[Thanks to Wesley Fenza and Ghatanathoah for buying me a book, and to Alicorn for allowing me to raid her old textbook stash.]

Arriving At AmenThe first book of my favorite Catholic blogger, Leah Libresco. The most obvious comparison, to me, was to C S Lewis. Of course, that might just be because Lewis is the central example of “authors who write books about Christianity I like.” The depth of observation which Lewis has for all of humanity Libresco has for her own foibles. Although I’ve never been tempted to care about duty but not about people, to be happy when people hurt me because it’s a chance to show off my virtue, her description makes me understand why it’s tempting. I appreciate how Leah a book this is: it talks about Catholicism through the lens of cognitive biases, Les Miserables, and ASL. You wouldn’t mistake it for a book by any other author. That said, I’m someone with a lot of emotional connection to the mythology and ritual of Christianity in general and Catholicism in specific. If you don’t have that connection (either by being Christian or by being a really terrible atheist), this book is unlikely to have much insight for you. If you’re very interested, the Introduction has the content of most interest for someone who has no idea what the Examen is.

The Well-Grounded Rubyist. I think the subtitle of this book should be “An Extensive Guide To Things You Shouldn’t Do In Ruby Because They’re Terrible Ideas, But We’re Telling You About Them Anyway.” I found it delightful.

My favorite fact is that the Date#england method changes a date to what it would have been if not for the 1752 British calendar reform. I am curious if this method has been used more or less than a dozen times.

Fucking Trans Women. 0/10, still do not understand the mechanics of muffing.

Biomedical Ethics (6th Edition). Sometimes I say “biomedical ethicists are wrong about everything!” And then it occurs to me that they might not actually be wrong about everything, but I only see articles where they’re wrong about things, because I don’t know any bioethicists but I do know transhumanists, disability rights advocates, and Scott, who is annoyed about having to take classes about the importance of Beneficience and Non-Maleficience. So I read a biomedical ethics anthology to have a more informed opinion.

So! The good: I appreciated the chapters about the physician/patient relationship, informed consent, and confidentiality, to the point that I was beginning to be concerned that I would have to retract all my negative statements about bioethicists. The essays on informed consent contain a lot of really thoughtful analysis of issues like “what do you do when the patient’s family says the patient doesn’t want to be informed of their condition and wants the family to make all the decisions? Is it different if this practice is part of their cultural traditions about medicine?” (The answer the essay came to was to offer the patient the opportunity to learn about their condition, but not to insist.) I also appreciated the essay about what to do if a patient doesn’t want a doctor of a particular race and whether this is different if the patient is a member of a historically marginalized group. (That essay’s answers were “gently attempt to reason with the patient, but if it’s going to interfere with their care, let them switch” and “no”.)  It seems like a fair amount of bioethics is a response to ethical violations both large (Nazis, the Tuskegee experiment) and small (doctors paternalistically deciding what’s good for a patient when the patient might have different values), and I hadn’t really appreciated how important that was. If this kind of bioethics occasionally seems a little platitudinous (“it is very important that patients understand the costs and benefits of what they’re consenting to!”), it’s only because the consequences of not listening to those platitudes were so disastrous.

I also appreciated that the essay about normalization surgery for intersex infants was firmly against it. I continue to be appalled by the social acceptability of cosmetic genital surgery on infants.

The bad: there were definitely a bunch of essays that made me roll my eyes so much it was a bit hard to read. A selection: cosmetic surgery is morally questionable because it’s making people hotter rather than fixing a disease! Ritalin is medicating away childhood!* Requiring doctors to care about cost is a violation of their duty to pay attention to the best interests of the patient! We should not teach deaf children ASL or get them involved in Deaf culture because it separates them from the hearing world, a concern that mysteriously does not apply to Spanish and Hispanic culture! Randomized controlled trials are a violation of the patient’s rights, because what if they get a placebo when they could have gotten the treatment! Doing drug trials in developing countries is coercive because you are giving them nice things that they wouldn’t have otherwise and that’s terrible! It is totally awesome to care less about a being just because they are a different species from you and it is horribly unjust to compare that to racism, because all people of different races are human! People might want assisted suicide because they’re depressed or they think they’re a burden or they’re pressured into it, but mysteriously none of these concerns apply if you sedate someone and let them starve to death instead! It is completely reasonable and not ableist at all to want to kill yourself because you need adult diapers or you can’t dress yourself! Surrogate motherhood is Bad because Mom getting pregnant and giving the kid up will totally permanently scar the other children, because I said so!

