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Teknik Cobham Luxury Mesh Back Executive Chair Home Office
Teknik Cobham Luxury Mesh Back Executive Chair Home Office
Offered by Office Needs
Price: 184.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent home office chair, 6 Sep 2013
This is an excellent chair for home or office. It's sturdy, has a wide seat and range of adjustments that should suit most people. The adjustable lumbar support is welcome if you are prone to lower back pain as I am. The Cobham is vastly cheaper than a certain well known prestigious make of office chair with similar support and mesh back, but just as comfortable in my opinion. Its' reclining mechanism and headrest make it good for taking a nap. A minor criticism is that it has developed a creaking sound after 3 years of use. The assembly instructions consist of just four diagrams, but I found it easy to put together.


Racism: A Beginner's Guide
Racism: A Beginner's Guide
by Alana Lentin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.04

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Racism: a beginner's guide to uncritical thinking, 20 Mar 2013
The author states: this book "is centered on the basic principle that racism is inherently political". Her argument for this relies on four premises: that race is meaningless except in relation to racism, racism is modern, Western and capitalist.

Lentin's first premiss is that race "remains a salient term only because racism continues to exist", so she attacks the scientific existence of race: "it is important to refute the race concept on scientific grounds". She dismisses (rather than refutes) what she calls the "pseudo-scientific notions that are now understood to be at the basis of racism", and asserts that "race does not exist from a biological point of view". The notion that race has no biological meaning was promoted by Marxist biologist Richard Lewontin, who claimed in 1972 that only 15% of genetic variation occurs between races, concluding that "to some biologists, this means that, strictly speaking, human races do not exist". Anthony Edwards (BioEssays, 2003), however, has shown that this conclusion is based on a statistical fallacy: Lewontin's analysis ignores the fact that most of the information that distinguishes populations is hidden in the correlation structure of the data and not simply in the variation of the individual factors. When an appropriate analysis is performed, racial categories clearly emerge and largely agree with traditional concepts of race. (For a non-technical explanation, see Armand Leroi's article in the New York Times, 14 March, 2005.) Lentin may be using what has become know as Lewontin's Fallacy when she claims that there is as much genetic variety among racial and ethnic groups as there is between them. Of course, the biological existence of race does not justify racism, but as Edwards put it: "it is a dangerous mistake to premise the moral equality of human beings on biological similarity because dissimilarity, once revealed, then becomes an argument for moral inequality".

Lentin is mistaken in claiming that race has "no scientific value". It has value in medicine. It is known that different races are prone to particular diseases and tend to react differently to some drugs. She later admits as much in Chapter 4: "there is evidence that some groups - traditionally thought of as races - tend to be prone to certain diseases.". Note the weasel words "some groups - traditionally thought of as races" to avoid admitting that races exist. She brands this "infiltration of politics into the supposedly neutral field of science". But aren't scientists just trying to identify groups that are prone to particular diseases, in the same way they consider other factors such as age or sex? Lentin claims some (unnamed ) geneticists have argued it would be "better science" not to look for racial genetic similarities. But is it really good science not to look for factors that could be useful in treating and preventing disease on the grounds it's politically unacceptable to identify racial groups?

Lentin complains that the Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP) identifies genetic groups with what she calls "traditional 'racial' groups". She goes on: "It is difficult to know, therefore, whether this is purely coincidental or whether it is biased by the fact that race has been so predominant in ideas about human diversity". This is a false dichotomy: it is neither coincidence nor bias. Anyone who reads "Genes, Peoples and Languages" by Luigi Cavalli-Sforza - the architect of HGDP - would find it impossible to believe that his statistical analysis of DNA, backed up by language and archaeology, identifies some groups traditionally thought of as races by pure coincidence. Neither could Cavalli-Sforza be accused of bias. His book shows he is very conscious of the difficulties and dangers of racial classifications. Lentin repeats sociologist Robert Carter's risible notion that the problem with the project is that "scientists involved in it are unaware of debates in the social sciences about the socially constructed nature of race". But in the paper she cites, Carter discusses a quite different project, the Human Genome Project, not HGDP, so Lentin seems confused about these projects.

