75 Books 56-60: George, Dawkins, Conley and Colfer

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56. Dragon Spear – Jessica Day George

This is the final book in this series.  The story follows the discovery of a land where dragon’s have enslaved humans and Creel leads the “good” dragons to rescue the humans and reform the “bad” dragons.  This book was just as entertaining as the earlier ones but lacked a little bit of the funness.  B

57.  The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins

I have never actually read a Dawkins book all the way through until now.  Crazy, I know.  I always found his prose less engaging than Hitchens’, but it turns out the reason I wasn’t drawn towards it was because I was reading the wrong thing.  When Dawkins talks about evolution he is absolutely fascinating.  Much of the science in the book seems intuitive to me, probably because I was raised in a world where the science was well established, but there were many interesting examples and Dawkins does a great job of making relatively dry concepts fun and interesting. A

58.  The Ancestors Tale – Richard Dawkins

So, I went on a Dawkins thing and thought I’d follow up the previous book with another of his.  I think this is a book that shows how creative someone can be in the sciences without seeming totally pretentious.  There were a few times that it was a bit much, really anything written first-person from a living thing, but otherwise it was really compelling.  I can see why The Selfish Gene is considered his classic work, but this is very good as well.  It’s really kind of mind-blowing to spend the book thinking that, in a not insignificant way, I’m related to sponges and mushrooms and moss and jellyfish. A

59.  Toward a Rhetoric of Insult – Thomas Conley

I read this book primarily in preparation for my speech at Dragon*Con.  It is about the history and rhetorical uses of insults.  It’s actually quite good and I incorporated a decent amount of it into my speech, much more than I expected to be able to.  Some of the most interesting things he pointed out were the ways insults were important to cultures and to how people interacted.  I really recommend this book if you’re at all interested in the tone debate or if you’d like to read a few good HL Mencken quotes.  A

60. Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer

OMG.  This is like my new Harry Potter.  The author describes it as “Die Hard with fairies” and that is totally what it is, except the main character is the 13 year old version of Hans Gruber.  Yes, in my mind, Artemis is a tiny Alan Rickman.  It’s BRILLIANT.  I am so sad that I only have discovered it now.  But it’s OK, because it’s good to know that there’s always something new to discover. A+

Atheists United: Barbara Forrest

Power Corrupts, PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely — Edward Tufte

I went this morning to something I found on meetup.com, which was an event hosted by Atheists United.  I’m not a dues paying member of Atheists United, but they function as sort of a community for Atheists that’s analogous to a church.  The event was a speech and lunch function, and the speaker was Barbara Forrest, who was instrumental in the Dover case against Intelligent Design.

She was very interesting and knowledgeable, and I feel immediate kinship to smart, rational, public school educated Southern women.  She had a powerpoint (keynote) presentation, and I really hate those, but other than that it was fascinating in a somewhat horrific way.  In Louisiana they’ve passed a law (SB 733) that basically says that a science teacher can supplement the science curriculum with whatever they want, the intention being that science teachers can teach Creationism if they so choose.

It’s so bad that, even though they’ve tried to pass it in several other states including Texas, the only place it’s actually passed is Louisiana.  It is a point of embarrassment that it’s still under consideration in South Carolina.  But apparently Louisiana, in addition to being ridiculously religious and conservative like the rest of the south, suffers from having an incredibly strong Executive Branch with an extremely right-wing religioso and politically vindictive governor, Bobby Jindal.  You’ll remember him from his embarrassingly bad response to Obama’s State of the Union.

I was shocked that I hadn’t heard about this at all.  I mean, you can teach creationism in public school biology classes in Louisiana.  It’s really icky.  Being a SC native, I’m hoping that the particularly weak governorship in SC will prevent this legislation from being pushed through there.

So, she was interesting.  But the event as a whole was a bit… geriatric.  I mean, I would guess the average age in the room was over 60.  They need to start a youth outreach or something because I felt very awkward being one of 2 people there under the age of 50.  Nothing wrong with older people, of course, it was just a bit weird.  I mean, people were impressed by the powerpoint presentation…