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Jippu (Oxford UK)

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A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History
A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History
Price: £8.26

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dangerous waters, 30 May 2014
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Nicholas Wade, a very good science writer, has now entered a really dangerous sea: race. He does his best to navigate between all possible dangers but if one is to believe the reviews in NYRB or LRB, he does not succeed. The book has two relatively distinct parts: one about the genetic origins of races, or the three large geographic groups of people (plus two or three smaller distinct groups), Africans, Asians and Indo-Europeans (Wade calls the last group Caucasians, but this is an antiquated and very misleading term, which is only used in the US). This part is certainly controversial, but based on the latest science and rejected only by the well-meaning social scientists who think that the term race in itself is a dangerous construction. Wade's major point is that races are not distinguished by different genes (the Lewontin's fallacy) but by the distributions of the same genes in the different racial groups. So races can be analyzed on the basis of statistical clusterings of genes. The incontrovertible fact is that most people can be classified on the basis of their DNA to distinct racial groups. Wade writes well and clearly here, and mostly uses the recent results of DNA analysis (he could have written more about the Neanderthals...) and one sees clearly how the knowledge has expanded lately. In the second part, that of the role of races in global socio-economic development, Wade enters an area where the science is not at all verified or clear. Here his main reference are recent economic, political and historical analyses where the role of races have been taken up. Wade dismisses on the other hand the Lynn-Vanhanen theory of IQ and socio-economic development (perhaps a little too quickly, when one thinks of his claim of very rapid natural selection) and Steven Pinker (and other evolutionary psychologists) who think that there has been no human genomic evolution during the past 10 000 years so that the explanation must be based on the conflict of cultural change and permanent human universals. The great theory remaining is that of Fukuyama who analyzes the different civilizations and their development from an evolutionary perspective, without giving much genetic background. This is provided (speculatively) by Wade, who claims that human evolution has been very rapid and continuing, so that the present differences between social and economic institutions in the world are essentially of genetic origin, based on strong selection during the past 5000 years or so. This would explain the individualistic and creative development of western economies, the collectivistic but non-creative development in China and India and the backwardness of Africa, which has not been able to leave the tribalistic, "original" stage of human development. Wade makes this sound plausible, but leaves a lot to be really proven. And the thesis of quick genetic evolution based on just natural selection does seem to be very problematic. Wade could have brought in sexual selection (which is more rapid and where selective pressures are strong) but even then, the data to prove very quick human genetic evolution does not seem to be very conclusive. In any case, this is a highly readable book which does not convince, but makes one to wait for more conclusive arguments, to one or another direction.


No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State
No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State
Price: £8.03

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Greenwald than Snowden, but very disturbing, 20 May 2014
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This is, as the title says, a book about Edward Snowden and the surveillance state in the US. The first part tells the story how Snowden got through to Greenwald (and Laura Poitras) and how he succeeded in getting the NSA papers published in the Guardian against heavy odds. In Greenwald's view, this was done by Snowden in a very rational and effective way, where he wanted to maximize the effect of the NSA's activities, not his own person. The only hitch in the plan was that Snowden got stuck in Russia instead of South America where he would have liked to go. After this, highly gripping and interesting part (but mostly already known) Greenwald immerses in the activities of the NSA and the role of the Obama administration in advancing surveillance in the US. The main impact of the Snowden leaks is surely that we know now in which ways the United States is following its own citizens and foreigners who are in some ways in contact with the US (as most of us who use internet, are). But the most disturbing thing is that the NSA program which was started in long ago and which got a big boost from the 9/11 attacks, has been actively and and enthusiastically been pursued by the Obama administration, which was supposed to be curbing these activities. Even the revelations have done nothing to restrain the US mass spying programs. Greenwald describes the recent activities to justify the spying and the possible consequences of mass spying. The final part of the book is the one not mentioned in the title and which probably accounts for the relative silence about the book in the media, at least in the media most directly criticized by Greenwald. In his opinion, the US news media is beholden to the government and the leading stars are now so close to the political and economic power that they have forgotten the basic role the the media as an independent and critical watchdog. A good example is that Washington Post (one of the worst lapdogs, together with New York Times) only published its story about the Snowden revelations when they got a tip form their government sources that Greenwald was about to publish the story (concerning the use of the big internet companies in the spying). And then Greenwald's story was more cautious, because they had been threatened by criminal prosecution... In any case Greenwald does not endear himself with the so called leftist liberal media (he does not even bother much to discuss Fox and its likes) .
In the book, Greenwald does his best to make us ordinary people understand how pernicious the NSA spying is. I believe that most of us think that the US are just wasting their effort by collecting data about our more or less trivial activities, but the thing is that IF we get by chance caught in a web of suspicion, the data can be used to build up a case against almost anybody. As long as we are in the great swarm of small fish,we are safe, but who knows what can happen? When the swarm disappears and you are left alone, then the data concerning you can prove fatal.
So this is a very dark book which leaves one very much disturbed and worried! Is Greenwald paranoid, am I becoming paranoid, or should I really worry about this? You choose,after reading the book!