Lentin's second key premiss is that racism is modern: "the thesis being put forward here that race really only comes into political being with the advent of modernity". As a statement of a thesis this is rather vague. Note the weasel word 'really'. What is meant by "comes into political being"? When was the "advent of modernity"? On this last question Lentin admits there is "significant argument": modernity starts anywhere between the 15th or late 19th century, but she defines it as post-Enlightenment. The Enlightenment's "rational thought, based on observable evidence" made it "possible to speak about humanity being divided into proposed 'races'", which led to the "classification of people into biologically determined groups". But as Benjamin Isaac shows in his scholarly work "The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity" (2004), the Enlightenment adopted ideas and modes of thinking developed and accepted in the ancient world. The authors of the Enlightenment constantly employed Graeco-Roman concepts and ideas in connection with racism. Isaac shows how this ancient influence even extended into the late nineteenth century eugenics movement. Eugenics clearly occurs in Greek literature as a concept (eg Plato's Republic) and inspired the eugenics of Darwin, Gobineau and Galton. Gobineau's racist justification of slavery was not a modern invention either. Isaac's book shows how similar ideas were used by Aristotle and other ancient Greek thinkers. Isaac also shows that there is nothing new about ethnic prejudice, social hatred, hostility to immigrants and xenophobia, which all existed in ancient Greek and Roman societies. But Lentin would have us believe these are modern phenomena, giving them new labels such as 'new racism' and 'xeno-racism'. Lentin's position is largely based on Ivan Hannaford's book "Race: The History of an Idea in the West" (1996), which Isaac says "suffers from a totally inadequate treatment of the ancient texts in their context".

Holding the Enlightenment responsible for making it "possible for things to be divided and classified systematically" is, of course, absurd, but it's consistent with an extreme form of social constructivism that arose in the 1970s. This theory insists that all categories are social constructions and have no claim to objective reality. It is described and refuted by Steven Pinker in Chaper 12 of his book "The Blank Slate" - essential reading for anyone wanting to understand Lentin's mindset. As Pinker explains: "Postmodernists and other relativists attack truth and objectivity ... because they feel it is the best way to pull the rug out from under racists...". Thus Lentin denies the scientific existence of race, rejects any use of racial/ethnic categories in medicine, policing, genetics or the HGDP, and denies the neutrality of science itself.

Lentin's third key premiss is that racism is Western: racism is a "specifically European phenomenon" and "inherently a Western one". While it's indisputable that racism has historically been used to justify Western colonialism and slavery, it's nonsense to claim that it's exclusively Western. Many examples of non-Western racism can be found in Niall Ferguson's "War of the World". What is now widely acknowledged to have been the first true genocide was perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks against the Armenians in 1915, followed by further Turkish massacres of Greeks and Armenians in 1922. Racism and eugenics underpinned Japanese expansion into Asia. The Japanese regarded other Asian races as inferior, even sub-human, while purporting to liberate them from Western colonisation. After early military successes, Japan regarded the white race as inferior too. The Rape of Nanking, sexual violence, mass murder of prisoners and civilians were, Ferguson suggests, instrumental in Japan's ambition to create a new world order based on racial subjugation. Although in some respects Westernised, pre-war Japan rejected Western "individualistic materialism" and its army was run by anti-capitalist utopians. Ferguson documents post-war genocides and ethnic conflicts too. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge were as committed to the notion of racial purity as to Communist fundamentalism, slaughtering around 100,000 ethnic Vietnamese, 225,000 ethnic Chinese and 100,00 Muslim Chams. In 1977 it launched a war against Vietnam with the explicit genocidal intent of exterminating fifty million Vietnamese. In 1971 Pakistan waged an authentically genocidal campaign against the people of East Pakistan. In 1988 Saddam Hussein launched a genocidal campaign against the Kurds, using poison gas to wipe out whole villages. In 1994 the Hutus of Rwanda murdered 800,000 people - mostly Tutsis - labelling the ethnic minority 'cockroaches'. But according to Lentin's definition, none of these genocides are racist because they aren't Western! At least, that's what we have to assume since she doesn't mention them. Neither does she mention, when complaining of "injustices that have often not been admitted", that it's non-Western Turkey and Japan who are most notorious for refusing to acknowledge their past atrocities. Ian Law's book "Racism and Ethnicity", provides further evidence of the independent development of racism in non-Western countries such as Japan and China.

Lentin's fourth key premiss is that racism is capitalist: "racism invents and reinvents itself constantly under ... modernity, nationalism, and capitalism". But Ferguson provides plenty of evidence of racism in non-capitalist states. The ethnic cleansing by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia is just one example. A vast programme of ethnic deportations took place in the Soviet Union. Under Stalin's reign, more than 1.6 million members of non-Russian nationalities died as a result of forcible resettlement. Communist leader Gomulka rejected a multicultural Poland. Ominously, Lentin ignores all this evidence while asserting that "considerable transformations of our political systems" are needed "if racism in Western societies is to be overcome". Ian Law's recent book "Red Racism" provides further overwhelming evidence of racism in communist states.

While mentioning his far less relevant "Empire: How Britain made the modern world", and what she calls its "tendency to brush racism under the carpet", Lentin strangely ignores Ferguson's "War of the World" completely - despite its comprehensive account of modern racism, antisemitism, Holocaust etc, and its support for her arguments that racism was promoted by nation states, and that race is meaningless.

The scholarly tomes by Isaac, Ferguson and Law demolish Lentin's position: they show that racism is not specifically modern, Western nor capitalist. On the final page of her book, Lentin claims to have demonstrated that the "history of racism" is "the history of the Western world". She can't have read much non-Western history.

