Last week I finished reading Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon, which I had started reading near the beginning of the month. I was told that I had been keeping this a secret from certain parties, and that I should post about it, and here is the post.
First some slight background. I got started on Pynchon by reading Gravity’s Rainbow 8 or 9 years ago. It was a hard read but I enjoyed it and soon after I read V, Vineland and The Crying of Lot 49, all of which I enjoyed to at least some degree. Therefore I went in this perfectly cognizant that it would not be an easy read, but with an expectation of some amount of enjoyment. Well, the first expectation was firmly met, but I think the second one missed by a bit…
M & D is ostensibly the story about the astronomer and surveyor pair that demarcated the line dividing Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware in the latter half of the 18th century. Of course, it’s not purely historical and there are strange interludes of whimsy and bizarreness, as one might expect from Pynchon. The novel is presented as a story told by the fictional character Reverand Wicks Cherrycoke, who accompanied Mason & Dixon on their journeys, to his young nephews and nieces. In some ways the interludes of Cherrycoke interacting with his family are the most interesting parts in the books. But they also are confusing at some times when it is a tiny parenthetical breaking into the “action”.
Anyway, I suppose I liked it OK, but I couldn’t help comparing it to Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I kind of think that DFW has managed to outdo Pynchon in his own game, and maybe that reduced my enjoyment. I can’t really recommend this book to anyone in particular, but I won’t say to avoid it at all costs either.
Well, I bought a book, and it’s sitting on an end table waiting for me to finish the book I’m currently reading. However, I read this article on The New Republics website (bugmenot for u/p) that’s really making me doubt the worthiness of this endeavor. Still, I’m committed to doing this now, I think.
Here’s a choice quote from the article, for those who didn’t want to click through (not that I blame you):
At a school board meeting in June, William Buckingham, the chair of the board’s curriculum committee, complained that the proposed replacement book was “laced with Darwinism.” After challenging the audience to trace its roots back to a monkey, he suggested that a more suitable textbook would include biblical theories of creation. When asked whether this might offend those of other faiths, Buckingham replied, “This country wasn’t founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. This country was founded on Christianity and our students should be taught as such.” Defending his views a week later, Buckingham reportedly pleaded: “Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can’t someone take a stand for him?” And he added: “Nowhere in the Constitution does it call for a separation of church and state.”
The last post I made got me thinking, maybe I’m not giving Intelligent Design a fair chance. Almost everything I’ve read about it has been presented by authors hostile to the idea. I should be more objective about this, so I’m thinking of reading a book on the subject written by a proponent. As near as I can tell there are two authors who have likely books, Michael Behe and William Dembski. This first hurdle is that my town’s library has no books by either of them. Do I spend some cash to pursue this project? Is this project just a waste of my time? Any thoughts?
posted this article about President Bush’s call for school’s to teach Intelligent Design as an alternate to evolution to explain life. One sentence in this article infuriates me above all others “Scientists have rejected the theory as an attempt to force religion into science education.” The reason why this irks me so is that ID is not a theory, and it cannot be a theory. It is not science at all, but religious doctrine plain and simple. If schools teach ID as the non-scientific alternate to the generally well-conceived and well proven theory that natural selection leads to evolution of species, well, that I am indeed for. Because that will help showcase critical thinking.
An added bonus to this is that I am currently reading Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes by Stephen Jay Gould, which has a section devoted to essays on science and politics. In particular this section focuses on the legacy of the Scopes Monkey Trial, and the longstanding fight of creationism versus science that’s been going on since Darwin popularized evolution via his theory of natural selection. Gould himself was a witness in a legal battle over evolution vs creationism almost 25 years ago, 55+ years after the Scopes Trial. The more things change, the more things stay the same, the more we waste time on uselessness. But politicians need to appeal to their base, especially when they can’t seem to get anything actually useful done…