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Skeptic Summary

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Skeptic Summary #351

By The Staff
Posted on: 12/18/2011

Hitchens, deluded bigots, Gingrich, HalfMooner and more!

Week ending December 18, 2011 (Vol 8, #39)

Welcome to the Skeptic Summary, a quick week-in-review guide to the Skeptic Friends Network and the rest of the skeptical world.

Forum Highlights:
Christopher Hitchens has died - The loss felt by atheists and skeptics is huge.

Cue the oh-so-persecuted delusionists - Rick Perry flaunts his bigotry for all to see.

Gingrich and EMP - Blowing smoke does not a launch into space make.

Editor’s Choice: Missing Mooner - SFN members voice concern over a staff member gone AWOL.

Kil’s Evil Pick:
Postscript: Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011 — There has been much written about Christopher Hitchens’ passing in the last few days. And that’s as it should be. As an essayist, he had few equals. I have read many of the eulogies written about him, and I have picked my favorite, because a close friend of his, Christopher Buckley, wrote it. I hope that you’ll find it as insightful as I did.

There is no doubt that Hitchens made some of us crazy, or angry, or sometimes inclined to stand up and cheer while reading his always-eloquent, bitingly witty prose. He made us think. And while I didn’t always agree with him, he dished out a very substantial helping of food for thought with every essay and book that he wrote.

He will be missed.

On a more personal note, I had the pleasure of meeting Christopher Hitchens at TAM5. One of the benefits of smoking (and there’s no need to tell you that there aren’t very many) is getting to meet other smokers hanging out in a designated area, grabbing a smoke. I have met several people at various TAMs that way. And while I don’t recommend it as a reason to smoke, it does have its advantages. It’s the socially unacceptable habit that brings us together and forms a kind of camaraderie of fellow travelers, who at least in one area of our lives as skeptics, are cognizant of our cognitive dissonance with regard to the evils of smoking, and run with it, even as we cough up all sorts of terrible things. We are a dying breed.

And it was in that context that I met Hitchens. Like the rest of us, he was out in the freezing cold of a Vegas winter, outside the Riviera, grabbing a smoke. We were all out there freezing our asses off, grabbing a smoke. That’s dedication. Anyhow, Hitchens was talking to a few admirers, when I approached him for a photo. I wanted the two of us in the photo, naturally. Now, I can’t actually say why, but both of us looked for the best place for the photo to be taken. He didn’t know me from Adam, but he was as into finding the right place to stand for the shot as I was. (Brothers in a deadly habit? I don’t know.) I noticed the sign on the doors a few feet away from where we were standing and suggested that those doors and that sign were perfect. He agreed. So off we went. My son, Tim, was in control of the camera. “A little to the left. No wait! Okay, that’s perfect…”

The deed was done. I thanked Mr. Hitchens and he went back to whatever the conversation was that he was having before I intruded. Later that evening, well after his talk and his panel discussion (complete with one of his trademark “Hitchslaps”), I saw him holding court on the balcony outside of the over crowded room that resembled the state room scene in the Marx Brothers movie, A Night at the Opera. That was at the Skepchick party. He was out there with the other smokers. He saw me and gave me a slight nod. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps it was in my imagination that he did that. I don’t know. But it was too cold out there for me. I took a puff, put out my cigarette and went back inside. And that was that. Most TAM speakers are quite willing to hobnob with the riffraff. Their fans. And Hitchens was no exception. But of all of my fan photos, only Hitchens took the extra time to make it something very special. He was a cool guy.

That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.
— Christopher Hitchens

Chat Highlights:
Wednesday: We started out with crude analogies between the electronics industry and medicine. There are a lot of fish in the sea, and though most of us agreed the best-looking ones are younger, marriage prevents some of us from going fishing. From there, by association, we slipped into talking about fish for holiday dinners. Salmon, tuna, cod or herring… canned, cooked, fried, raw, pickled or fermented/rotten. Talk about fishing also led to out-fishing natural resources and over-exploitation of nature in general. Then celebrities who don’t seem to think that rules, any rules, apply to them. The chat ended with some sober thoughts on the mortality of man and animals.