While ignoring inconvenient facts from history, what empirical evidence does Lentin offer to support her arguments? Despite being a social scientist, she provides few statistics, no systematic data or survey results. Mostly she generalizes from anecdotal evidence. For instance, referring to a story of a mother claiming her child was scared of black men rather than a deep voice, she claims this "disproves the common-sense idea that racism is a natural human reaction". Referring to jokes about Linford Christie's 'lunchbox' she concludes "this example shows, race is still with us in myriad ways". In support of her generalization that "Profiling leads to the racialization of an entire group of people as terrorists" Lentin claims that "Anecdotes abound of people being mistaken for Arabs or Muslims, leading tragically even to their being killed in reprisal attacks for the events of 9/11". But the only anecdote she offers is of the murder of a Sikh by a stupid drunk just four days after 9/11. Profiling, she claims, "gives the stamp of legitimacy to the assumptions made by the killers of Balbir Singh and those like them". The notion that this senseless murder was influenced by profiling, rather than by alcohol, ignorance and stupidity, is preposterous.

Lentin offers no real evidence for her more extraordinary claims: eg that Western objections to the veiling of Muslim women is sexually motivated. Other sociologists might have conducted a survey of European men's attitudes to the veil, but all Lentin offers are some very vague anectdotal evidence - "It is not uncommon to hear an objection to the veil that links it to sexuality" - and opinions of intellectuals such as Edward Said, whose stereotyping of European attitudes has been much criticised by Orientalists.

The final chapter weaves a web of conspiracy theories attempting to link racism with current issues. American conservative Samuel Huntington's idea of a "clash of civilizations" is "dictating policies that are undeniably related to racism, such as the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afganistan,...immigration policy, civil liberties legistlation, and the future of multiculturalism" Lentin insists. Both in the past and now, "the Orient has been the target of the West's crusade to dominate it". Fears of Islamist terrorists, which Lentin implies are exaggerated, are "legitimized by the words and policies of the US-led alliance". Following the end of the Cold War, the West "needs enemies...the old racisms...are now harnessed to a global political project...This new globalized racism is mediated by and connected to the 'war on terror'" she rants. Lentin's denial that today's racism is "a carefully worked-out conspiracy" is belied by her references to government policies, a "global political project" and "an overall strategy". Conspiracy theories appear throughout her book. For example, racism was "instigated by elites" as part of a "nationalist political project" to quell the idea of an "international proletariat", and Lentin takes seriously the conspiracy theory that US support for Israel is motivated by the Second Coming of Christ.

So Lentin's four premises are false and she offers no scientific empirical evidence, but what about the logic of her arguments? Often the logical flaws are obvious. Take, for example, her attempts to discredit scientific explanations for racism. In Chapter 4 Lentin attacks ethology and sociobiology, but does not try to discredit the science itself so much as the motives of the scientists involved, and its influence on what she calls the "new racism". The "ethologists' and sociobiologists' 'explanation' of racism is racist itself" she declares. Note the sneering quotes Lentin puts around the word explanation, suggesting scepticism while not having actually disproved the science. She goes on to concede that ethologists and sociologists "say they are merely contributing to explaining why racism persists". However, when used by politicians and lobby groups, she claims, "it is clear how these pseudo-scientific ideas are, when applied to humans, in fact motivated by racism". But she is taking a logical leap here. Ideas don't become pseudo-scientific just because some politicians exploit them, and it's clearly illogical to conclude that an explanation of racism is racist because it's used by racists.

Less obvious logical flaws can be identified by turning to another book in the Beginner's Guide series: "Critical Thinking" by Sharon Kaye. The first problem the critical thinker encounters is the difficulty of putting Lentin's argument into Kaye's Standard Form. This is virtually impossible as, incredibly for a book on racism, Lentin does not provide a clear definition of racism. Instead we are told that racism is a "chameleon-like phenomenon", "can never be reduced to one concrete phenomenon that is easy to pin down", "racisms [sic] are always multiple and context specific". Contrast this with Benjamin Isaac's careful and precise definition of racism, which allows us to recognise racism in antiquity. Probably this explains why Lentin eshews such explicit definitions of racism - they don't suit her political agenda of claiming racism is exclusively modern, Western and capitalist.

While we can't put Lentin's arguments into Standard Form, it's still possible to identify formal logical fallacies in many of them. The fallacy of 'affirming the consequent' is the most common and pernicious of these. For example, Lentin's argument against sociobiology in Chapter 4 is essentially: racists use sociobiologists' explanations of racism, therefore people who use sociobiologists' explanations of racism are racists. Lentin commits this logical fallacy in many of her arguments: eg regarding biological race, multiculturism, immigration and terrorism. It's pernicious because it demonizes as racist anyone who, say, wants to control immigration or questions multiculturism - shutting down rational discussion of these issues.

