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Dennis Littrell (SoCal/NorCal/Maui)

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Hydrogen Economy
Hydrogen Economy
by Jeremy Rifkin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brave new energy world?, 14 Dec. 2008
This review is from: Hydrogen Economy (Paperback)
Or a new shell game?

The title of this book is a little misleading since most of the book is about the effect that energy has had on the rise and fall of human societies from hunter-gatherers through agriculturists and the Roman Empire to the ascendency of the United States in the 19th century and into the current world economy. Rifkin sees cheap energy and the high per capita use of it as a prime indicator of a flourishing society. He notes that Rome rose when it was able to commandeer energy sources from conquered lands in the form of tribute and slaves; but when the booty from military conquests began to fall to diminishing returns, Rome itself began to fall.

He sees the same thing possibly happening to the United States in another but similar manner. He notes that US domestic oil production peaked in 1970. (p. 4) Whereas up until then, domestic production supplied most of the oil the United States used; since then we have become more and more dependent on foreign sources. He foresees a peak in world crude production sometime in the next decade or so, and after that a slide toward more and more expensive oil and more and more of our wealth flowing into the last bastion of crude reserves in primarily the Middle Eastern states.

What to do about this? Hocus-pocus, usher in the hydrogen economy in which hydrogen fuel cells will replace not only gas from the pump but will generate electricity for home, farm and office. There is just one little catch: at current prices the cost of converting either gasoline, natural gas or water (all requiring energy, usually electrical power) is prohibitive. Rifkin de-emphasizes this little problem as he enthuses about how decentralized and how clean-burning will be the "decarbonized" hydrogen economy. At about the time Rifkin's book was written, according to Michael A. Peavey in his book, Fuel from Water: Energy Independence with Hydrogen, it cost $7.40 to create enough hydrogen fuel to equal the energy provided by one gallon of gasoline (at electricity costing $0.10 per Kwh). Rifkin does not go into this non-cost effectiveness to any great degree, partly because he believes both that the cost of conversion will go down and the price of oil will go up.

A quick read might give the impression that one can use electricity to produce hydrogen from say water and use the hydrogen to create electricity or run engines with a net gain. Not so. The efficiency of the process of electrolysis (getting hydrogen from water) is about 50%. This is a big net loss. So why are automobile manufactures, oil companies and Jeremy Rifkin so excited about hydrogen technology?

First and foremost of course hydrogen is clean burning. It does not produce any greenhouse gases that are leading to global warming. And second, when used in fuel cell technology there is the prospect that energy use and production will be decentralized allowing individuals and small organizations freedom from the vast infrastructure and top down organization that characterizes the oil industry today.

Both of these advantages of hydrogen however depend on the use of renewable resources, wind, sun, downward running water, evaporation, the burning of biomass, etc. to isolate the hydrogen which is always tied up in molecules with other elements as in water, natural gas, oil, etc. So what the advantages accruing from the proposed brave new world of the hydrogen economy actually depend on is the same thing we cannot do today, that is, get the bulk of our energy from renewable resources.

As others have pointed out, essentially hydrogen is an energy storage device. The initial energy must come from somewhere else. Although we definitely need storage devices that can be placed where we want them to be utilized even when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow, storage devices themselves are not an independent source of energy and cannot by themselves be the solution to our energy problems.

Having said this, the book is still a very good read and an eye-opener about the coming end of the fossil fuel era, arriving at our doorsteps in just a few decades. Also Rifkin's speculations about the nature of the hydrogen economy are interesting and probably pertinent since the major car manufacturers and the major oil companies are already gearing up for the transformation. These mega-players in the energy game will dictate the rules in the years to come. They will use their existing infrastructures and their capital to ease the transformation for them and to maintain their power and profit margins. This is one of the salient points Rifkin makes in this book. The curious thing is, I'm not sure whether, amid all of his enthusiastic expression, he realizes what his message really is, namely that we are going to be burning fossil fuels and building nuclear plants well into the latter half of the 21st century.

Note well this quote on page 189 from John Browne, the CEO of British Petroleum, making the "bullish" forecast that "50 percent" of world-wide energy demand "will be met by solar and other renewable resources by 2050." That, folks, is the bottom line: fifty percent by 2050, fuel cells or no fuel cells.

The bottom line for this book is that it is readable, informative--even at times, fascinating--but not exactly what it purports to be. Read it and judge for yourself.

The War of the Jesus and Darwin Fishes: Religion and Science in the Postmodern World
The War of the Jesus and Darwin Fishes: Religion and Science in the Postmodern World
by John C. Caiazza
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £44.95

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Or the war among those fishes and postmodernism, 12 Dec. 2008
It should be noted at the outset that Caiazza is Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Rivier College in New Hampshire which is a Roman Catholic institution. Caiazza's views throughout are consistent with that of the Roman Catholic Church.

