man he is – humble but determined, a fierce competitor with a mild demeanor. He is a tremendous contrast with modern players – chasing the money, doing the dances, wearing the bling, sending photos of their junk to women, spending their nights in clubs. Starr belongs to a completely different generation and the change can quickly. From cool competent Starr to Broadway Joe in a few years.

In reading, I was struck by the parallels to Aaron Rodgers. Calm and even mild seeming, but a demon on the field. Marked down for his skill set, but with a maniac’s devotion to video study and self-improvement. A coach on the field, with an aptitude for audibles. Great fundamentals, not naturally, but because they matter. A sense of having to overcome obstacles, of earning success. No sense of entitlement.

This is certainly the best sports book, and one of the best biographies, I have read in years and I am happy to recommend it to readers.

December 1, 2011

If Grace is True: why God will save every person by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland.

Posted in Books and Reading at 9:35 am by neotradlibrarian

If Grace is True: why God will save every person by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland.

As the title makes clear, the authors are universalists – they believe God will save every person. Hitler – Stalin – that mean second grade teacher – you name it. This has been a constant thread throughout Christianity, but always as a minority opinion. The authors do a good job of summarizing the main arguments for and against universal salvation and humanize them with examples from the ministry and life. This takes it out of the rarefied air of theological debate and back to essentials.

Their main argument is quite brief: God has the power to save everyone and God has the desire to save everyone – therefore God will accomplish what God sets out to do.  Lots of room for disagreement there, but they work through each counter argument one by one. This is helped because they (the authors speak with one voice throughout) used to believe just about all of the counter arguments. Yes, they were once proof-text quoting, personal savior formula, predestined, elect and holier than others.

The Bible certainly provides ammunition against them – but they no longer believe the Bible is word for word absolute truth. No problem there, as my church never did believe that, though it often acts like they do. The Bible has enough contradictions to satisfy any lawyer. They argue for staying with the basic framework and not being distracted by bits and pieces of old cultures. Yes, God does order genocide, he turns Job over to the devil, accepts (orders) slavery and polygamy. They see this as an evolution of our understanding of God (Gully’s next book) rather than as an accurate reflection of God.

The place where they run up against many people who would like to believe this is with unrepentant sinners. Can we turn away from God and in effect choose separation eternally? I’ve been told YES WE CAN, with some enthusiasm. In this case I am with the authors. Everybody has sins that they cling to, even if that sin is that they don’t believe that they have any. We are all self-righteous and not totally in line with God’s way.  Like the other son in the Prodigal Son story, we will cling to our righteousness and refuse to allow for real grace. In such a world, there will be very few saved.

They also reject a one-and-done judgment. Die, make your choice, live with it for eternity. Is that how the Prodigal father works it? If his son had died before coming home, would he not have forgiven him? God has all the time in the world to accomplish his task – unlike Santa Claus who gets just one night.

To save those who are not Christian or have rejected Christianity (e.g. Gandhi), they demote Jesus or at least don’t require belief in him. I would straddle this line. I remain a creedal Catholic, but am unwilling to require God to deny grace to those who differ from me. Nice of me not to give orders to God, at least on this matter.
Overall, even if you have no intention of being convinced, this is a good read. It is chock full of revealing stories, even if you will say “here is where they go wrong.” The book is also helpful in keeping your God from getting too small, too cramped and too culture bound. So, now on to Gulley’s next book – The evolution of faith : how God is creating a better Christianity.

October 13, 2011

The Magicians by Lev Grossman [book review]

Posted in Books and Reading at 7:33 am by neotradlibrarian

I wanted to pass this one by. After all, the story of some young kids who find themselves attending a magical school, where they train to be magicians. Coming of age, Bildungsroman, adventures which turn into learning experiences. Setting aside Harry Potter, this is a story told weekly by some fantasy writer and I’ve simply read too many of them. Though this one hit the best seller lists, so do some particularly derivative fantasy books, mainly on the basis of pent up demand for the 12th book in some boring series. Fortunately, The Magicians is something more than that and quite enjoyable.

World building is the bedrock of many fantasy novels – what is the school like, what odd characters must exist, the suspension of disbelief that grows progressively greater. Grossman does something a lot harder. These high achieving college students behave like high achieving college students. They fight, strike poses, drink and drug themselves when they can. They pair off and manipulate each other. Magic isn’t a wish fulfillment tool, but rather like rocket science. Not everyone can be good at it, but the best work extremely hard on developing their gift. No one is there because their mother loved them and protected them from evil when they were a baby.

Their world is a not just an alternative form of ours, but it IS our. Bored kids looking for a purpose, learning an arcane skill at college and then turning into aimless adults. No magical tutors who will protect and guide them. Fewer flying cars and more taking money from ATMs through a spell. Even when we move into significant magic, the world seems less like Indiana Jones  and more like a troop deployment to Afghanistan.