Lentin uses argument by analogy: ie drawing a conclusion about one thing based on its likeness to another thing. Kaye describes arguments by analogy as "dangerous because they are highly persuasive". This would be bad enough, but Lentin's analogies are based on invalid likenesses. Consider her comparison of the treatment of Jews in pre-war Nazi Germany with the treatment of Muslims in the West today, from which she argues that racism "reinvents itself" and is continued into the twenty-first century. She claims that "the scapegoating of Muslims today mirrors that of Jews in the run-up to the Nazi Holocaust", "contemporary paranoia, prejudice, and ostracism against Muslims in Western societies mirrors the treatment of the Jews in pre-war Europe", "just like antisemitism, the enemy most feared is that within", and "there are many parallels between today's obsession with the figure of the Muslim terrorist and the antisemitism of 1930s Europe". Really? Under a German law of 1933 all Jewish civil servants, judges and most university lecturers were removed from office. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 deprived Jews of German citizenship, prohibited marriage and sexual relations between Jews and other Germans. Throughout the 1930s in Germany, Jews were violently assaulted and murdered by state-sponsered paramiltaries, thousands imprisoned without trial, Jewish businesses attacked, boycotted and confiscated. This persecution resulted in 70% of German Jews emigrating before the war. Is this happening to Muslims in Britain or other Western countries today? In what way are Islamist terrorists comparable to the innocent Jews of 1930s Germany? There were no Jewish terrorists in 1930s Germany. German Jews were mostly secular and fully assimilated into society. Do we see mass emigration of Muslims from the West? No, we see the reverse. This analogy is not just inept, considering the suffering of German Jews in the 1930s, it is morally repugnant.

Even more repugnant is to liken those who believe racism is a thing of the past to "Holocaust deniers who negate the existence of the gas chambers but who claim...that they would have been a good idea". This is appalling nonsense.

In Lentin's book we can find examples of many of the fallacies of informal argument listed in Chapter 4 of Kaye's "Critical Thinking".

Ad populum: the fallacy of claiming that popularity establishes truth. Lentin commits this fallacy when she declares there is "agreement among most social scientists that race is a social construct that has no scientific value".

Ad verecundiam: the fallacy of relying on an inappropriate authority. Lentin commits this fallacy when she cites philosopher Eric Voegelin's opinion that "the scientific concept of race as composed of a set of false notions with no actual basis in provable scientific fact" - ignoring any scientific progress in human genetics since the 1930s. Citing another philosopher, Ernest Gellner, she claims "there is no way of tracing a people's lineage back to pre-modern times". But since Gellner died in 1995, DNA analyses have provided a way: see the HGDP and books such as Stephen Oppenheimer's "The Origins of the British" (2006) and Bryan Sykes' "Blood of the Isles" (2006). Rapper Kanye West is quoted as an authority on President Bush's attitude to black people and the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Ad misericordiam: the fallacy of appealing to pity or guilt. We see this in Lentin's description of illegal immigrants (or as she prefers 'would-be immigrants') risking their lives by "clinging to the underside of high-speed Eurostar trains...hundreds of bodies... dot the seas. Hundreds more are discovered too late as bloated bodies wash up onto [Europe's] sandy beaches". This emotive rhetoric is a form of the red herring fallacy - distracting the reader from critically evaluating the author's position on immigration.

Ad hominem: the fallacy of attacking the person instead of the argument. Lentin describes Niall Ferguson as "historically revisionist". Of course, there is nothing wrong with a revisionist approach to history, but then Lentin describes the discredited Holocaust-denier Richard Irving as belonging to a group of "revisionist historians". It's unclear this guilt by association was intended, but given that Lentin clearly doesn't like Ferguson's "drive to frame colonialism in a positive light", she may be unconcerned if readers infer it.

Hasty generalization: the fallacy of inferring from some to all. Lentin relies heavily on generalizing from anecdotal evidence (see examples above).

Begging the question: the fallacy of circular reasoning. Lentin uses question-begging terms such as 'biological racism', 'scientific racism', 'pseudo-biological', 'pseudo-scientific', and 'so-called evidence-based' when discussing scientific theories. She sets out to prove race and racism are political by refuting scientific explanations of race and racism. But rather than disprove these explanations, she claims this 'racial' science is infiltrated by politics - "no science without politics" - thus assuming what she is trying to prove. We find question-begging in the frequent use of the term 'racialization' (rather than 'demonization' for example) to describe a process whereby a group becomes a 'race' and hence victims of racism (rather than prejudice). There is even such a thing as "racialized logic". This racialization notion leads to circular reasoning: eg Lentin argues that, like skin colour, the Muslim headscarf is a 'visual signifier' of 'racialized difference' related to 'racism' against Muslims. It enables any oppression to be linked to racism: eg "racism against women" because patriarchy is similar to racialization.

