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Alex Ireland

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From There to Here
From There to Here
by Brendan Fanning
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Would have like more detail and critical analysis of the structure of the sport, 19 April 2008
This review is from: From There to Here (Paperback)
Irish Rugby is reviewed as it moves from the amateur era into professionalism. Some knowledge and an interest in Irish rugby would be required for this book. The question is how much? I am involved at grass roots level and I felt that I had heard or knew a lot book already. That said, some incidents such as Pat Whelan challenging a journalist in a toilet and Clohessy not being impressed with his label of the only man in Limerick who doesn't need to lock his car, are always worth a special mention, but the pertinent issues pertain to the structure of the game.

Now, any group of human beings always involves politics and sometimes the best decisions always aren't made. I think is the strongest point of the book. It's a reminder that IRFU may not always have the correct structures to make the best decision. A good example would be the AIL. It should really be reformatted so that a smaller first division is in place. This would then operate at a more competitive level and feed the provinces. But, can committee men see beyond their clubs and see the big picture?

A lot has happened in Irish Rugby in the last 15 years and it's impossible to cover it all in one book. Ulster fans may lament their achievements not getting much page space when the authour gives plenty to the Munster mens' march to a final in 2001. One could also make a similar point about some great Irish victories, which also don't get much page space. For example:

1. Beating World Champions England in their own back yard in 2004
2. Beating an Australian team which won a Lions series, twice
3. Beating France for the first time in almost 30 years in France.

Some other areas, left out, which I would have thought worthy of inclusion:

1 Schools Rugby, would it not make more sense to reformat this to a league format and put more emphasis on skills rather than competition?
2. Would Irish Rugby not be better off putting more resources on youth systems in clubs?
3. Are the provinces paying too much money on imported players who can never play for Ireland?

As for the future of the game, the perception is more people are playing rugby now than ever before. If this is the case, it would have been an interesting subject to explore. How many more are playing? Why are more playing?

Overall, I this book depends on your expectations. Want a magazine type review of Irish Rugby? You might like it. Want something more critical and detailed? I am not so sure.

Fighting the Banana Wars and Other Fairtrade Battles
Fighting the Banana Wars and Other Fairtrade Battles
by Harriet Lamb
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Too much pathos not enough logos, 19 April 2008
Like many conscientiousness consumers, I buy Fairtrade. I was very excited about this book and had clear objectives approaching it:

1. I wanted to understand the Fairtrade operation better.
2. I wanted to have confidence that this organisation was working efficiently.

In 2006, Fairtrade-certified sales amounted to approximately 1.6 billion worldwide. It's is a large operation, which means a detailed explanation of its organisation structure is required, so that one can know it operates with efficiency and ethical authenticity. Unfortunately, this is where I think the book comes up short. For example, it doesn't really go into detail of the constituent parts of Fairtrade and how they interact.
The Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International split up into FLO international and FLO-CERT in 2004. Are the current arrangements working better? How well are Fairtrade controlling the bureaucracy and accountability battles that beset any large NGO?

Instead of tackling these questions systematically, the author offers anecdotes of wonder tales of people in the organisation, moving narratives of exploited workers and against the odds chronicles of Fairtrade cracking some of the big markets. It's an approach of pathos with little logos. I wanted a clear picture of how this organisation works in my head. I couldn't get it and the annoying pattern of back slapping of various heroes in the Fairtrade organisation became increasingly annoying. While I highly respect anybody who does something for humanity, some of the information she is giving is completely irrelevant and superficial. Some examples:

1. Paul Rice chief executive of transfair USA, looks a bit like Tom Cruise.
2. Barry the director at the world development movement used to have a "lovely ponytail".
3. Tamara Thomas, a women who wanted a company to use Fairtrade cotton, is an attractive blonde.

Does it matter what any of these people look like? While these people may have done great things or played a crucial role, when an organisation becomes a certain size, you can't just rely on super heros; there has to be the processes, checks and tests to make sure the operation is working efficiently from the bottom to the top.

