Throwing the book(s) at my readers

Friday night, the publishers of the Journal Of Irreproducible Results held their annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremonies, where they give their awards to the silliest scientific breakthroughs. This year’s winners were the inventor of prosthetic gonads for dogs (“Neuticles,”) the authors who researched ”Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh,” and the paper on “Will Humans Swim Faster or Slower in Syrup?”

That put me in mind of a book I bought years ago, and a few other of my favorite obscure books.

Anyone who disagrees with “sex sells” is a liar. I picked up a book solely for its title, browsed it quickly, and bought it — and I recommend any other geeks do the same. It’s “Sex As A Heap Of Malfunctioning Rubble,” and it’s a collection of articles from the above-mentioned Journal. There are such prize pieces as a study of the rare, endangered Pacific Nauga, a study on which shape of styrofoam peanuts will most efficiently fill in the Grand Canyon, and A Shorter History Of Time (“BANG!”). They also compare and contrast artwork from ancient India and ancient Greece, and speculate of a war between the two where the Indians stole all the arms and legs off the Greeks’ statues and attached them to their own statues. If you’re in the least bit scientifically inclined, it’s a must-read.

Another odd little book I like is George R. R. Martin’s “Armageddon Rag.” It’s the story of a 60’s band reuniting for a grand tour. The Nazgul (a Doors-like band) broke up after their lead singer was assassinated on stage during a concert, triggering a riot. Now they’re back, with a replacement for the slain leader — or is he? It’s reminiscent of Stephen King at his finest, replete with scads of 60’s flavor that brings back nostalgia even among those of us who were born at its peak.

“I, JFK” is another odd one. It’s the memoirs of President John F. Kennedy, composed nearly 25 years after his assassination. It’s written in the first person, as JFK looks down from Heaven and reminisces. It’s not for everyone, though — it’s constantly shocking, and filled with amazingly surreal and improbable twists. We learn the secrets behind his assassination (it was nobody you even knew existed), the Tit Offensive in Viet Nam (no, that’s not a typo), who REALLY killed Marilyn Monroe, and all sorts of other things you never even imagined. Lyndon Johnson is in it, too, and J. Edgar Hoover shows up in both Heaven AND Hell — showing that, perhaps, his legendary files included EVERYONE.

Finally, Richard Ben Sapir’s “The Body” (out of print, but a movie was made of it that I need to see) starts off with a Palestinian shopkeeper digging out a basement in Jerusalem. He finds a cave that has been as a tomb, and inside is a skeleton that shows signs of crucifixion. Further, the ribs on one side are broken and the skull is scratched, but the arms and legs are intact. Finally, there is a plaque resting on the chest proclaiming the body as that of “the king of the Jews.”

He freaks and reports it to the Israeli government. Faced with a huge, no-win dilemma on their hands, they do the only thing they can do — they quietly notify the Catholic Church of their find, and dump it in THEIR laps. The Church sends a priest to investigate and ascertain whether this is, indeed, the body of Jesus.

Even for an agnostic like me, it’s a fascinating story. I learned far more about the Bible and its context from that book than any of my other dabblings in theology. For example, the Israeli archeologist assigned to work with Father Gutierrez gives the full story behind the tale of Jesus driving out the moneychangers from the Temple, and now I fully understand just why they were there in the first place. She also give the secular reasons for just why Jerusalem, and Israel, was so important in ancient times. (Explanations in the extended section).

So, there are four of my favorite books, culled from the ranks of the relatively obscure. I could cite “Watership Down,” which I re-read every year or two, but I was looking for ones people might not have read.

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Ancient Israel was located at the crossroads of three great Empires (Rome, Egypt, Persia) and three continents (Europe, Africa, Asia). Travelers, even back then, had to exchange their currency, and thought it best to do so before they entered the new region. With Jerusalem located between all three, it was a natural place. And the Temple was the most visible and easily-found landmark in the city. So the Temple found a good way to supplement its income was by leasing space to money-lenders in the Temple’s outer chambers.

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