False dilemma: the fallacy of reducing a variety of options to just two. This fallacy is commonly found in Lentin's arguments. Fundamental to her arguments is the false dilemma that racism is either 'natural' or socially constructed (political), as assumed in her anecdote of the scared child. Steven Pinker, in his excellent book "How the Mind Works", describes this dichotomy as showing "a poverty of the imagination, because it omits a third alternative: that some categories are products of a complex mind designed to mesh with what is in nature".

Straw man: the fallacy of oversimplifying the opponent's view to make it easier to refute. This is a favourite tactic of Lentin. For example, she claims that many people believe in a "common-sense idea" that racism is 'natural' - based on crude interpretations of Darwinist ideas. This is easier to refute than scientific explanations of racism. It's also easy to refute "the idea that we can know all we need to know by looking into our DNA". But who believes this? Not sociobiologists. Lentin claims we see all Muslims and immigrants as potential terrorists: "The attacks of 9/11 have etched the impression on our minds that there is something particular about Muslims and/or Arabs that make them capable of carrying out such acts.", "curtailing of the civil liberties of Muslims today [really?] is based on blanket stereotyping of the Muslim community that connects all its members to the actions of an extreme minority", "Muslims in general have been identified with terrorism...Immigrants and asylum seekers too have been portrayed by both governments and the media as potential terrorists". Really? Anyone with a modicum of intelligence distinguishes between a tiny minority of terrorists and the communities they come from. Governments and the media, in the UK at least, are careful to always make this distinction. But her misrepresentation of goverment, media and public attitudes towards Muslims and immigrants - as identifying them with terrorism - allows Lentin to portray anti-terrorism and immigration controls as racism towards these groups generally. We see similar oversimplification of police 'profiling' which, we are told, "leads to the incrimination of an enormous group of people all over the world because they happen to have similar features to a tiny minority". But if profiling were so crude that it incriminated an enormous number of people worldwide, then it would be virtually useless. Surely FBI profiling is more sophisticated than this? Another example of the straw man fallacy is found in Lentin's argument against DNA fingerprinting. She suggests that "if DNA tests are carried out on one hundred black people convicted of crimes and they are shown to have genetic similarities, it is easy to conclude that black people are more likely to be criminals". But who would jump to such a foolish conclusion? The hundred black criminals are obviously not representative of the general population.

Is-ought: the fallacy of inferring a prescriptive statement from a descriptive statement. Scientific explanations of racism are used by some politicians in ways Lentin doesn't like - to justify immigration policy for example - so she condemns the science itself as racist. This mindset is well documented in Chapter 5 of Benson & Stangroom's excellent book "Why Truth Matters". Hostility to sociobiology coincides with a certain kind of radical, left-wing politics. Benson & Stangroom could be describing Lentin when they write "It is a mindset which subjugates science to political and moral commitments. It results in sociobiological texts being read from a default position of suspicion...the scientific merit of sociobiological arguments is assessed in terms of the extent to which they fit with a political and moral agenda". A similar mindset is evident in Lentin's attack on the biological existence of race. For example, she accuses biologists and geneticists who believe race is a scientifically useful category of "reinforcing racist preconceptions". Besides being logically flawed, such reasoning is ill-motivated. The belief in question may indeed be false, but why should Lentin be especially concerned by it? She is accepting the racists' reasoning, that scientific explanations of race or racism justify racism. That is a dangerous thing to accept, since those explanations might turn out to be true. Those who reject a theory from which others draw unpleasant conclusions tacitly agree that it has the alleged implications. As Benson & Stangroom explain "it is not possible to derive moral statements about how things ought to be from statements about how things are in the world." The genetic existence of race and scientific explanations of racism do not justify racism any more than a genetic tendency to murder should make us feel free to go around murdering people. Scientific facts do not entail moral facts. Lentin may be aware of this, but rather than admit facts are morally neutral, she either denies the facts are true, or questions the neutrality of science itself. Jamie Whyte, in his incisive "Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking", describes this flawed logic as the 'moral method', which allows those with moral certainty to discover all sorts of interesting facts about the world without going through the normal rigours of scientific research. Those poor fools struggling in the laboratory with DNA and statistical analyses: if only they had the clear moral vision of social scientists!

Equivocation: the fallacy of using the same word in different ways. The whole book is based on this fallacy with respect to the word 'racism'. Lentin identifies all kinds of groups as victims of racism: immigrants, asylum seekers, Muslims, the working class, the poor, the unproductive, women. But these groups are not generally thought of as races, so why choose the word 'racism' rather than a more suitable generic term such as 'prejudice'? Or why not invent a wholly new term to describe what she claims is a modern political Western phenomenom? The answer can be found in a particular form of equivocation favoured by Marxists, described by Whyte. Rather than invent new terms, Marx gave his new theoretical concepts names such as 'exploitation' and 'alienation'. In ordinary use, these words have strong negative connotations, but were used in Marx's theory as purely technical terms to describe certain economic phenomena. But we easily forget this and slip back to their ordinary meanings. To Marxists, this slippage is welcome as it delivers, as if by magic, the sought after condemnation of Capitalism. Who could be in favour of a system that involves exploitation and alienation? Lentin performs a similar trick with the word 'racism'. She is not using the word in its familiar sense, but redefining it as a modern political phenomenon - a theoretical concept divorced from biological race that can be applied to such groups as immigrants and Muslims. It's then easy to slip into condemning anyone who holds legitimate views or fears - on immigration, multiculturalism, or terrorism for example - as racist.