While I respect Harriet Lamb is not a philosopher, I feel there are some very interesting philosophical questions pertaining to fairtrade and ethical shopping that could have been explored.

For example:
1. How does one determine a fair price? What is fair? Is there always an inescapably subjective element to it?
2. The question of whether to buy local produce and hence lowering transport costs and CO2 emissions versus buying African produce thus helping poorer farmers is discussed but only skimmed over and given a sort of trust your instinct answer.

Ultimately, when assesing this book it comes down to whether I achieve my objectives better by reading this book or by researching Fairtrade articles in quality newspapers and publications. For me, it's a case of a latter. How you enjoy it will depend on your objectives.

Because this book deals with a very emotive issue I fear my criticism of this book will not be well received. I'll still be buying and supporting Fairtrade but I must be honest as it is the book I am reviewing not the organisation.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 3, 2010 4:26 PM BST

The God Delusion
The God Delusion
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Paperback

14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Theism cut up with surgical precision logic., 15 April 2008
This review is from: The God Delusion (Paperback)
I agree with Dawkins that God is a Delusion. However, I think he can be unnecessarily antagonistic to those who choose to believe. I also think he incorrectly conflates religious extremism with religious norm. I mean how many practising Muslims want to fly airplanes into buildings? How many Christians really think the world was made in six days and reject evolution? I also think his argument that religious norm causes religious extremism is extremly simplistic. It's a bit like saying national pride causes extreme nationalism. Far more blood has been spilled in the name of nationalism than religion, so should we also chuck out national pride and love of native culture also? The smart answer is it might just be easier to respect those we disagree with.

All that said, I was delighted to be so challenged, educated and mentally engaged from the very beginning to the very end of this book. It's full of clearly put points; lucid and colourful writing that engages the reader, even if the reader may choose to disagree.

Some stand out points raised in the book:
1. Some theologians, think evolution cannot fully explain human morality. Dawkins gives crystal clear evolutionary reasons why humans have morals, altruism and empathy. In fact, there is experimental evidence that suggests that atheists and theists don't even differ on morality! Dawkins explains all brilliantly, referencing some really interesting thought experiments.

2. Atheists should still know about the Bible. It's a major cultural edifice and literacy masterpiece. Parts of it, such as Sermon on the Mount were arguably well ahead of their time.

3. Parents should not indoctrinate their children. He includes atheists in this. Atheists should not label their children as atheists. How can any parent label their child as having a theological perspective when the child hasn't an iota of the various arguments on such a complicated subject matter?

In summary my criticisms of this very good book are:
1. Only a subset of theology is covered. Eastern Religions barely get a mention.
2. He sights religious problems in Northern Ireland between Catholic and Protestants, but he omits that Northern Protestants and Southern Catholics have been playing rugby together for over one hundred years without any sectarian tension at all. This would suggest the problems derive from a combination of political problems, social problems and alternative religious groupings - not just alternative religious groupings.
3. Although the writting style is lucid, he is still antagonistic and arrogant. I really can't see many Christians or Theists reading this book and changing their mind. Is antagonizing believers about their cherished believes likely to make them think more critically about it or make them feel they are being misrepresented?

I think if he adopted a more compassionate approach he would connect to more people. But if he was that diplomatic, would I ever have heard of him? Therein lies what I think is the "Dawkins dilema".
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 2, 2008 11:49 AM BST

River Out Of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (SCIENCE MASTERS)
River Out Of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (SCIENCE MASTERS)
by Prof Richard Dawkins
Edition: Paperback

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Explains some key concepts of evolution., 12 April 2008
Eyes have evolved between 40 and 60 times in inveterbrates showing nine different distinctive characteristics. Hold on a second! How? Answer: evolution through natural selection. Thank you Mr. Darwin!

There two components to evolution - the central understanding of biology and zoology.