Nor is this a story of the inevitable triumph of good over evil. Like life, most of the characters are a mixture of good and evil, a more Catholic implementation of the doctrine of Original Sin. Good definitely has significant power, but so does delusion, ambition and other less attractive motives. People will get hurt, hurt each other in ways that are all too familiar and characters that are not “crewman Green” will die.

So what led me to write a review of this fine book? It is like most good books or music. We can almost predict what comes next, are pleased with that ability and even more pleased when we can’t. In the end, this is a novel and a very good one, so I won’t shelve it in the fantasy though I put the second copy there to entice the fantasy readers. As a final tribute, I would add that it most reminded me of Ursula LeGuin and I have trouble thinking of a higher tribute.

October 11, 2011

In the beginning : the story of the King James Bible and how it changed a nation, a language, and a culture by Alister E. McGrath.

Posted in Books and Reading at 7:36 pm by neotradlibrarian

I was a while getting here. I had read What the Gospels meant by Garry Wills, which I enjoyed tremendously. Then I worked through a book [title forgotten] on the difficulties in translating the Bible from a technical viewpoint. The danger of working with an idiomatic language for one is quite underestimated by Americans, many of whom speak only one language and never have to  experience just how confusing they can be.

Next I picked up Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantell, which I reviewed here. On that, suffice it to say that it deals with Henry VIII and the first half of his reign. At the same time, I watched the show Who Do You Think You Are, which had an episode with Ashley Judd. Her Pilgrim ancestor was jailed for opposing King James and his Bible and they showed the cell he shared with my ancestor, William Bradford.

This being the 400 anniversary of King James’ Bible, I wanted a better look at the document and the process. As a Catholic, I mostly knew they got rid of a few books they didn’t like and used some very bad Greek texts, but that it was the best effort of the times. So I picked up McGrath’s In the Beginning and found just what I was looking for.

McGrath starts with the context and builds a compelling and well documented narrative, just the kind of NF I live for. The importance of the printing press and other new technologies that made paper and ink suitable for book production. The growth of scholarship of both Greek and Hebrew in Europe. The mixture of politics, social movement and religion that was the Reformation. The battle not only of Bibles, but of Biblical notation to explain the “hard parts”. Many of the contestants ended up executed and Thomas Cromwell (the main character of Wolf Hall) ends up erased from the frontispiece of one Bible after his downfall. James and his opposition to the egalitarian and proto-parliamentarian Puritans (thus the imprisonment of those promoting the wrong translation and especially the wrong explanatory notes).  The battle of the translators and the unpopularity of the new text.

It is only with the passage of time that King James’ Bible wins out. It wins to the extent that to most English speakers it is the Bible and not a translation, a mistake that a Muslim would never make. They reverence each of the original words of their scripture, while Christians can’t even agree on what the original words were. Maybe that’s why they treat the Koran like it was the Word of God and we use markers on our copies and throw them in the trash when they wear out.

The KJB as a literary phenomenon is subject enough for another book, so McGrath only makes a down payment on that. Enough to encourage me to read further.  I’ll settle for this example.

September 20, 2011

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Posted in Books and Reading at 8:11 am by neotradlibrarian

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Had an approach/avoid reaction to this one. It seems to hit all my buttons: award winning, fact based historical fiction about a time period (the Tudors) that I have an interest in. Yet reviews note that it trashes Thomas Moore (that would be St. Thomas Moore to Catholics like me) and it was a best seller (10,00 flies can’t be wrong). Still, some very good books are bestsellers, so I jumped in after the rush died down. Good call, since this is an excellent book and does indeed hit my reading profile.

By my reading profile, I mean that it is a serious work (no Cat whos for me), takes minimal liberties with the facts of the matter, is moderately literate (not experimental, but written by someone who cares about words), tells me something I didn’t know and has characters I can care about even if they are flawed. A little ironic humor works too. The promise of further riches if I like what I find is a bonus ( a sequel is promised).   The best answer to what I like in fiction is Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. Laurie B. King’s Mary Russell series, Dorothy Dunnett, Colleen McCullough’s First Man in Rome series also work as shorthand.

So on to Wolf Hall. It covers a period in the life of Thomas Cromwell, who starts as a blacksmith’s son and rises to become one of Henry VI’s top advisers.  The history is good, because it isn’t just a bunch of he said then she said, but the observations of a growing insider. As he rises, he has better insights and more influence over events – though he never feels he is really in control and recognizes that he is a Machiavelli-style courtier to an erratic king.  So, the history is very episodic (a little here and then a little more there), while his family life goes on, the Reformation (or Protestant Revolt as the Jesuits called it) slowly comes to England. Though Cromwell is manipulative and sly, he is often over his head, as this is still an age where nobility matters and he is up from the gutter. He has a serious lack of principles, while those with principles are being beheaded for them. He is far from the most admirable person in the book, but he is the most interesting.