Another book in the Beginner's Guide series, "Evolutionary Psychology" by Dunbar, Barrett and Lysett (2007), provides an explanation for racism: the in-group/out-group effect, a phenomenon found in all societies. In a section titled "Genetic determinism: the evolutionary red herring", they explain how social scientists misconstrue such explanations as genetic determinism. This is evident in Lentin's thinking: eg when she misprepresents sociobiologists as claiming racism "is simply programmed in us genetically". Unlike Lentin's political theory, evolutionary psychology offers explanations of racism across all societies.

Despite claiming to reveal racism "in a straightforward way that demystifies rather than complicates", Lentin obfuscates with sociological jargon and socio-political theorizing. We get gobbledegook such as: "racialized discourse as based in a series of binary oppositions", "the existence of an ideologically historicist set of legitimations", "racism is...the expression of a schema for making sense of otherness", "race, rather than being a fact, is a signifier that symbolizes its underlying meaning", and the facile "The signified...is the idea or object represented by the signifier". Language like this is meant to sound clever, but all this book proves is that its author is incapable of thinking critically about evidence and argument.


The War of the World: History's Age of Hatred (Allen Lane History)
The War of the World: History's Age of Hatred (Allen Lane History)
by Niall Ferguson
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing lessons from the 20th century, 3 Nov 2012
This is the most impressive history book I've ever read, and also probably the most important, as it describes how the world we live in today was shaped in the previous century. Although linked to a TV series, it's much more than a work of popular history. I was impressed by the scholarly detail and analysis. Ferguson's conclusions are backed up by evidence and careful argument. Although he often considers alternative explanations, he convinces you with his attention to detail and depth of research. Ferguson does not seem to have an ideological agenda, he bases his opinions on objective, often mundane, facts. Although some might find them boring, I was impressed by his use of statistics, tables and charts. I particularly liked the way he uses economic data to prove a point: eg bond yields indicated that WWI was unexpected. Interestingly, once the war started, John Maynard Keynes predicted it would be over in a year, contrary to the opinion of bankers.

Although I've read quite a lot of 20th century history, I found a lot of fresh material in this book. I was unaware, for example, of the Turkish massacre of Greeks and Armenians in 1922. Ferguson provides much illuminating detail about such episodes as the Russian revolution, Soviet terror, and the war in China. He also examines anti-Semitism in some detail, showing how it pervaded Europe long before WWII. I was surprised to learn, for example, that the blood libel appears to have originated in 12th century England, and that radical left wingers were anti-Semitic for economic reasons. Stalin became anti-Semitic in his later years, but Ferguson shows how he was racist towards many other ethnic groups in the Soviet Union.

An original line taken by Ferguson is how race and ethnicity aggravated 20th century conflicts, resulting in the worst atrocities. But first he examines the concept of race in the book's Introduction. Referring to Richard Lewontin's (1972) claim that only 6% of genetic variation occurs between races, he concludes that "to some biologists, this means that, strictly speaking, human races do not exist". A. W. F. Edwards (BioEssays, 2003), however, has shown that this conclusion is based on an old statistical fallacy. Lewontin's analysis ignored correlations in the genetic data. When these are analysed using appropriate multivariate techniques, racial categories clearly emerge and largely agree with traditional concepts of race. Three pages on, in referring to "microsatellite markers", Ferguson alludes to this controversy, but he lets his Harvard colleague off rather lightly in not citing Edwards. But in the Epilogue, Ferguson ignores the controversy in claiming genetics revealed "race was a meaningless concept". Of course, the biological existence of race does not justify racism, but as Edwards put it: "it is a dangerous mistake to premise the moral equality of human beings on biological similarity because dissimilarity, once revealed, then becomes an argument for moral inequality". The point is, as Ferguson has succinctly put it elsewhere, "race doesn't matter because it is real, but because people conceive it to be real".

Also in the Introduction, Ferguson briefly mentions the "sociobiological" function of race: a diffuse kind of nepotism that leads us to trust members of our own race more than members of other races. I would have liked more on this. There have been some interesting computer simulations on "ethnocentrism" by Axelrod & Hammond and other research reviewed by Buchanan in New Scientist (March, 2007).

