Monthly Archives: April 2019

Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved by Frans de Waal

Primates and Philosophers: How Morality EvolvedPrimates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved by Frans de Waal

Thought provoker, but then de Waal tends to do that. I finished this a couple of days ago and still don’t know if I can do this review justice, but… The basis of this is his criticism (and dismissal) of the Hobbesian view that morality is a layer (a veneer) overlaying the baser, brutish animal that humans really are. This Veneer Theory, as dubbed by de Waal, has advocates and opponents (de Waal being one) and his leading essay here outlined his positions as to why the veneerists are wrong…in his view. No, humans are not moral “by choice” as Hobbes, Huxley and, it seems, Dawkins would have…rather, morality evolved from social constructs evidenced by some of our primate cousins. Four essays respond to his, and then he responds to them…an interesting format. A civilized debate; a food network throw down for people who actually think. They want to address “why don’t we think it is good to be bad?” And none of the five feel “that there is any reason to suppose that humans are different in their metaphysical essence from other animals, or at least, none base their arguments on the idea that humans uniquely possess a transcendent soul.” See? For people who think. Continue reading

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Retief’s War by Keith Laumer (Retief #3)

Retief's War (Retief, #3)Retief’s War by Keith Laumer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Instead of a short story collection, Retief gets his first full length novel. I have no idea how Laumer kept everything straight for this – I didn’t, but that’s because I chose not to create a scorecard. The jargon, the players…jeez! I’m not normally a short story guy…I liked Asimov’s collection (now there’s a Nostalgic Reread I should go find…The Early Asimov)…but I rather think I prefer Retief in bite sized portions. More reading will tell.

Oh…the Retief quote (actually from another character):

“Of just what would possess an Embassy Officer to attack members of the Planetary Police in the performance of their duties!” Purplish color was creeping up from under Longspoon’s stiff midmorning informal collar.

Retief shook his head sympathetically. “No, I certainly couldn’t explain a thing like that.”

Longspoon’s lower jaw dropped. “Surely you have some, ah., justification to offer?” He shot a quick side glance at the Voion.

“It would be pretty hard to justify attacking a policeman,” Retief offered., “In the performance of his duties at that.”

“Look here . . .!” Longspoon leaned toward Retief. “You’re supposed to be a diplomat!” he hissed from the corner of his mouth. “You might at least try lying a little!”

Yep…Laumer lampooning his former profession again…

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Americans to the Moon: The Story of Project Apollo by Gene Gurney

8d33d63562ecd5c593752735267434f414f4141Americans to the Moon: The Story of Project Apollo by Gene Gurney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So…I found Gurney’s Walk in Space: The Story of Project Gemini in an antique shop in February. Thrilling as it was for a guy who was born in 1961 (and actually has a Gemini memory – my father recorded the space walk from the television onto reel-to-reel), I went online to get both the Project Mercury book and this. Filled with exquisite technical details, Gurney’s writing is conversational and accessible to pre-teens and adults.

He opens the book with Apollo 8, the mission I consider to be even greater than Apollo 11’s, because they did so many things for the first time: first manned Saturn V launch, first to leave earth orbit, first to reach the moon, to orbit the moon, first humans to see the far side in person, first to return from the moon. Sure Apollo 9 and 10 demonstrated docking with the LEM and orbiting the moon at low altitude, but each only added one major element, as did Apollo 11. Okay, that one was a wee significant!

Gurney talks about the development of the program, the components, the failures, and … the tragedy of Grissom, White, and Chaffee. The lessons learned from that, as well as those of the missions following Apollo 8…described here in wonderful prose.

Gurney wrote this after Apollo 12 returned, and before the historic miss of Apollo 13. He concludes this book with a nice nod to the Soviet program to that point, listing the different Vostok, Voskhod and Soyuz missions. He wrote with confidence that though the “Soviet Union does not publicize its plans for exploring space”, he thought that they’d be landing on the moon. He also thought (this was 1970) that “{s}ometime in the 1980s, or later, the United States will land astronauts on Mars.”

I wonder how surprised he would have been, when he wrote this, to know that 50 years later we haven’t even gone back to the moon (he dies in 2011). But those were different times, and the excitement that was gone by the time Apollo 17 returned was still fresh. Excellent book for the 50th Anniversary year.

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Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power by Anna Merlan

Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to PowerRepublic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power by Anna Merlan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admire anonymously the monumental efforts like those of people at Media Matters, who endure hours upon hours of the likes of Fox News so that the sane of us don’t have to watch to see what nonsense is being spewed at any given instance. And then there is Ms. Merlan, who takes such to extremes, diving into the belly of so many beasts to write this she has to have brain bleach on autorefill. Hat’s off and bravo. There have always been conspiracists and their theories – whacky, out there, unreal. I semi-argued in frustration with someone some years ago who thought the feed from the International Space Station was faked, as was the moon landing (it was faked, of course, by Stanley Kubrick, but he always liked to shoot on location 😉 ). Sadly, she wasn’t the only person I’ve known who believed that mind-boggling gem, and I know anti-vaxxers, some who think fluoride is poison brainwashing, and a few Deep Staters and birthers just for starters. The fallout from 2016 is alarming enough that when I saw this, I requested and was sent an Advance Reader’s Edition from the publisher through LibraryThing.

Ms. Merlan calls this “a surreal time”, where the subcultures she writes about are “achieving a hallucinatory new level of fame.” In the western hemisphere, conspiracies have been around since the Euro-occupants (my term) got here. She says

Conspiracy theories tend to flourish especially at times of rapid social change, when we’re reevaluating ourselves and, perhaps, facing uncomfortable questions in the process. In 1980, the civil liberties lawyer and author Frank Donner wrote that conspiracism reveals a fundamental insecurity about who Americans want to be versus who we are.

Well, one need only look to religions to see the same thing. Continue reading