The book is not, as the title might indicate, a popular and easily assimilated book. Instead it is a highly intellectual exercise, the main purpose of which is not so much to champion the side of the Jesus fishes as it is to diminish the postmodern world view. Caiazza makes this clear in the final chapter in which he writes, "...without the repairs offered by religion and science it is possible to predict that postmodern culture will continue its descent into intellectual confusion and moral chaos." (p. 164)

Caiazza's technique is to give a historical perspective on the arguments and the modern opinion from both sides of the issue. His bias is clear: he is against reductionism (a term that is often a euphemism for the method of science itself) and sympathetic to not only contemporary religious views, but to what Francis Crick called the mysterian position. Like the creationists and others Caiazza is afraid of losing the "mystery" of human consciousness to a quasi-deterministic organic universe. He makes much of the idea that the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics has killed the determinism of the 19th century. From that he leaps to the conclusion that God has been resurrected and is alive and well in the hearts of physicists as well as in the hearts of Jesus freaks and sober Episcopalians.

What he does so very well is present the assumptions of the postmodern understanding while delineating how we got to such a place. The first chapter "Religion and Science in the Postmodern World" serves nicely as an introduction to postmodern thought. Caiazza is also good at critiquing the stalwarts of science from string theorists to evolutionary biologists while reminding us that scientific facts and theories are always subject to falsification.

Much of the book is, alas, an extended rant against reductionism in science, a view shared by postmodernists. The problem with reductionism is not so much that it is intellectually bankrupt, as reading this book and others might suggest, but rather that it is not rigorously defined. If one means by reductionism that something cannot be greater (in some sense) than its parts, then that reductionism is mistaken. If instead it is meant that typically a thing cannot be understood by a minute examination of its parts, that too is mistaken. Some things are greater than an examination of their parts would seem to indicate, the human brain for example; and some things CAN be understood by an examination of their parts, such as wrist watches and tinker toys. The real problem with reductionism is that it is limited because human abilities are limited. It is a technique doomed to failure when things get very complicated. We cannot, as in Edward O. Wilson's dream of "Consilience," actually trace the steps from atomic particles to human behavior, even though the steps might be there.

Now to some quibbles:

Caiazza writes that "...after three centuries of discovery and application science now presents us with as many problems as solutions." (p. 51) It is important to note that this is not the same as saying that after three centuries of science we have more problems than we had before. We may have more problems, but that is not the fault of science. Think of the problems humans have after two thousand years of Christianity. The logic or lack thereof is the same.

While writing about the Anthropic Principle in cosmology, Caiazza avers: "Understood scientifically, what becomes apparent is the inherent improbability of human life and life itself in its biological sense." (p. 80) This is contrary to the current scientific understanding that life may not only be widespread in the universe but may be an inevitable consequence of the nature of matter and energy.

On page 81 Caiazza states that "...a new sense of possibilities which include alternate universes, anthropic principles, indeterminacy, and a dynamic not a static universe, leads to the possibility that God exists in signified relation to the universe and not merely as an outside observer." Of course these new "possibilities" indicate nothing of the sort. They are all possible without any sort of God.

In (speciously) trying to account for the evolutionary adaptability of religion in Chapter 10, Caiazza fails to mention the cohesiveness brought to the tribe from a shared religious view or to mention the fact that religion helps to get young men to die in battle for the tribe, thereby furthering the survival prospects of tribal genes. This is probably the most important reason religion is universal among humans societies.

I should also point out that some of the chapters are irrelevant or dimly tangential to the war between the fishes. Especially out of place is the chapter entitled "The Agony of J. Robert Oppenheimer."

Finally I did not care for this, which in the tradition of the religions of the Middle East makes much too much of sex: "Sexual orgasm is the most intense single sensory experience a person can know and once removed from its social packaging of modesty, awe, morality, and family life, there is no ethical principle which prevents the pursuit of experience of sexual behavior at any time or of any variety." (sic) (p. 151)

Personally I am on side of the Darwinian angels since in the final analysis the only methods of acquiring knowledge that are not scientific are appeals to authority or to faith. But as Emily Dickinson wrote: "'Faith' is a fine invention/When Gentlemen can see/But Microscopes are prudent/In an Emergency."

The Book Of Origins: The first of everything - from art to zoos
The Book Of Origins: The first of everything - from art to zoos
by Trevor Homer
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read especially for trivia buffs, 6 Dec. 2008
This is a nice sound-byte, bonbon sort of volume on everything under the sun that the author thought relevant arranged alphabetically from Art to Zoos. Herein one discovers that "The consumer is not a moron, she's your wife" (quoting David Ogilvy on page 176), or that Margaret Thatcher was a research chemist who developed soft ice cream, or that Dustin Hoffman was a janitor and an attendant in a mental hospital before he was an actor.

There are subsections under each main head. For example, under the chapter heading "Health" we find "History of Medicine," "Diseases and Cures," "Ears," "Eyes," "Heart," etc. Under "Space" there's "Early Astronomy," "Rocket Science," "Conspiracies and Myths" in which we learn that in a 1995 Time Magazine poll "6 percent of Americans do not believe men ever went to the moon."
There's even a chapter on "Questionable Origins" in which it is averred that John Dunlap did not invent the pneumatic tire nor did Edison invent the electric light bulb. Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) did. Notice the dates after the Davy's name. Homer give dates for all the people named throughout the book, which is a nice old-fashioned touch that I like. I like to stop and think about how long each person lived and get a kind of rough running average, and maybe compare longevity by profession or field of work. Philosophers for example, live a long time, I've discovered, compared to athletes.