For me, the book got more interesting the further I got into it. Ferguson's economic and strategic perspective on WW2 explains the timing and motivations of Germany and Japan's aggression. It also explains their inevitable defeat when faced by the overwhelming economic power of the Soviet Union and USA. The author reveals some surprising facts about WW2: Britain was stronger than Germany in 1938 - appeasement gave time for Germany to build up her strength; blitzkrieg and area bombing were British ideas; the RAF was not the underdog in the Battle of Britain; the SS recruited Muslims, and so on.

The author makes some interesting observations about the various pernicious ideologies and attitudes of the 20th century. He points out the similarities of the Hitler and Stalin regimes, although before WW2 Stalin was a much greater mass murderer and ethnic cleanser. Interesting that Lenin called Stalin a "nationalist-socialist", and there's a chilling quote from Trotsky sneering at the sanctity of human life. The author points out some interesting anti-capitalist and autocratic resemblances between Hitler and Roosevelt's early speeches. Racism and eugenics were not confined to the West: they underpinned Japanese expansion into Asia. The Japanese regarded other Asian races as inferior, even sub-human, while purporting to liberate them from Western colonisation. After early military successes, Japan regarded the white race as inferior too. Although in some respects Westernised, Japan rejected Western "individualistic materialism" and its army was run by anti-capitalist utopians.

Ferguson covers Japanese atrocities in harrowing detail, the most notorious of which became known as the Rape of Nanking. Sexual violence, mass murder of prisoners & civilians were, Ferguson suggests, instrumental in Japan's ambition to create a new world order based on racial subjugation and fear.

Some readers may find disturbing messages in what the book tells us about the fate of multi-ethnic communities. Ferguson shows that while the old empires generally accommodated ethnic minorities, the nation states that replaced them after WWI were far less tolerant of ethnic diversity within their new borders, producing some of the worst ethnic conflict. Surprisingly, the ideal of ethnically homogeneous nations was expressed across the political spectrum, including English liberal John Stuart Mill and Polish Communist leader Gomulka. Some readers may find it unpalatable that ethnic cleansing during and after WW2 homogenized nations and reduced the causes of conflict. Ferguson's speculations about the effects on present day Europe of Muslim immigration, and the "new enemy within", may make uncomfortable reading. But as Ferguson concludes "We shall avoid another century of conflict only if we understand the forces that caused the last one...".

Ferguson's writing style is generally elegant and clear, but sometimes I wondered if the punctuation was erroneous, or a result of the author's preference for short sentences and starting sentences with conjunctions: eg p.377 (hardback) the sentences beginning "Not only..." and "It also...". There are typos on p.576 - "been not been" and p.623 "There would no private property". In the Appendix he rightly criticises those who misuse the terms genocide and holocaust, but elsewhere his own choice of vocabulary is not infallible. On page lxxi he misuses the word crescendo when I think he means climax (but this misuse of crescendo is very common - even Winston Churchill misused it), and I dislike the use of 'epicentre' (p. 638), which now seems to have universally replaced 'centre' when there hasn't actually been an earthquake.


Why Truth Matters
Why Truth Matters
by Jeremy Stangroom
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.04

5.0 out of 5 stars A welcome antidote to fashionable nonsense, 2 April 2012
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This review is from: Why Truth Matters (Paperback)
This book is in the same vein as "Intellectual Impostures" by Sokal & Bricmont, but is an easier read and more wide ranging in its targets. Others have provided comprehensive reviews, so I'll limit my review to passages which I found particularly interesting and informative.

Chapter 3 Truth Radicals starts with an interesting account of the political/philosophical origins of postmodernism and relativism, which are seen as "collateral damage" of justifiable struggles against inequalities in the 1960s. The authors go on to identify an "Until Now" self-congratulatory note in postmodernist writings, which encourages outrageous claims. Postmodernists target science because it represents the most authoritative form of knowledge, so must be undermined regardless of its claims to truth. The chapter concludes with a detailed look at three postmodernists: Sandra Harding, Bruno Latour & Andrew Ross.

Chapter 5 Politics, Ideology and Evolutionary Biology was for me the most fascinating chapter. It recounts the eugenics movement of the early 20th century, and its unpleasant and sometimes horrific consequences, which led to a strong mid-century reaction against such ideas. But by the 1970s there was renewed interest in biological explanations of human behaviour, as exemplified by E. O. Wilson's book, "Sociobiology: The New Synthesis" and Richard Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene". What is fascinating is the furious reaction this provoked - particularly, but not exclusively, from biologists with left-wing sympathies, such as Stephen Rose. Most extraordinary is the philosopher Mary Midgley's reaction to the Selfish Gene. Several pages are devoted to the Dawkins-Midgley controversy, and Midgley comes out of it badly. Her obtuseness in misunderstanding Dawkins' arguments is breathtaking. I've since heard her on the radio still stubbornly defending her position. The lesson of this chapter is that participants in scientific debates are heavily influenced, if not blinded, by their personal ideological beliefs. The authors identify a mindset "which undermines the proper examination of sociobiological arguments" and "subjugates science to political and moral commitments", involving an almost childish wishful thinking.