So I feel I am justified in a generally negative opinion of the efforts of bioethicists in fields other than preventing Nazihood.

Also, even the anti-selective-abortion papers referred to disabled infants as “defective.” I do not generally support language policing, but come on. Don’t talk about babies in the same language you’d use to talk about a car that’s being recalled.

This is the first time I read the original Violinist Argument paper, and my response is still “of course you have to stay attached to the violinist for nine months! What are you, a monster?”

Forty Studies That Changed Psychology. I should get an award for having heard of every single one of those studies before I read the book. It has a pretty reasonable selection of studies, and each study contained a “recent applications” section which often provided interesting facts. (Did you know that high scores on the mathematical/logical multiple intelligence is correlated with masculinity as assessed by the Bem Sex Role Inventory, and musical intelligence with femininity?) However, I was puzzled by the inclusion of Rorschach tests, which are… not actually validated.

The Ethical Slut. A reread! I feel like people normally think of the Ethical Slut as a polyamory how-to guide, but it’s really not very good at that. Instead, it’s an in-depth explanation of a particular relationship style (ethical sluthood, if you will) and why you would want to be it; the advice it gives is mostly on the road to explaining what ethical sluthood is. The statement most people take from this book as a summary of ethical sluthood is “sex is nice and pleasure is good for you”, but I prefer the sentence they quote from a flower child: “I believe that you can have sex with anybody you love, and I believe in loving everyone.” However, I am still annoyed by the fact that this relationship style is perfectly compatible with sex-repulsion, celibacy and some forms of monogamy, that the authors notice this and specifically put in a “this is compatible with celibacy! Also some forms of monogamy!” passage, and that they spend the rest of the book assuming everyone is constantly having orgies.

The Machinery of Freedom. This book ought to put to bed the accusation that libertarians don’t care about poor people. Agree or disagree with Friedman’s factual claims, but his concern for the disadvantaged comes off every page. I am in desperate need of a The Dispossessed-style ambiguous utopia about his anarchocapitalist ideas; can someone please give a copy to Ursula K Le Guin? He’s also tremendously funny: I found myself reading aloud passages like “the direct use of physical force is so poor a solution to the problem of limited resources that it is commonly employed only by small children and great nations.” I also love this passage:

When I used to give speeches in favor of abolishing the draft, there was a dirty word that kept cropping up —’mercenary’. A mercenary, as far as I could figure it out, was someone who did something because he wanted to. A soldier who fought for money. Or glory. Or patriotism. Or fun. The opposite of a mercenary was a draftee. Someone who fought because if he did not, he would be put in jail. According to that definition, there are only two kinds of people. Mercenaries and slaves. I’m a mercenary.


Karen Memory. The author Steven Brust invented the Cool Stuff Theory of Literature, which defines the novel as “a structure built to accommodate the greatest possible amount of cool stuff.” By this definition, Karen Memory succeeds admirably. Things this book features:

  • Steampunk!
  • The Wild West!
  • An airship, complete with flamboyant captain named Minneapolis Colony!
  • Captain Nemo!
  • The Lone Ranger (racebent)!
  • Tonto (not racebent)!
  • Sex worker protagonist, handled in a way where she is badass and independent and not in a way where she is creepily oversexualized or an object of pity!
  • Lesbians, some of whom are also sex workers!
  • Mad scientists, some of whom are also sex workers!
  • A trans woman who was written by a cis person and didn’t make me cringe!

*Psychiatric medications for children are, in my opinion, ethically questionable. On one hand, it seems silly to require children to suffer when we could make them not suffer. On the other hand, parents do not necessarily have the best interests of the child at heart; parents often medicate their child because it makes their child easier to deal with, rather than making them happier. These moral considerations, however, have very little to do with whether we are medicating away childhood.