1. Random mutation of DNA during reproduction
2. Natural selection of genes.

When a species is separated by geographical barries (rivers, mountains) for a long period of time, the changes in group 1 will eventually be no longer compatable with group 2. They can't interbred and you then have two species where once their was one. That's why red squirrels can't interbred with grey ones.

Now, from simple DNA copying mechanisms in bacteria, all animals, plants, protozoa, fungi have evolved. How do we know this? We have an infinite amount of DNA analysis and about a billion fossils.

Some of the key concepts in evolution are explained in this book. DNA being the instruction set for a living organism, the actual structure of DNA itself, the fact that all humans share a common female ancestor (in the female - female line) whose time on the planet can be estimated by mathematically analysing the michondrial DNA differences and factoring them with mutations rates.

In this book, we are also treated to some interesting anecdotes from the animal kingdom:
1. Gray squirrels and Req squirrels can't interbred because they have evolved into separate spieces.
2. Turkeys kill anything that moves near their babies unless it emits a babies cry. If they are deaf they can kill their own babies because they use the babies cry to differentiate between their babies and other moving objects such as rats, mice etc.
3. Honeybees tell each other the whereabouts of flowers by means of a carefully coded dance.

All along the central theme of natural selection is referenced and explained. Whatever works best, reproduces best. The best genes stay in the gene pool while the worst are chucked out by an amoral and unconcious natural selection process.

Dawkins has written several books on evolution. So what's so good about this one? I have read several of them. They all have a lucid, succint style and are written with Dawkins' infectious enthusasim. This one is shorter the others. So if you want the good grounding in evolution but are not worried about every nook and cranny of what forms the central understanding of zoology and biology. Go for this book.

Back from the Brink: The Autobiography
Back from the Brink: The Autobiography
by Paul McGrath
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad, fascinating, honest. No major interest in Football required., 30 Mar. 2008
Paul McGrath certainly doesn't epitomise normality. A black person growing up in 1960's Dublin. An orphan, abandoned by his Mother. A world class athlete. A Catholic then a Protestant then a Catholic again. A national hero. A categorical and unequivocal alcoholic. Doesn't sound normal, does it? This book is the very candid story about these unique characteristics weaving together to create a very unique life. Paul McGrath's life.

I was a passionate soccer fan in my youth. Like many other young Dublin lads, it was play soccer, watch soccer, live soccer. Now I have just grown out of it all. Too many egos, too much money, not enough passion. It's just not the same as old days. So, I approached this book, expecting reminiscences of the good old Soccer before Mr. Murdock ruined it all!

But this book is much much more than Soccer. In fact, you would not even have to know what offside is to enjoy it. It's a most lucid, honest, genuine revelation into the very deep and dark side of McGrath's life. His melachonic childhood is told in such apprehensible detail, it would send a shiver down your spine and bring a tear to your eye at the same time. His adulthood is a deleterious lifestyle riddled with mistakes, regret and shame. It's plagued with endless drunken stupors. At a superficial level, he's famous, a fantastic soccer player, but a book that navigates his mind shows that soccer at times seams no more than a temporary escapism from very serious addiction and personal problems.

There is a striking and unique dichotomy in McGrath's story. He had crippling pain due to cartilage problems in his knees. But while he was able to overcome this and play professional Football at the highest level, he cannot overcome his emotional problems and deal with his alcohol addition.

This provokes two very interesting points:
1. This genius is flawed. On the pitch he is a world class soccer player, but off it, he's a fallable human being who cannot cope with reality. Is this part of his appeal? Like Alex Ferguson said, perhaps he is like
George Best in this regard. A hero with flaws.
2. How can he have so much inner strength that he can overcome pain which would make most players hang up their boots, but not be able to come even close to dealing with pyschological problems that are ruining his life?

The writing style is clear, honest and with a few minor exceptions, the book follows a chronological order. Along the way there are snippets and opinions from the key people in Paul's life. His mother, his best mates,
former managers, and host of others each add their two pence worth. This range of opinions gives book a very objective characteristic and a credibility which can only really engage a reader.