This wishful thinking phenomenon is examined in more detail in Chapter 6. Although not a monopoly of the left, wishful thinking depends on the belief that human beings are "blank slates", which has been thoroughly refuted by Stephen Pinker in "Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature". Benson & Stangroom skilfully show how wishful thinking has resulted in confused thinking and absurd beliefs in politics, feminism and academia.

The question in the book's title is answered in Chapter 8. Truth "matters because we are the only species we know of that has the ability to find it out. In a way that makes it almost a duty to do so." I found this quite moving. It reminded me of Einstein saying that the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible. Surely then, we have a responsibility to strive for the truth.


Eats shoots and leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
Eats shoots and leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
by Lynne Truss
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Signs of clear thought, 9 Feb 2012
This book is less judgemental and dogmatic than the "Zero Tolerance" in the title suggests. Truss describes the rules of punctuation, but acknowledges these have developed over time, and may continue to change. She does not ignore differences of opinion about these rules, and includes some of the more extreme opinions of such writers as Gertrude Stein and G. B. Shaw. Her style is light, witty and ironic. I like the way she uses the punctuation she is describing in the description itself. Some passages, however, such as listing the various proper uses of the comma, I found tedious.

Truss makes some interesting points about the connection between punctuation and thought, as when she quotes the American writer Paul Robinson on semicolons used to gloss over imprecise thought. She also provides some interesting examples where punctuation was a matter of life and death: the trial of Roger Casement and the British government's Iraq dossier. Who could argue with her view that attention to punctuation is necessary for clarity?

Truss becomes more judgemental in the final chapter, which includes an interesting, critical discussion of the influence of new technologies on punctuation. Personally, I'm not too concerned by the gross abbreviations used in text messages, but I don't see why good punctuation has to be abandoned in emails, which I've always regarded as electronic letters. More insidious, the author points out, is the non-linear and unmediated nature of the internet. Good punctuation goes hand-in-hand with the linear nature of print, less so with the non-sequential, self-published hypertext of the web. The outlook for good punctuation looks bleak, but I agree with Truss that it's worth fighting for.

This is not a book I would want to read again. I'll shelve it with my other books on grammar as a useful reference on punctuation. I'm not sure I would recommend it to anyone who already has a good understanding of punctuation, unless they particularly enjoy Truss's style of gentle humour. It might make a useful gift to a young person.


Critical Thinking: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's Guides)
Critical Thinking: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's Guides)
by Sharon M. Kaye
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.65

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Useful, clear introduction to logic, reasoning and valid argument, 6 Jun 2010
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This book falls somewhere between books on formal logic, such as "The Traditional Formal Logic" by W. A. Sinclair, and manuals on clear thinking such as "Thinking to Some Purpose" by L. S. Stebbing. Chapters 2 & 3 provide a gentle introduction to traditional formal logic - syllogisms and conditional statements. The use of diagrams to explain syllogisms is particularly helpful. Although I'd previously read several books on logic and reasoning, I learnt useful new techniques in Chapters 1 & 4 of this book - on the Standard Form schema for writing out an argument, and informal argument evaluation. The book is also very good on identifying, and naming, common errors and fallacies of reasoning. Overall, I can recommend this as a useful, clear introduction to logic, reasoning and valid argument.


Philips SHP2500/10 Indoor Corded Television Headphones
Philips SHP2500/10 Indoor Corded Television Headphones
Price: 14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good TV headphones, but not robust, 10 May 2010
I found these good for listening to an old TV in mono sound, also to a portable DAB radio in stereo. I liked the long flex and volume control which allows you to instantly adjust volume without reaching for the remote or radio. Two problems with the design however. I had to wrap a strip of cloth around the headband to stop it snagging on my hair. After about a year, one of the headphones has lost sound due to the wire wearing away just where it enters the headphone. It seems impossible to take the headphone apart to repair it, so regrettably I'm going to have to throw them away.


The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters
The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters
by Marcus Du Sautoy
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent popular maths book, 22 Mar 2010
Excellent, well written book. The best popular book on maths I've read. The author weaves the history of maths and biographies of eminent mathematicians around the search for pattern in prime numbers. I felt the author sometimes stretched to include topics and personalities that were not that relevant to this theme, but it didn't matter because he is such a good story teller. The book is packed with fascinating details about eminent mathematicians, their eccentricities, and sometimes madness. My maths interests are mainly in its applications, and I've tended to regard pure maths research as an intellectual game, but this book made me want to revisit pure maths - particularly complex numbers. As Hadamard, one of the mathematicians featured in the book said: "The shortest path between two truths in the real domain passes through the complex domain.".


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