Now for a bit of criticism. By the way, Homer and his editors anticipate in the epilogue that there will be "corrections and fresh information" from readers and invite them to email the author on his Website or to write the publisher, Plume Books. You might have some corrections of your own.

Under the subhead "Poetry and Literature" there's no mention of literature from the subcontinent of India although many other kinds of literature, Arabian, Korean, Irish, etc. are mentioned.

It is claimed on page 132 that smallpox has been eradicated. Would that it were true! Homer should have mentioned that both the US and Russia have supplies of the virus in cold storage as a kind of remnant of the Cold War. Both sides say they keep the virus for research in case the other side develops a smallpox bio-weapon.

It is claimed on page 133 that Louis Pasteur (1822-95) eliminated the microbe that causes pebrine, a disease of the silkworm. Google "pebrine" and you can see that the microbe is alive and well. Perhaps Homer meant by "eliminating" something more local.

I think Homer gives undue credit to the "rigid stances" taken by Margaret Thatcher (b. 1935) and Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) for the breakup of the Soviet Union. This is one of my pet peeves. Communism in Russia fell because it could not compete economically with the Western countries; and the attrition that brought it down (the Cold War) began after World War II and was a continuing policy of the US and Britain. Thatcher and Reagan were merely belated and small parts of the great struggle.

Some interesting facts from the book:

Prior to the Middle Ages it was "generally thought that the eyes sent out invisible rays to detect objects." An Arab mathematician named Alhazen (965-1039) showed that "people see things because rays of light pass from an object to the eye."

Viagra induces "strong sexual arousal in male subjects." (p. 144) I thought that Viagra merely allowed the male to perform! If what Homer writes is true, this would explain the many, many commercials on TV for the drug. Perhaps even young men are using it! Perhaps their wives or sweethearts are buying it. Never mind.

A Spaniard named Rodrigo de Jerez who was with Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) when he sailed to America "is thought to be the first non-American smoker. When he returned to Spain, he was imprisoned for seven years by the Inquisition having been accused of frightening people with the smoke billowing from his mouth and nose. By the time of his release, smoking was widespread in Spain." (pp. 157-58)

In general I learned that many "firsts" are earlier than commonly thought, and that furthermore those dates may be extended backward as new information comes to light.

Bottom line: a pleasant and easy read, just the thing for trivia buffs.

The Love Song of Monkey
The Love Song of Monkey
by Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology Michael S A Graziano
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.88

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A strange, surreal page turner, 18 Nov. 2008
This is a fantastic novel, and I mean that in the old-fashioned sense that the events are fantastic. And surreal and deeply human. I read it in one fell swoop. It runs. Fast. It's a little crazy and you can feel Graziano making it up as he goes along--which is a great way to write a novel since you don't know how it's going to end. If you're clever and naturally creative--as Graziano is--some beautiful effects can be achieved. I once wrote a novel this way. You start out at one place: here Graziano, who is a professor of psychology at Princeton, starts with his protagonist dying of complications from AIDS. He is being taken to the hospital by his anorexic wife. He's in a lot of pain and scarcely cares whether he lives or dies. And then you end up in another: at the bottom of the ocean, in a museum, as a cat burglar called the Monkey man, and all the while you sing "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot.

I suspect that where Graziano thought he was going in the beginning is different from where he actually went. I also suspect that he had intended a realistic narrative but found himself constrained. And so he threw off the shackles and typed a tale incredible.

Graziano's strength is first in the rapid paced narrative and then in the great freedom he gives his story. Neither conventional reality nor scientific plausibility deters him from his fancy. The narrative is lean like something from James M. Cain or Cormac McCarthy, but without the strict adherence to realism. Graziano's story doesn't unfold as in a familiar tale or in something contrived to seduce the human psyche. Instead the story evolves as something reacting to myth or to the dream time, or to whim or fancy. Taken in retrospect "The Love Song of Monkey" (really a long short story), seems to be about the human predicament, as all literature must be. A man has done something wrong and is paying the price. He suffers and he learns from his suffering. And then he triumphs over circumstance and becomes something more than just human--a kind of demigod perhaps. Once he was vulnerable, then he was almost untouchable. Almost. Love kept him tethered to the world no matter how far he roamed in the great depths of the sea of his mind. And then he returned by happenstance to the world of humans and sought out the object of his love--the object of all the years of meditation--and found her more beautiful than she had ever been. And his love for her was unsullied and undiluted by the mundane events of this world. A kind of eternal and ethereal love is what Graziano's muse longs for and is what he achieves in the end.