Everyone to Skis!: Skiing in Russia and the Rise of Soviet Biathlon
Everyone to Skis!: Skiing in Russia and the Rise of Soviet Biathlon
Price: £21.51

5.0 out of 5 stars For skiing buffs, 21 April 2014
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Found this book by accident. It contains A mass of fantastic and unbelievable information concerning Russian cross country skiing so it is mainly for specialists. Who could believe thst the largest Soviet ski races had some 600 000 participants. Or that we finns taught the Russians to beat Germans on skis in 1942. Or that in the first downhill ski olympicd where Soviet skiers participated they refused to use the lifts because it was decadent and bourgeois! There are lots of more fascinating details do read yourself!


Flash Boys
Flash Boys
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Racy but leaves dissatisfied. .., 21 April 2014
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This review is from: Flash Boys (Kindle Edition)
Michael Lewis has written several great books. This is perhaps not one of them. It is racy and well written and the topic is enormously fascinating.: high speed trading and its effects. Lewis reveals serious problems and the question is whether these speed traders are thiefs or facilitators. Lewis leans on thieves. Still he does not really get at the culprits. The story of a small trader which makes stealing from trades impossible is not the full picture. .. The reader would like to know more of the thieves! And why their activity is permitted.


Command Authority (Jack Ryan 13)
Command Authority (Jack Ryan 13)
Price: £6.37

3.0 out of 5 stars Very timely!, 25 Mar 2014
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With a view that this book was published before the events in Ukraine, there are uncanny similarities. We have a Putin-like president, his connections to the old Soviet secret services, a crisis in Crimea which would seem the escalate to the whole of Ukraine. There is also an attack on Estonia which fails, thanks to Nato. And the Russian mafia, which has as a fundamental principle that its people must not come from the KGB (they can infiltrate it, but not originate from it). The climax has many resemblances to the present crisis And there is a lot of action. And a connection to the US President (the protagonist is a president's son). And of course greedy European capitalists who work together with the enemy.
BUT then there is the military, violent, side. The book is chock full of weapons, military exploits, technologies, surveillance etc. From the technological point of view this may be realistic, but from the point of view of actual battles, there is a very strong propagandistic elements. The Americans are intelligent, human, etc, whereas the Russians are bullies and rather stupid and love to kill unnecessarily... At times it is almost that the book has been financed and written by the CIA. At least they should be thankful to Clancy and his military companion (who probably works for CIA...).


The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man
The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man
Price: £4.19

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening story, 17 Mar 2014
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Luke Harding has written a rather balanced and well-informed book about the revelations of Edward Snowden. I happened to read Andrew O'Hagan's article on Julian Assange and it is clear that they are pretty different. Politically and as personalities. It seems that Snowden really is not interested in himself or in becoming the savior of the world, but just to show how the US government is betraying its own constitution. Of course the book is also a hilarious description of all the stupidities committed by especially the British government and how it goes after journalists on very flimsy excuses. But the reader gets also a comprehensive description of the main revelations from Snowden's files and their importance for our lives. Perhaps the main teaching is that too much data collection is just self-defeating and useless. Intelligent data collection is the key: only collect data when you have a reason or are given a reason. But of course this is easier said than done. Still, the NSA operation has all the sign of data collection gone astray (when I did my first data-analyses by computer, I made just one programming mistake which produced about 2000 pages of useless data, so I know!). The effect of Snowden's revelations has been huge. We know now how the US government (and some smaller ones) operates. But I see very little change in people's behavior. This is probably due to the fact that such huge data collection is really deemed as self-defeating. Let us hope it is!