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:
Randal Carter

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
140 New Species Described by California Academy of Sciences in 2011

The Bioterrorist Next Door

CFI Mourns the Death of Christopher Hitchens

Darwin Didn’t Plagiarize Wallace

Doubtful Newsblog

The Higgs boson: What has God got to do with it?

A Long Walk To Land

Mummified cat walled up in 17th century ‘witch’s cottage’

Poll Holds Surprises About Teen Self-Image, Reality TV Effects

Science’s Global Conundrums

Sewing Audio to Video, and Rubber Hands Onto People

Skepticality #172 — Magnetic Force

This Week in Intelligent Design

We’ve lost a giant

What Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski doesn’t want you to know about antineoplastons

What’s New by Bob Park

Got some skeptic news items? Send them to us, and we’ll think about adding them.

Book of the Week:
Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens, by Christopher Hitchens.

“‘All first-rate criticism first defines what we are confronting,’ the late, great jazz critic Whitney Balliett once wrote. By that measure, the essays of Christopher Hitchens are in the first tier. For nearly four decades, Hitchens has been telling us, in pitch-perfect prose, what we confront when we grapple with first principles — the principles of reason and tolerance and skepticism that define and inform the foundations of our civilization — principles that, to endure, must be defended anew by every generation.

‘A short list of the greatest living conversationalists in English,’ said The Economist, ‘would probably have to include Christopher Hitchens, Sir Patrick Leigh-Fermor, and Sir Tom Stoppard. Great brilliance, fantastic powers of recall, and quick wit are clearly valuable in sustaining conversation at these cosmic levels. Charm may be helpful, too.’ Hitchens — who staunchly declines all offers of knighthood — hereby invites you to take a seat at a democratic conversation, to be engaged, and to be reasoned with. His knowledge is formidable, an encyclopedic treasure, and yet one has the feeling, reading him, of hearing a person thinking out loud, following the inexorable logic of his thought, wherever it might lead, unafraid to expose fraudulence, denounce injustice, and excoriate hypocrisy. Legions of readers, admirers and detractors alike, have learned to read Hitchens with something approaching awe at his felicity of language, the oxygen in every sentence, the enviable wit and his readiness, even eagerness, to fight a foe or mount the ramparts.

Here, he supplies fresh perceptions of such figures as varied as Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Rebecca West, George Orwell, J.G. Ballard, and Philip Larkin are matched in brilliance by his pungent discussions and intrepid observations, gathered from a lifetime of traveling and reporting from such destinations as Iran, China, and Pakistan.

Hitchens’s directness, elegance, lightly carried erudition, critical and psychological insight, humor, and sympathy — applied as they are here to a dazzling variety of subjects — all set a standard for the essayist that has rarely been matched in our time. What emerges from this indispensable volume is an intellectual self-portrait of a writer with an exemplary steadiness of purpose and a love affair with the delights and seductions of the English language, a man anchored in a profound and humane vision of the human longing for reason and justice.”

— Book Description

This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. Dr. Jeffery Life and Cenegenics
  2. Funny FAILS
  3. The water cooler, part 3
  4. Skepticism about the Big Bang
  5. Missing Mooner
  6. The Lord works in mysterious ways…
  7. The Battle of Tehran
  8. avatar update
  9. Gingrich and EMP
  10. Scattershots: gargoyles & grotesques
  1. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  2. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  3. Evolving a Venom or Two
  4. Natural Childbirth: Under the Skeptical Movement's Radar?
  5. Cold Reading
  6. The PQ Test
  7. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  8. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  9. Come & Receive your Miracle: A Sunday Afternoon at a Robert Tilton Crusade
  10. Miracle Thaw Tray
There were 6,593 daily visitors this week.

More issues of the Skeptic Summary can be found in our archive.

The Skeptic Summary is produced by the staff of the Skeptic Friends Network, copyright 2011, all rights reserved.

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