People hurt one another and do bad things to one another, but in the end they forgive, and indeed find in their wisdom that there was really nothing to forgive ever, and in that state of mind they realize their love. And they live happily ever after, or they die in the state and in the grace of love--which amounts to the same thing.

Thus this is a love story, a bit creepy like a Halloween flick or something from a tale about the undead. As I intimated above, I read it in less than an hour. It is, all told, a strange page-turner, and one that resonates.

The Plot to Save the Planet: How Visionary Entrepreneurs and Corporate Titans Are Creating Real Solutions to Global Warming
The Plot to Save the Planet: How Visionary Entrepreneurs and Corporate Titans Are Creating Real Solutions to Global Warming
by Brian Dumaine
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.46

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating detail about possible green alternatives, 16 Nov. 2008
I found this very interesting, but not as hopeful as I think Brian Dumaine intended. All the green ideas and enterprises envisioned by the entrepreneurs that Dumaine talked to depend on being cost effective. Solar panels, wind turbines, scrubbed coal, safe nuclear, ponds of algae eating CO2, ethanol from switchgrass, etc., will not be developed until they can produce energy as cheaply as fossil fuels. Dumaine even has a chapter with a subtitle that spells it out: Chapter 2: "Green is the Color of Money: Nothing Happens without Money."

These green alternatives will become cost effective when governments either install a carbon tax that will raise the cost of fossil fuels or otherwise subsidize the green alternatives. Dumaine, incidentally likes the idea of a carbon tax as opposed to what is called a "cap and trade" system in which companies or nations that do little polluting can sell shares to companies or nations that are polluting more. In this way corporations and nations will be encouraged through the marketplace to reduce their polluting ways. The sad thing is that right now it looks like the world as a whole and the US in particular are not ready to decide which, if either, of these solutions to employ.

Another way green alternatives can become cost effective is to wait until fossil fuels become scarce and therefore so expensive that solar, wind, etc., are cheap without subsidies. The danger with this plan--which is the one we have been following willy-nilly--is that by then we may be berthing our ships at the port of Memphis, Tennessee and growing our bananas by Canada's Hudson Bay. That is, if we're lucky. More likely we will be engaged in brutal warfare for scarce resources while we watch the poor people of the world starve to death. And in any case our standard of living will plummet since the relatively high standard of living we enjoy today is based on available, inexpensive energy which will become scarce without alternatives.

Reading this book makes it clear that our energy and pollution problems are with us not because we lack ideas on how to combat them. Dumaine demonstrates that there are ideas aplenty, from hydrogen fuel cells to solar panel farms to ocean wave turbines to geothermal energy, etc. What we lack is the political will to do what is necessary to enact these ideas and the wisdom to choose the right combinations since it is clear that there is no single solution to replacing fossil fuels. When I say "political will" I mean we have to elect people who will have the courage and the foresight to look beyond tomorrow's bottom line and see the consequences clearly some decades down the road when fossil fuels will be in short supply relative to demand, when the only economically feasible answer will be to burn massive amounts of coal in the quick and dirty way coal is burned today. The result will be the return of the horrific pollution that darkened the skies of 19th century London, only this time the extent of the clouds will be greatly increased.

Another disturbing thing about reading this hopeful and very interesting book is what has happened since the book was written. With the global financial crisis upon us, the venture capital for green alternatives has dried up like a shallow pond fanned by hot desert winds. Suddenly we are not using as much oil as we did just a few months ago. The result: a precipitous fall in the price of oil. What this means is that many green alternative projects are suddenly not cost effective. Oil at $150 a barrel makes solar and wind farms good investments. At $50 a barrel, they are likely to lose money.

Incidentally--or not so incidentally, depending on your perspective--our children and grandchildren, whether they like it or not, are subsidizing our use of fossil fuels. They will have to pay the environmental costs. Dumaine quotes Hermann Scheer, a member of Germany's parliament as expressing this view, and then explains: "...though it looks like we now enjoy cheap fossil fuels, the fact is that we are dumping the real costs--the droughts and floods caused by global warming, air pollution, and world conflicts--on our children and their children. It is not the legacy decent people should leave their offspring." (p. 171)

Dumaine estimates this de facto subsidy at about $500-billion worldwide per year. He estimates that the true price of gas to society is $3 to $4 more than we currently pay. (p. 172) If the real cost were added on in the form of a carbon tax, green alternatives would become cost effective and investors would not fear becoming suddenly priced out by an OPEC decision to pump a lot more oil.

In answer to those who think that green technologies need to stand on their own without government subsidies, Dumaine notes that "many twentieth-century American industries would not have developed as quickly as they did--if at all--without government largesse." He points to the auto industry which benefited from the billions of federal dollars that our government invested in the interstate highway system as an example. He could add the trucking industry as well.

One of the reasons for this head in the sand attitude so prevalent in the United States is the faith-based belief that the future will take care of itself or that something like the "rapture" will come and make all our good intentions moot. And then there are people who care only about themselves and the here and now. Not so strangely that is the way corporations, by their very nature, "think." It is these short-sighted and bottom-line directed entities that are largely making the decisions for us about how we will fuel our economies. We need to make those decisions ourselves.