Thomas Quick: The Making of a Serial Killer
Thomas Quick: The Making of a Serial Killer
Price: £8.26

5.0 out of 5 stars The biggest court scandal in Sweden, 27 Feb 2014
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This is an indispensable book on what arguably is the biggest judicial scandal in Sweden after the war. A severely drugged and overtherapized man succeeded in confessing and being convicted of nine murders, none of which he had committed and had not even been near the places. What is worse, Sweden's highest overseer of the legality of decisions still believes that the courts did not do anything wrong and even insinuates that the man might be guilty. Hannes Råstam was an investigative journalist who became interested in the matter, looked at all the facts, and was able to show that all the judgments were wrong and single handedly achieved the annulment of the judgments. Unfortunately, Råstam died before the matter was completely closed. Thomas Quick a.k.a. Sture Bergwall (his original and present name) is still kept in the mental hospital. because the hospital does not want to admit its mistakes. There is a parallel book by Dan Josefsson (in swedish only for now) which looks more closely into the second scandal, that of Quick's treatment by psychoanalysts who believed in recovered memories and duped the police investigators to believe that his memories were real (although they has a built-in interest to slant get him convicted).
Warmly recommended!


Walking on Gran Canaria (Cicerone Guide)
Walking on Gran Canaria (Cicerone Guide)
Price: £7.35

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very useful and accurate, 21 Jan 2014
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I visited Gran Canaria in January and the time was ideal for long walks in the mountains. Not too hot, some very cool days but with appropriate clothing there were no problems. When the clouds were low, it was easy to pick lower routes. I used to book for both selecting routes and navigating on them. There were no problems and the instructions were easy to follow. In one case did I select a wrong downhill route (in rather bad shape) about which there was no warning but otherwise it was fine. The Camino Real to Maspalomas from San Bartolome is, as the author says, not yet ready, so he gives just the highway route which is not for walking: (too many cars and lots of bicyclists). With the map one can find a much better footpath route, so a good map is very useful!
In any case I warmly recommend this guide. It keeps the good Cicerone standard.


Ammonites and Leaping Fish: A Life in Time
Ammonites and Leaping Fish: A Life in Time
Price: £6.64

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Serene aging, 1 Jan 2014
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This is a very low key quiet description of how being a (relatively) healthy 80 year old feels like. With memories of what happened earlier. Worth reading for anybody who wants to understand what being old old means. How you have to restrict your activities and ambitions. How you lose all those people with whom you have been close. It is sad but beautiful.


The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
Price: £5.98

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is Amazon evil?, 27 Dec 2013
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I am writing this review for Amazon and I am a longtime user of Amazon as a bookstore. I scarcely buy books from other sources. Before, I was regular user of the best bookstore in my city, but now I go there seldom and don't buy much. In addition, I am a fan of the new Kindle fire which for me is the best way to read books and acquire them. So, for me Amazon has changed everything as a book buyer. I should be thankful for Jeff Bezos. Still I am very divided. I am glad that there are physical bookstores and I am very sorry to see them disappear. When I was young, there was a large and lively bookstore in our neighbourhood, but now there are perhaps two or three real bookstores in the whole city.
Brad Stone tells the story of Amazon's development from the meagre beginnings to the present situation where it is the Everything store giant growing irresistibly. He is quite open about the negative side of this development, both for the employees and for the competitors. He is less good in presenting the life and personality of Jeff Bezos who seems to belong in the category of somewhat pathological but driven and creative capitalists who has created a completely different enterprise. The paradox of Amazon that its share price does not seem the react at all to the normal indicators and that it has a licence to do things which would be fatal for most other firms does not, however, find a satisfactory explanation. Also the fact that Amazon survived the first IT-crash is interesting bot not really treated by Stone. Still the book is highly readable and gives good background for understanding what is happening with Amazon. The story of Amazon is still quite short and we cannot say how it will end. Especially when Bezos leaves the controls. My bet is that Amazon is only one stage in the development towards a more decentralized system. The worst part about Amazon is surely its treatment of the warehouse workers (as long as people are cheaper than machines, they are being exploited...)


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