Thursday, June 21, 2012

Homeless Teacher's Amazon Kindle Sample Review Corner #3

Warning: this set of reviews contains copious religion-bashing.  Christ, why am I warning you?  That implies I have a measure of respect and regard for the religious.  I have no respect for the religious because they assert unfounded, unjustified beliefs and in the same breath assert there are good reasons for having faith.  This silly contradiction is an embarrassing 4th grade level philosophical observation, and I am turning red just typing it and feel like apologizing again.  But fuck that. It can't be repeated often enough.  This is also a rush job.  I only have about 28 minutes to write this, then I have to catch a bus to the Mission to hear some loud Christian rock.  Dance, Baby Jesus! Dance!

Kindle Sample Reviews provide busy readers with three things.  A terse, admittedly ill-informed (because I don't read the whole book) summary of a tiny sample of a book including the Best Part; statement of the Main Idea that I get from reading (sometimes skimming) the sample; and a pithy and potent Also thought to ponder.  Ready?  Let's go! (Find your own links--I don't have time because I'm homeless)

Born Together, Raised Apart by Nancy Segal.  There isn't an actual Kindle Sample of this book as it was published by a snotty university press, which automatically makes it an inferior book.  Trust me on this.  I have written university press jacket and advertising copy for quite a few years, and even a Harvard University Press publication like this book almost guarantees it couldn't find a more mainstream Oprah-friendly publisher.  I could be wrong about this, but sheesh, university presses are the fetid bottom-lands for desperate bookmen and women.(Well, the actual science looks solid and would be too hard for Oprah-ites.)

Anyway, this book has a fascinating subject, the landmark Minnesota Twins Studies, where they studied about 100 sets of twins who were raised apart with no possibility of contact or exchange of information (where have we heard that one before, fellow skeptics and fans of nightclub magic and con-artistry?), and found that they independently developed identical behaviors like twirling rubber bands around their fingers when nervous, or pouring lemonade into their Froot Loops,  or sleeping with decapitated Teddy Bears.

Best Part:  Look, the only thing stingy Amazon provides is their huckster "LOOK INSIDE!" come-on which includes the introduction (pretty technical stuff on study methodology) and the index, so I guess the best part would be the assertion that genes--which are basically just bits of digital information which direct the building of  proteins which build organisms and their nervous systems--have a huge influence over personality and behavior, almost to the point of puppet-mastery in some cases.  Why this was ever controversial is a great mystery to me, but lots of people don't like it.

Main Idea: Identical Twins share all their genes and so they end up doing lots of things the same way, even if they don't see each other.  What's the big deal?  It's probably mostly true.  See "Also" below.

Also: As Bertrand Russell told us, we must beware of the seductions of eloquence, or the veneer of sophistication and solidity given by a Harvard University Press Book and impressive statistical and methodological weightiness.  Science writer John Horgan expressed some skepticism about the studies because twins are notorious for playing elaborate, insanely patient, years-long, poker faced jokes on people.  I've seen this over the years as a teacher, having dealt with lots of sets of twins.  They are diabolically clever and deliciously devious entities.   Also, Also, identical twins are one of those things in the world that make young children lie awake in bed  and wonder if the stuff their Sunday school teacher says about "souls" popping into and out of bodies is true.  Think about it.

The Good News Club,  The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children by Katherine Stewart.   Now this is more like it.  A decent sample that really gets its point across and needs only a quick skim to prove that Christians, especially evangelical "Christian Nationalists" or "Dominion Christians" are really bad for America.  The very title almost does the job.  Look, dummies, as far back as 1979 you had Jerry Fallwell saying "I hope to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we don't have public schools.  The churches will have taken over them again and Christians will be running them."

 Stewart discovered one day that her daughter's public elementary school in Santa Barbara, California had something in its after-school roster of activities called the Good News Club.   Ostensibly a non-denominational "bible-study" program for kids which required parental consent, it was instead a sleazy sectarian con..   This scam, asserts Stewart, turns out to be a massive, nation-wide, well-funded end run around the 1st amendment which uses brain-washed kids (See Jesus Camp) as stealth bombers to recruit other kids, bully them about being the "wrong kind" of Christian, get them scared of Mr. Splitfoot and give them the screaming meemies about the Lake of Fire.  If this sounds paranoid and extreme, I can assure you of two things.  First,  this book is well-written and researched, measured and calm, but seethes with a well-earned fury at what these cowardly ghouls are doing with and to kids.  Second, I have witnessed this stuff myself for 15 years in elementary schools and it gets worse every day.

Best Part:  Katherine Stewart's praise of the "collective wisdom of the American people" responsible for the secularization of schools and her condemnation of activist conservative judges "who are in large measure responsible for, in effect, legislating the mandatory inclusion of religious programming in the schools."

Main Idea:  Realizing they can't get Jesus into the classroom (why would anybody invite that guy to a party?),  large numbers of Christian activists are turning to lies and massive con jobs.

Also: Thomas Jefferson, who essentially breathed America into existence with his Words, felt that no child should ever be exposed to the Bible until age 17, and only after being well-steeped in science, history, mathematics, languages, logic, and only with the greatest supervision by skeptical, watchful adults.   And now people are denying that too, and telling lies like "Jefferson edited his version of the Bible [Jefferson rejected all supernatural elements in the Book and rejected the divinity of Christ] to help the simple redskins come to Jesus."   And none of this bothers you?

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