The Autoimmune Epidemic: Bodies Gone Haywire in a World Out of Balance--And the Cutting-Edge Science That Promises Hope
The Autoimmune Epidemic: Bodies Gone Haywire in a World Out of Balance--And the Cutting-Edge Science That Promises Hope
by Donna Jackson Nakazawa
Edition: Hardcover

19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The smoking gun? The canary in the coal mine?, 16 Nov. 2008
What is causing the unprecedented and alarming increase in the number of people with autoimmune diseases in recent years? What is causing the frightening rise in the number of children with autism? In this painstakingly researched and thoroughly documented book, Donna Jackson Nakazawa makes the case that pollution is the culprit. She argues convincingly that levels of pollution below those allowed by government standards enter our bodies and confuse our immune systems into attacking our own cells.

The case is not however proven by scientific standards. Although the circumstantial evidence is persuasive, it may take many years for the scientific proof to manifest itself. But you and I do not have to wait that long. A question that might be asked is, what else can it be? The rise in autoimmune disease is clearly correlated with the rise in man-made and man-delivered chemicals into the environment. What we need to do now is elect representatives who will enact legislation that will sharply reduce the number and amount of chemicals being dumped into our rivers, streams and oceans, that will stop the feeding of noxious substance and hormones to our animals, and that will switch from burning fossils fuels to more sustainable and non-polluting alternatives. We need to make the transition from Big Agriculture with its pesticides and its weed killers to small cooperative organic farming methods. The health costs to our people are now enormous and growing. We cannot expect bottom-line driven corporations to voluntarily give up besmirching the environment and poisoning our children. They have to be stopped through the force of law.

Meanwhile, we as individuals need to reject highly processed foods and being super-sized. We need to reward close to home organic farmers and think slow food, not fast food. We need to stay away from MacDonald's and the Burger King. We need to give up the automobile and embrace mass transit and the bicycle. We need to leave the asphalt jungle and return to the Garden of Eden. We need stop stock-piling armaments and use our resources to fight disease and poverty. We need to reduce the sheer numbers of humans on this planet and allow not only more open space but more wild and agrarian space. We need to wake up in the morning and look out over greenery and clear, flowing waters, not concrete and steel, asphalt and the brown haze.

But wait. How can we do this? We can't. At least we can't do it anytime soon. It will take a gargantuan effort, greater than the resources put into World War II, into the space race, and into the Cold War combined to bring about the kind of changes that will stop the epidemic. First we will need to educate the general populace about what needs to be done. The vast majority of people have no idea what is happening. Most of us are living in a kind of willful ignorance about what we are doing to the planet and ultimately to ourselves. We need to get the short-sighted to see the world through the eyes of their grandchildren. We need to wrest power from pathological corporations, and put it in the hands of people who care.

Again, how do we do this?

It is a race between understanding and ignorance, between the side of human nature that uses its intelligence to see the present objectively and to imagine the future, and the side of human nature that is blind and fearful, that yields to the authority of special interests and wallows in ignorance.

Can we win this race? Nakazawa thinks we can and presents a strategy in the concluding chapter for shielding our immune systems from noxious chemicals and from stress and negative emotions. But what about that dark cloud drifting over the Pacific Ocean from the coal fires and the dust storms and chemical dumps in China? What can we do about THAT?

We, to our shame have elected know-nothings like George W. Bush, who has installed in his government legions of people dedicated to the increase of pollution and the wanton use of weapons and armies and gas-guzzlers to continue the destruction of the planet. We can only hope that our children and their children do a better job at governance, because at most we have perhaps two generations left before the world falls into a kind of horror of nature out of balance and of people at each other's throats to save what little is left for themselves.

The autoimmune epidemic is the canary in the coal mine. Unless we change our ways, it's going to get worse, much worse, so that on a clear day we will be able to see the smoke along Lincoln County Road as it leads to Armageddon.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 28, 2012 11:13 AM GMT

Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World
Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World
by Matthew Bishop
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I don't know about saving the world, but they can help a lot, 11 Nov. 2008
Throughout most of human history the rich have used their money to make more money and, quite frankly, they have often done so at the expense of those without much. This has always been considered the way things are: the rich get richer and the poor get...well, you supply your own line. However in this, the age of the super rich, things are changing; and in this engagingly written book, Matthew Bishop, the New York bureau chief of the Economist, and Michael Green an economist on leave from the UK's Department for International Development, chronicle this change, and give us a look at what we can expect in the future.