Before reading this book, I had one very obvious question about Paul McGrath:
What kind of soccer player would he have been if his knees held up?

After reading this book, and a close up view of Paul's perspective, I had two far more pertinent questions:

Can his childhood but blamed for the problems in his adulthood?
What kind of man would he have been if he was not an addict?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 1, 2012 9:26 PM BST

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

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and educational, 26 Mar. 2008
This books is far more than its title's amusing amphibology. It's funny, educational and very readable.

I work in software engineering and like many software engineers, I frequent the spelling and grammar checker. I frequent it regularly. In fact, my life would be quite tough without it.

Now in software engineering, there's nothing worse than looking at awful code that doesn't follow anything close to a resemblance of normal engineering standards. It's a surreal feeling that has this offensive nauseousness about it. The frustrations are simply indescribable to anybody who hasn't had the misfortune to work in the industry. Now, we software engineers sometimes think we are alone in experiencing these emotions, as perhaps they are the result of our innate pedantic propensities. We think the rest of human species don't suffer as much as we do. I mean who else has to look at spaghetti code?

So, it really made me laugh to hear Lynne Truss describe her innate frustations and intolerance of poor punctuation.
The English language, just like Software Engineering, has a clear logical set of punctuation rules. We just seem too ignorant and lazy to follow them. The English language, again just like Software Engineering, has its purists (or sticklers in Truss lexicon) whose stomachs squelch coming across asinine errors and sooner or later the pedant's affliction will manifest.

Truss navigates through every punctutation edifice. The comma, the apostrophe, the dash and all the usual suspects are explained clearly, succintly and with the utmost deference. Each one getting its own separate chapter. She shows acumen, acuity and peppers explainations with quirky and funny anecdotes of incorrect usage.

But it's Truss' reaction and feelings to poor punctuation that make this book funny. She's absolutely livid. Anyone with even a small bit of pendantry about anything at all will empathise and laugh.

My appreciation English of punctuation grew from reading this book. I'll still make errors - no doubt a few are in this review!
But it's a very good book. My only critism would be that I felt it was a little bit on the short side. A few edits and it would have been no more than an appendix in a grammar book or a good quality dictionary. But you certainly wouldn't get the laughs in such an appendix!

The Consolations of Philosophy
The Consolations of Philosophy
by Alain de Botton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great pop philosophy book, 21 Mar. 2008
The Consolations of Philosophy, not to be confused with the Consolation of Philosophy (Boethius 524 AD),
attempts to brings philosophy out of its esoteric niche and offer some useful wisdom relevant to everyday life.

This is pop philosophy at its best. The writing style is clear, colourful and contains moments of quirky humour (usually in drawings) to keep the reader engaged. De Botton picks 6 famous philosophers and tries to take some nuggest of wisdom from each one and show the application of it in a contempory context.

1. Socrates tells us to question popular opinion as there is often no truth in it. Truth is in logic.
2. Epicurus tells us friends are more important than money
3. Seneca, who lived through the disasters such as earthquakes shattering Pompeii and the people of Rome been subjected to Nero, thought that having unrealistic world views can only cause unrealistic hopes. This results in inevitable frustations when these hopes are not met. By employing rational enquiry and philosophy to achieve a more balanced and releastic world view one can avoid these unrealistic hopes which can only cause pain.
4. Montaigne thought we have to accept our body with all its flaws: it smells, aches, ages, etc.
5. Schopnehauer thought our will to life (wille zum leben) forces us to choose partners whom we can have happy, healthy, intelligent offspring. Controversially, he thought that the person who made be ideal to produce the best offspring may not be ideal for us. But we must enter love with reasonable expectations so as to avoid bitterness if it fails us. If the individual remembers that he is only one of a species he may become more of a "knower" than a "sufferer".
6. Nietzsche thought the more difficult the task or challenges we face, the greater our sense of achievement will be.
We should not give up if we fail but consider failure as an essential ingredient and experience to enjoying eventual success.

