Thursday, June 30, 2011

Paris in July: Mais Oui

So, having decided to revitalize my poor neglected blog, I started looking for new blogs to stick in my roll. I found BookBath and by finding BookBath, I found this challenge, hosted by Karen of Bookbath and Tamara of Thyme for Tea.

There will be no rules or targets in terms of how much you need to do or complete in order to be a part of Paris in July - just blog about anything French and you can join in. Some ideas for the month might include:

- Reading a French book - fiction or non-fiction

- Watching a French movie

- Listening to French music

- Cooking French food

- Experiencing French art, architecture or travel (lucky Tamara!)

- Or anything else French inspired you can think of...

If you are interested in being a part of this experience leave a comment on this post and we will put together a side bar showing all of the participants. There will be weekly French themed prizes during the month for which we will randomly draw the winners from all the French themed posts of that week that link back to us. We will be writing weekly wrap up posts for you to link your posts to.
I have Edith Piaf on the radio. Amelie in my dvd player, Balzac on my nightstand and Monet on my wall. Je suis prĂȘt.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Porn: A Panoramic View of Strahov Library

I am grateful to live in the Internet Age. Because even if I cannot visit the Strahov library, I can still click on this link:

and have my breath taken away.

Strahov Monastery Library

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Paraphernalia: Hidden Doors

If you actually get one of these in your house, it's probably a sign that you read too much Nancy Drew as a child. And that you have money to burn.

It's a hidden door (from that opens to reveal another room. The hidden door is fashioned like a bookcase, although you can also get it with a section for a tv.

You could spend hours thinking of what to put in a hidden room...people you've kidnapped, S&M equipment, a Faberge egg on a pedestal under glass.

I know what I'd put in mine...more books.

Book Review: Losing My Religion By William Lobdell

Title:Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace
Author: William Lobdell, newspaper reporter
Publication Year:2009
Borrowed From the Library
Similar: Letter to A Christian Nation by Sam Harris, god Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

Losing My Religion : How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace by William Lobdell is a testimony of how the author improved life through faith-- only to became disenchanted with religion.

As a born-again Christian, William Lobdell begins to pray for God to use him in his profession- journalism- to spread a more positive image of believers. His prayers are answered when he lands a chance to write a religion column.

Preferring the inspirational stories about believers overcoming obstacles and giving back, Lobdell instead found himself covering the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. Later he engaged in a two year investigation of Trinity Broadcasting Network and faith healer Benny Hinn. He started re-thinking his faith.

Lobdell noticed that when it came to the Schwarzenegger sexual harassment accusations, newspapers printed actual quotes, cleaning them up only by substituting more 'clinical' terms for the slang words. During the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal, the phrase 'child molestation' was used.
The Church called it 'boundary violation' and 'inappropriate conduct'.

When Lobdell found were stories of a priest inserting a religious object into a girl's vagina and a little boy hiding his bloody underwear from his mother, he shunned the "bad touching" type euphemisms for accurate terminology.

He called it what it was: rape. Sodomy. And those words were edited out of his reports.

"The media's terms 'sexual abuse' and 'molestation' were far too neutral to describe what happened to most of these people," Lobdell writes "I tried in vain to get my editors to use more accurate and graphic descriptions[...]. They were considered too graphic for a family newspaper."

These euphemisms left the image of a passing touch, easily misconstrued, a view that let many molesters off the hook in the public imagination.

I doubt this book will make people re-think their views on religion unless they are a part of the institutions that Lobdell so clearly exposes (maybe not even then).

It's almost as if William Lobdell is a non-believer by default. He eliminated these other viewpoints and what's left is a kind of optimistic deism. Which is just fine, if it suits him, but leaves me feeling that the book is not entirely convincing to a believer.

There's room left to argue that Lobdell confuses the bad behavior of humans with God himself. He might counter by asking why people should accept what they're told about God, if the people telling them are manipulative and greedy?

Losing My Religion is not the best argument for religious skepticism--but it is a story that anyone interested in religion should read.

Book Review: A Mind of It's Own by David M. Friedman

Title: A Mind of It's Own: A Cultural History of the Penis
Author: David M Friedman
Publication Year:2001
Rating: 8/10
Similar Books: Bonk: The Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

You gotta love fascinating little bits of history. Take for example this passage, which gives you privileged access to the medieval mind:

Anna Pappenheimer was one of thousands of women killed during the witch hunts that reached their grisly peak between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries . Some of those killed were accused of causing crop failures, others of performing abortions.

But there was one crime that virtually all the women confessed to after torture, beginning with the first "documented" witch to be executed in public, the Frenchwoman Angela de la Barthe, in 1275.

That crime was knowledge of the Devil's penis.

Okay, maybe not such a privilege.

A Mind of It's Own by David M. Friedman follows the penis through Western history, from carnal knowledge of the Devil to the theories of Sigmund Freud to the militant feminism of the late 20th century.

It tells us that the Ancient Greeks idealized the bodies of adolescent boys. To them, a smaller penis meant a more civilized--and therefore more beautiful--man. They engaged in pederasty while the Ancient Romans hung giant phalli wherever they could.

The Ancient Egyptians believed that life on Earth was created through a sacred act of masturbation by the god Atum.

The Sumerians recorded in their poetry the words of the god Enki, who dug the first irrigation ditches, created the Euphrates and the first human baby ---all using his 'shrinky-dink' (as Ned Flanders called it.)"Let now my penis be praised!" cries the priapic god.

The penises of some groups, like blacks and Jews, became emblems for mainstream society's fears about those groups themselves.

Having read this book, I see that this subject could have been handled differently- it could have been preachy, it could have been silly, it could have been disturbing (but it could never have been boring, I'm sure).

Instead, Friedman is intelligent without being esoteric, funny without immaturity and (speaking as a girl) answers questions that you really can't ask a man dude out loud. At least, not if you expect a completely honest answer.

Book Review: The Faith Healers by James Randi

Title: The Faith Healers
Author: James Randi
Publication Year: 1987
Rating: 7/10
Similar Books: Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer

The amazing James Randi is a former magician who has spent a good part of his life debunking psychics and faith healers. You can see in the above video that he is pretty good at it. The Faith Healers details his efforts at exposing big-name preachers of the 70s and 80s- Oral Roberts, W.V Grant and Leroy Jenkins among them.

The Faith Healers was an engaging, fascinating read, with an almost conversational tone. It met my expectations in many ways- a satisfying example of the debunking genre, a series of interesting stories with a tiny element of scandal and outrage. Despite literally being older than I am, it was still relevant, perhaps because it links faith healing to history. Besides, critical thinking is always relevant. It's always a trip for me to discover facts about nearby-history. Before I read this book, I had no idea that Pat Robertson had ever run for president (I was all: "WTF?").

Its negatives include a tendency to be anecdotal in places and- one thing I didn't expect- spending the first three chapters talking about three faith healers in general and then giving them each their own chapter, which made some parts seem redundant.

Some of the efforts discussed in the book seem a trifle ridiculous. For example, a member of Randi's debunking team attended a healing crusade dressed as a very ugly woman. Also, there was some garbage diving involved. Since all you have to do is turn on the tv and watch to see how blatantly ridiculous healing services are, the undercover business seemed unnecessary and weird: grown men playing at espionage. But I won't deny it made the book more exciting.