The authors begin with a little history of philanthropy as they focus on some of the giants of contemporary philanthropy, most notably Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. These are men who have acquired such a staggering amount of money that it would be irresponsible to leave it all to their relatives or friends. The understanding is that when you have as much money as these guys have--literally billions of dollars--you have an obligation to use that money and the power derived from it for the betterment of humanity. Or at least that is the new way of thinking as this book clearly shows. Even corporate giants like the much criticized Wal-Mart have gotten into what the authors call "The Spirit of Philanthrocapitalism." Consider these words from Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's chief executive:

"What would it take for Wal-Mart to our best all the time? What if we used our size and our resources to make this country and this earth an even better place for all of us: our customers, associates, our children, and generations unborn?...Is this consistent with our business model?" (p. 187)

Considering that corporations in this age of globalization are thought by some to be very much the problem and not the solution to humankind's challenges--see, for example, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (2004) by Joel Bakan--this is a refreshing point of view. And it makes sense when you think about it. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet now spend most of their time redistributing their wealth. Such work is more than a full time job; it's a new career. What if the heads of corporations realized the social and moral responsibility they have incurred by their very success, not through the persons of their retired executives, but through their present day business models?

Bishop and Green devote a chapter to the ideal of "The Good Company." It's obvious that they would like to see corporations do more, especially considering the great challenges that we currently face in terms of pollution, water depletion, global warming, food shortages, corrupt governments, etc. Google comes in for a bit of critical scrutiny from Bishop and Green who believe that the giant multinationals should go beyond the façade of good public relations to the wisdom of enlightened self-interest. They quote Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, as saying, "global corporate citizenship can be considered a long-term investment. Since companies depend on global development, which in turn relies on stability and increased prosperity, it is in their direct interest to help improve the state of the world." Unfortunately, Schwab further notes that "the pursuit of short-term profits at the expense of the long-term best interests of the firm may lead to 'corporate attention disorder,' whereby companies lose focus on the big picture." (p. 181)

The big picture of course is sustainability of your advantageous position in the world economy. I see on television night after night examples of how some companies think they can manage that with slick advertizing. Oil companies present commercials in which they urge people to use less energy. You might ask why they do that until you realize that the commercials have nothing to do with cutting energy use, but everything to do with promoting a positive public image for their company. This is NOT the way to assume social and moral responsibility, especially by companies that are not paying the full environmental costs of doing business while they garner record company profits.

I think in essence this is what this book is about on the deepest level: an attempt to demonstrate through the example of philanthrocapitalism a way for the corporation of the future to become a trusted and valuable member of the world society irrespective of whatever product or service they produce or perform. A corporation should be something more that an amoral entity blind to everything but its bottom line. What profits do the leaders of these giants have when they realize, soon or late, that they will leave this world, as everyone else does, the same way they came in?

Citing examples set by the Gates Foundation, George Soros's Open Society Institute, the Carnegie Corporation and others, the authors are plainly urging those with the wherewithal to take a leadership role in shaping society by funding not just established charities but through the founding and funding other worthwhile projects including those dedicated to educational reforms, disease eradication, and scientific research. They also want the philanthropists of today to influence others not involved in charity to work for the common good. They quote Bill Gates as saying insightfully, "Go get 0.1 percent of the scientists working on erectile dysfunction to come and work on malaria and you will be making a huge contribution." (p. 51)

So, perhaps more than anything, the authors are showing how today's great philanthropists are using their celebrity and their prestige as well as their cash to help make this a better world. Let's hope more of them get involved.

Daily Life in Ancient Rome: The People and the City at the Height of the Empire (Penguin History)
Daily Life in Ancient Rome: The People and the City at the Height of the Empire (Penguin History)
by Jerome Carcopino
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The glory, the gore and the grind of daily life, vividly presented, 10 Nov. 2008
You might want to turn directly to the last chapter in which the gluttony and debauchery of Imperial Rome is most clearly spelled out. Then again you might want to wait for that as one does for a dessert. Then again I shouldn't be such a smart aleck.

Jerome Carcopino who had this published in France in 1939 is a Latin and Greek scholar from the old school, from the days when Latin was required in our public schools and any educated person had at least a smattering of the dry stuff. This book presumes some Latin and some knowledge of Roman history. Additionally the Latin is not always translated into English--I presume it is the same in Carcopino's original French. And he refers to personages in Roman history without giving dates or even a sense of temporal order such as an American author might refer to Emerson or the Nixon administration and feel comfortable knowing that his readers would be able to form an approximate time frame. Furthermore, there is a pedant's feel to much of the book with Carcopino giving us again and again the exact Latin terminology in italics following the English expression. Readers interested in learning or brushing up on their Latin will find this most agreeable, and readers like me, who have little Latin and less Greek, will enjoy recognizing the Latin originals in their ancient usage that have given us English cognates. Thus "frigidarium" refers to the cold part of the Roman bath, and a "paedagogus" was a slave who served as a tutor.

Sometimes Carcopino (and I must say his able English translator, E. O. Lorimer) gives us the English translation following the Latin, and often it is a famous Latin phrase that will delight the eyes of the learned. For example on page 336 we find this observation explaining the use of a certain room near the feasting room: "vomunt ut edant, edunt ut vomant (they vomit in order to eat, and eat in order to vomit)."

