March 31st, 2021


Galileo & the Science Deniers / Mediocre

Galileo & the Science Deniers is a solid biography of Galileo by Mario Livio, an actual working astronomer. I can't say that his scientific background adds a whole lot to the mix, but it can't hurt. He does bring an interesting flair for art (a subject of some interest to Galileo himself -- dare we call him a renaissance man?). One great illustration is a painting of the Virgin Mary by Cigoli, which features the BVM standing on a moon with craters and shadows. It may be the first such depiction of the Moon, and likely inspired by Galileo's sketches.

The history is presented quite credibly and with plenty of primary sources. Inevitably, it leads to Galileo's trials and tribulations with the Inquisition. It's not hard to draw a very short, denialist line between the Inquisition and modern day science deniers, but this was sadly a disappointment in the book. It's clearly an afterthought, with a paragraph or so wedged in at the end of each chapter to try to give the book some current relevance.


I wish Mediocre had managed to be mediocre, but in fact it's just not good.

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, by Ijeoma Oluo.

One might think the book would be about white male America, but that's probably not even a majority of the book.

I guess I was hoping for something more sociological, or psychological. How white men think more highly of themselves than other groups, regardless of actual competence or status. An in-depth analysis of Lake Wobegon, where all our (white male) children are above average. Or an in-depth look at the improbable successes of the Homer Simpsons of the world, especially as contrasted with the Frank Grimes of the world (replacing Grimey with nonwhite nonmale equivalents). Honestly, these comedic takes have more insight into mediocre white men than this book.

Maybe I was just expecting the wrong content. If the book had been titled Shitty Things White Dudes have done in History, it would have been more accurate, and I could have saved my time. A lot of the book is really more of a polemic for a particular brand of progressivism, without much about the titular mediocre white dude (MWD). One of the first targets is Bernie Sanders, and his failure to be progressive enough on racial issues. While this is an accurate criticism, this is hardly about Bernie being mediocre. The author almost latches onto something with a discussion of Bernie Bros, but beyond mentioning hateful tweets from that corner, there is very little analysis of that phenomenon and how it relates to MWD. Any news article you might have read about some fraction of Bernie Bros voting Trump is more insightful than this book.

There's a long section that is basically a glowing biography of each of the four members of The Squad. While it's a great thing that these women who don't look like the politicians of yesteryear are succeeding, these encomia tell me nothing about MWD.

I don't really even know what to make of her schizophrenic treatment of academia and the NFL. Especially the latter since she claims little knowledge of the sport, so the presentation is somewhat shallow, apart from a focus on the Colin Kaepernick affair (worth discussing, but how does it relate to MWD?), as opposed to, say, Doug Williams. Or Brian's Song, fer crissakes.