One of the best parts of the book is that it isn’t triumphant. There will not be happy endings for many of the participants, nor are events preordained.  It accomplishes this while being occasionally very funny (as people are) and very well written. If Jane Austen wrote historical fiction, it might be something like this. Highly recommended to those who share part of my reading profile.


I am following it up with In the beginning: the story of the King James Bible by Alister McGrath, which should be my next review.

January 24, 2011

Mistakes were made (but not by me) : why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts / by Carol Tarvis and Elliot Aronson

Posted in Books and Reading at 10:12 am by neotradlibrarian

Mistakes were made (but not by me) : why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts / by Carol Tarvis and Elliot Aronson.

This is probably the best and most helpful book I have read in the last year. I have often noted that if people would only act in their own self interest, much less with a thoughtful concern for others, we could avoid many of the problems in the world. But people don’t. This book explains why we do so many of the counterproductive things we do and why entire nations can behave so irrationally.

In theological terms, a sinner clings to their sin. In psychological terms, we make a choice and then shape our ideals to support that choice. If that choice starts to look like a bad one, we get positively Owellian in twisting ourselves out of shape so that we don’t have to reconsider that choice.

The best example in the book is two identical students who have a chance to sneak a peek at a fellow student’s paper during an exam. Both are tempted and it is a coin flip situation. One does and the other doesn’t. Then their attitudes start to branch. The “peeker” becomes increasing convinced that everyone cheats, that it was a minor matter, indeed that he was virtuous and others foolish. The non-peeker becomes convinced that cheating is a foul deed, that cheaters should be expelled, that they are evil and he is virtuous. The authors refer to this as stepping off the pyramid. A small choice at the top creates enormous differences by the time you hit the base. The key being that everyone thinks of themselves as above average and good. Faced with evidence to the contrary, people will deal with the dissonance in certain predictable ways.

This pyramid effect also explains how a religious group can split so thoroughly. A small difference of emphasis can end up as a major gap. In the Simpsons, the Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism splits over the right to come to church with their hair wet, which they then later outlaw too.

These ways are predictable because of the many psychological experiments done over the past fifty years.  We deny (We don’t torture), define things to our advantage (Waterboarding isn’t torture), excuse it as common (Everybody does this) and justify our actions (It was necessary). We will also escalate. Thus if we waterboard once, we will do it dozens and hundreds of times, since we now consider it both necessary and a positive virtue.

Thus if a decent kid is involved in bullying, he will justify it. The irony here is that having done someone wrong, the psychological incentive is to continue and even escalate the action. If we are a fundamentally good person and we hurt someone, they must have deserved it and to prove it we will hurt them again.

I will bring up religion again even though it is rarely mentioned in the book, as it is on my mind. If we have made a choice (Bush v Kerry), we then elevate that choice into a moral absolute. We must vote for Bush because he is anti-abortion (can’t bring my self to call  him pro-life) and there really is no choice. We must vote for Kerry because Bush is a torturer, war monger and stands with the rich against the poor of this world, so only a hypocrite would call a vote for Bush morally justified. Both are convinced that they are doing what Jesus would and are willing to escalate it all the way to calling down God’s wrath on their opposites.

The book is not a political treatise, but a look at what psychology can tell us about self-justifying behavior. Most of the cases looked at have to deal with common personal interactions.  Again, theologically speaking (the authors do not speak theologically), we are all sinners, we all justify ourselves. Or as House would say – everybody lies.

This book hits my reading spot in several ways. I like science writing and this is very good and popular level science. It explains so much that I sort of understood. It doesn’t take a side (which would be self-justification), but explains why people do so much of what they do. This is one that I think I will re-read every couple of years.

January 2, 2011

Bookworms versus nerds:

Posted in Books and Reading, Libraries and Librarianship at 9:03 pm by neotradlibrarian

A research paper from 2006 which I just saw at the Daily Dish. It’s thrust is that people who read (and children who are read to) score higher for empathy – care for and about others.  This applies to narrative fiction but not non-fiction. Unsure how they score/account for narrative non-fiction.


More articles by the same researcher (Raymond A Mar) at


December 13, 2010

Public vs private pay

Posted in Libraries and Librarianship tagged , at 1:57 pm by neotradlibrarian

A solid study that compares private compensation with what public employees make, including all benefits and pensions. Surprise! Workers for state and local government makes less – counting their benefits and pensions – than private sector employees with comparable education.  Hey, don’t let facts get in your way as you cut salaries and benefits.

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