I found it interesting to notice Carcopino's views on certain subjects and how they differ from today. For example he writes that the Roman players fought for a ball "blown full of in basketball, but with more elegance." (p.320) I doubt that such a line would be written today considering how graceful and elegant basketball has become since those early days of the sport from which Carcopino writes, circa 1939. I also note that as Carcopino was banging the typewriter keys the storm clouds of impending war were once again gatheringover Europe. I kept looking for some indication as to where our author stood vis-à-vis the rise of the Storm Trooper mentality in Germany and elsewhere, but he remained true to the historian's credo of not judging current events.

Interesting too are the occasional references to the modern world as colored by Carcopino's zeitgeist. For example he sometimes compared Roman habits to those of Europeans, Americans and even Arabs. Thus he writes "As among the Arabs still, belching was considered a politeness, justified by philosophers who thought the highest wisdom was to follow the dictates of nature. Pushing this doctrine even further, Claudius had considered an edict authorizing other emissions of wind from which even Arabs refrain..." (p. 335)

My take on the daily life after reading this volume is I would prefer to have lived in the pre-history rather than in Rome during the days of the emperors and I am very glad I live today and not then! As cases in point consider that the wine the Romans drank was blended with resin and pine pitch and drunk diluted with water. (pp. 332-333) Furthermore the glorious baths of Rome were communal without chlorine or the like, while the public bathrooms featured a kind of latrine with holes in the top that citizens could sit on and defecate while talking to their neighbor a few inches away. And the narrow, unpaved streets were filled with refuse of all kinds including the nightly contents of chamber pots.

The book is divided into two parts, "The Physical and Moral Background of Roman Life," and "The Day's Routine." Carcopino goes to great scholarly lengths to get his numbers right on the size and extent of the city and on the likely number of inhabitants, including breakdowns on citizens, freedmen and slaves. He calculates the relative fortunes of the various levels of society and informs us on religion, education, the status of women, arts and leisure and many other aspects of Roman life. From the title we can expect that the political and warfare of the emperors will be glossed over, and in this we are not disappointed. In fact the great success of this volume, which has been in print since it was first published almost seven decades ago, attests to the lively interest that readers have in life apart from what is usually presented.

I should mention that I have the volume from The Folio Society published in 2004. It is beautifully rendered with a number of color plates, a fine introduction by Keith Hopkins and includes an up-to-date (as of 2004) bibliography for further reading. There are several footnotes per page citing such illustrious authors as Pliny, Martial, Petronius, Tacitus, Juvenal etc. By the way, Carcopino's book is not to be confused with a book with the same title written by Florence Dupont which I haven't read.

Buyology: Truth and Lies about Why We Buy
Buyology: Truth and Lies about Why We Buy
by Martin Lindstrom
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Looking for the "buy button" inside our heads, 27 Oct. 2008
On one level this is about advertising and persuasion through neuromarketing. World class branding guru Martin Lindstrom commissioned a couple of top researchers, Dr. Gemma Calvert using fMRI technology, and Professor Richard Silberstein using SST technology, to look inside the heads of consumers to see why we buy what we buy. Lindstrom, who makes a living advising international corporations on what works and what doesn't work in advertizing and marketing, was led to this approach because of an unshakable unease within the corporate world about the effectiveness of their research and advertising methods, an unease due primarily to the fact that "80 percent of all product launches fail in the first three months." (p. 167, and Chapter 1)

What he found out is that people themselves often do not know which commercials or advertisements are effective, and so asking them is a waste of time and money. To put it bluntly, we often do not know why we buy what we buy. There are subconscious factors at work that go directly to various brain centers and modules governing fear, greed, sex, power, status, etc. that not only override our conscious, rational minds, but actually operate independent of our consciousness. Lindstrom writes, "...most of our buying decisions aren't remotely conscious. Our brain makes the decision and most of the time we aren't aware of it." (p. 199)

On another level "Buyology" goes beyond advertizing and persuasion. On this level Lindstrom's book is about corporations and perhaps ultimately our governments going directly into the minds of consumers and citizens to exercise control over people in order to get them to do what they want them to do. In a sense this amounts to a postmodernist fusion of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and Vance Packard's "The Hidden Persuaders."

Unlike Huxley and Packard, however, Lindstrom is optimistic about where this research will lead. He argues that if we have "a better understanding of what drives and motivates" us, "what attracts and repels," we "can escape all the tricks and traps that companies use to seduce us...and get us to buy and [we will therefore be able to] take back our rational minds." (pp. 204-205).

I have my misgivings. I see neuromarketing being used to package political candidates to appeal to our limbic systems and ultimately being used to stifle unpopular views and behaviors contrary to what the power structure desires. Lindstrom is aware of this trend and writes, "I predict that the 2008 American presidential showdown will be the last-ever election to be governed by traditional surveys, and that by 2012, neuroscience will begin to dominate all election predictions." (p. 30) This is after recalling on the previous page that the famous 1964 "Daisy" ad showing "a young girl frolicking with a daisy as a nuclear explosion detonates" and "the September 11 imagery" in 2004 "triggered a noticeable, across-the-board increase in activity in voters' amygdalas." The amygdala "governs, among other things, fear, anxiety, and dread." The unmistakable conclusion is that fear helped Lyndon Baines Johnson and George W. Bush win elections.

