Linked Miscellanea

1. Hemant Mehta’s new book, “The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide,” is now available in paperback!

I just finished reading Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist‘s new book. It’s a great and easily digestible exploration of Christian privilege in public schools, and it provides background and practical advice on how to deal with a sensitive time in many atheist’s lives. It’s somewhat on the short side, and regular readers of his blog might already be familiar with much of the content. Those minor quibbles aside, though, it’s a great read for students, parents, or any atheists interested in supporting young, nonreligious teens.

So for those unwilling or unable to buy the electronic version, you can finally read about high school atheism the way Gutenberg intended.

2. Paul Fidalgo joins Freethought Blogs, grows to accept e-books. 

Paul Fidalgo, notorious toddler-raiser and eminent compiler of links at The Morning Heresy, recently sold his soul to join the Freethought Blogs network. So far he’s busted into verse and grown to accept ebooks, so he seems to be off to a good start. I’d like to extend to him my warmest congratulations—I’ve been following his tumblr blog for a while, so I’m happy to see him get a wider audience.

As for e-books, I’m not as enthused about them as Paul is, if only because Amazon is kind of trying to use them to destroy the book publishing industry. E-books on Amazon are often sold at a loss, which Amazon can offset with the money they make selling everything else in the world. Traditional publishers can’t, so there’s a serious chance that this might crowd book publishers out of the industry.

Some see this as a good thing—I see that as the death of editing, good writing, and decent quality control that only giant, bloated gatekeepers like book publishers and magazines currently provide.

The New York Times wrote recently on a favorable court decision for Amazon:

Amazon, which already controls about 60 percent of the e-book market, can take a loss on every book it sells to gain market share for its Kindle devices. When it has enough competitive advantage, it can dictate its own terms, something publishers say is beginning to happen. 

. . .

“If there’s an upside, I don’t see it yet,” said J. B. Dickey, the owner of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. “My fear is that the major publishers won’t be able to stay in business just selling e-books. You can’t bring in enough money to support the infrastructure. If that happens, there goes the marketing, the editorial, the author tours, the expertise of the book industry.”

And his store, he added.

Of course, the upside is cheaper e-books now for consumers. But [cue dramatic music] at what cost?! I say this completely aware of the fact that I own a kindle and used it to read Hemant’s new book. I still support bookstores, though, and maybe you should, too.

3. How is religion like corn syrup?

I stumbled on this blog post yesterday and liked it a lot. Greg Stevens writes:

Finally, some people say that corn syrup is simply unnatural and has some health risks, so wouldn’t it simply be more rational to use something different? Many of these people even have specific ideas in mind (usually things like raw cane sugar or organic honey).

Personally, I’m indifferent to this. I mean, if someone likes corn syrup, and he doesn’t eat so much of it so that it destroys his health, then it doesn’t bug me if he includes corn syrup in his diet. Sure, the corn syrup industry has its issues; but what industry doesn’t? One can fight to fix the institutions without eliminating the product completely. Personally, I don’t need corn syrup in my diet to enjoy what I’m eating.  But if someone else enjoys it, I don’t know why that should bother me.

So, those are my thoughts on religion…. I mean, corn syrup.

Check the whole thing out. I think it’s a really nice analogy, and we should think more about how much of the problematic aspects of religion are caused by religion itself, or by more fundamental facets of human nature—such as tribalism, cognitive biases, and other nastiness inherent in our social psychology. I think it’s clear where I stand, but even if you disagree, the post raises some thoughtful points to engage with.

4. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal talks about the true miracle of Christmas.

As attentive readers might know, I am all about Christmas and Christmas related things. SMBC, my favorite philosophy-and-also-everything-else related webcomic, writes about the real magical power Christmas has on those who celebrate it.

About Vlad Chituc

Vlad Chituc edits NonProphet Status. He's a researcher at the intersection of psychology, philosophy, and sometimes economics at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He likes the South very much and lives with his dog, Toad, who is great. In 2012, he graduated with a B.S. in psychology from Yale University, where he spent a lot of time reading philosophy and learning to write.

  • Carl

    I mean, Amazon deserves some blame for the death of the book publishers, but the publishers deserve even more. The only reason Amazon’s “sell the ebooks at a loss” strategy is working is because, thanks to the DRM the publishers insist must be in ever ebook, Amazon is able to lock anyone who buys a Kindle ebook into the Kindle ecosystem. You can’t legally strip the DRM, so your Kindle ebook only works on Kindle apps and Kindle ereaders, so you keep buying Kindle ebooks, which means you are even more dependent on the Kindle ecosystem, and so on and so forth.

  • Vlad Chituc

    Carl, I think you’re giving Amazon too much credit if you think they would otherwise choose to sell their e-books DRM-free. Locking people into the Kindle ecosystem, as you say, could hardly be a bad thing for Amazon.

    I don’t blame publishers for insisting on a set price for their books—there’s a lot of stuff over and above simply printing books that book publishers do and need to offset the costs of. The article mentions a few, like book tours, promotion, editing, and the like. Amazon basically admits to trying to gain as big of the market as possible, so they can force book publishers to charge less to sell their books.

    Anyway, at the very least I think it’s an interesting and tricky debate.

  • Carl

    Vlad, I don’t dispute that Amazon would want to do this anyway. But since the publishers require all stores selling ebooks to use DRM, it prevents competitors from undercutting Amazon’s ecosystem by offering DRM-free ebooks. Even at the same price (and I don’t think publishers shouldn’t set prices), a DRM-free ebook is a better value.

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