One of the reasons I am not as optimistic as Lindstrom stems from one of the striking discoveries in the book, namely that smokers are not deterred in the slightest from having horrific words and pictures on their packs of cigarettes. Instead those words and images merely serve to remind them of what it is they want: to light up! (see especially page 82). Consequently we might know that a candidate is using fear or hate to get inside our heads and persuade us to vote for him but still be unable to vote otherwise. In fact, what usually happens when we do something for a reptilian brain inspired reason is that we use our rational minds merely to justify the behavior.

Some interesting conclusions that Lindstrom came to after evaluating the research:

Product placement doesn't work. The product needs to be tied to the entertainment vehicle itself in some way. He shows this by comparing how little Ford got for its ads on TV's "American Idol" compared to what Coca -Cola got. See Chapter 2: "This Must Be the Place: Product Placement, American Idol, and Ford's Multimillion-Dollar Mistake." No he wasn't talking about the Edsel. That's another story.

Sex may get your attention, but it doesn't sell, in fact it distracts--unless of course the ad promises more sex for you! If the advertiser can persuade you that buying the product is going to make you sexier, then it works.

Celebrity endorsements? "Well, evidence suggests that just as sex hijacks our attention away from the crucial information in an advertisement, so, too, can extreme beauty or celebrity." (p. 186)

Brand logos may not be important as the aurora surrounding them. Lindstrom shows how even a fish can become a brand and by becoming a brand be much more valuable than its nearly identical cousins. (See pages 200-203). He also shows how the colors and the atmosphere associated with a brand, such as the rugged Western outdoor-ness of the Marlboro brand, can be more effective in selling the product than the brand logo itself. Lindstrom concludes, "...when we brand things, our brains perceive them as more special and valuable than they actually are." (p. 203) To really bring home the significance of this, he reports that Dr. Calvert "discovered that when people viewed images associated with...strong brands...their brains registered the exact same patterns of activity as they did when they viewed...religious images." (p. 124)

All I can say is that neuromarketing may turn out to be a more powerful and more frightening tool than, say, bioengineering or replicating nanobots.

Flourishing with Food Allergies: Social, Emotional and Practical Guidance for Families with Young Children
Flourishing with Food Allergies: Social, Emotional and Practical Guidance for Families with Young Children
by A. Anderson
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars No parent of a food-allergic child should be without this book, 22 Oct. 2008
If you have children with food allergies or suspect that your children may be allergic to certain foods, do yourself and your family a favor and read this book. It is thorough, authoritative clearly written, and about as close to a "bible" on the subject as exists.

Anderson combines personal experiences stories, case histories and the latest research to show the reader how children and parents can not only cope with allergies to common foods such as wheat, diary, peanuts, tree nuts, etc., but how they can flourish in a world of dietary danger. Beginning with her own experience with two children who are allergic to certain foods--and not the same ones--Anderson shows the reader how to avoid the dangerous foods and how to cope with situations involving the dangerous foods. This is essential since some allergic reactions can be life-threatening.

She also shows how she personally dealt with denial and guilt and then took a pro-active acceptance stand while alerting the reader to the many pitfalls along the way, such as what can happen in preschool and after as your children interact with a world that doesn't realize that they are allergic and must be kept away from certain foods. Anderson made her own personal decision not to send her children to pre-school because of the dangers. For a child allergic to milk, for example, sometimes just the particles of cheese in the air during a pizza party can bring about an attack. Or even bits of the allergen on the fingers of classmates may spell out danger to the susceptible child.

In the next section of the book, Anderson presents stories from other parents of allergic children. These case histories are valuable because they recount different experiences with which readers may identify. These differing experiences can lead readers to recognize situations similar to their own so that potential mistakes are avoided. In the third section entitled "Theories, Facts and Findings," Anderson lays bare some fallacies about food allergies while bringing readers up to date on the latest research. She presents and critiques some of the latest theories from around the world.

Part 2, "The Solutions," begins with "Perspectives" in which two pediatricians, a naturopath, a specialist in allergies, and a psychologist are interviewed. Anderson asks them about their experiences and their recommendations for treatment and how allergic children and their parents might be helped socially and emotionally in dealing with allergy. Then she turns to her husband who presents his experience as a father of two food-allergic children. He recounts the stages of paralysis, avoidance, frustration, ... and finally acceptance that most of us would have to go through before finding a way forward. Anderson ends with an in-depth look at diet and how to avoid the main allergens that may be hiding in everyday foods in the supermarket. Finally, there is a section on social situations where parents and their allergic children have to be careful such as at birthday parties, at school or while traveling. Anderson gives detailed and specific advice on what to expect and what to do about it.

Although "empowering" is a word often overused these days, I can say without the shadow of a doubt that the parent who has this book will be greatly empowered in the day-to-day challenge of raising happy and healthy food-allergic children. Grandparents and professionals who work with children would also empower both themselves and children in their care by reading this enormously helpful book.

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