I enjoyed this book, it's erudite without being too academic. If you have studied philsophy at university level you might find it too simple. But as an introductory or as a pop philosophy book, it's very good. As well as taking an idea from each philosopher, De Botton gives overview of the philosophers lifes - their family backgrounds, where they studied, what they wrote, their general contributions to philosophy and their deaths.

Human Instinct
Human Instinct
by Professor Lord Robert Winston
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very readable and wide range of interesting information, 20 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Human Instinct (Paperback)
Robert Wintson explores the characteristics of human instincts. The human species' inquisitive, altruistic, moral, violent, sexual and spiritual nature are all examined. Are these properties nature or nurture? He is usually examing the former and does this by presenting various scientific hypotheisis and theories which usually involve experimental observations of our cousins in the animal kingdom and are based on our genetic similarities we have with them.

Along the way, we are bombarded with interesting and thought provoking facts. Here's just a sample:

1. Chimpanzees' fear of snakes only manifests if they see other chimps' fear of snakes. However if chimps are tricked so that they think other chimps are afraid of flowers, they don't pick this fear. This suggests chimps have some pre-programmed fear specifically of snakes that has to be activated.
2. Double blind experiments show that men can subconciously detect the odour of baby sweat and have a preference for it.
3. Studies on the MHC gene on mice and humans (the Hutterian Brethen were examined) indicate that mice and people choose partners if they have a different immune system.
4. Most bird species pair up in monagonmous relationships for breeding. Most mammals do not. Only about 5% of mammals do. This includes Gibbons.
5. Galton, Darwin's cousin, was founder of the eugenics movement in 1883.
6. There was pyschiatric hypotheisis that suggested some people had a genetic diposition to be violent (Goodwin).
7. The black window female eats the male during mating.
8. Turner's Syndrome afflicts 1 in 2,000 girls. They are missing an X chromosone and can have masculine characteristics.
9. Vampire bats regurgitate some of their own meals for other bats should they need it - but only if the recognise the bats as friends. This is known as delayed altruism.
10. Zeebras and Giraffes team up and help each other from predators. This is known as cross species altruism. Some ants and aphids also exhibit this.
11. There is a study (Dunbar) which suggests a relationship between the size of neo-cortex in a species and its natural group size. The estimated natural group size of humans is to be 125-150.

And that's just a sample! This book goes into detail on all the above and also has quite a large number of other interesting scientific findings.

Winston doesn't really go too much into detail with any philosophy. He does explain Hobbes' 'State of Nature' theory proposed in Levithian very well and he does reference Nietzches' "that which does not kill us makes us stronger" and Voltaire's "if God does not exist, it would be necessary to invent him" - but it's mainly Scientific findings he uses in this book.

Closer to the domain of pyschology - Winston gives an excellant explaination of Maynard Smith's game theory analysis. He also goes through classic pyschology problems such as the prisoners dilema, the ultimatum game and Wason selection task - which suggest we have an innate mechanism to detect cheaters. All well explained and interesting.

The style of writing is quite objective and matter of fact. He doesn't really go too much into his own opinions except when talking about his views on religion. It's mainly a book that is a bombardment of interesting facts and information all of which is quite readable.
There's no overall hypotheisis in this book which the author is trying to argue more just a summary of what Science has produced on matters pertaining to human instincts.

It's an interesting read. It's not complicated. You wouldn't need to be an expert to read this and if you have any sort of inquisitive nature, I'm sure you'll like it. If you are coming more from an academic angle you might some of it too simple.

The Pig That Wants to be Eaten: And Ninety-nine Other Thought Experiments
The Pig That Wants to be Eaten: And Ninety-nine Other Thought Experiments
by Julian Baggini
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely brilliant, 19 Mar. 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I always admire an intellectual who can take something abstract or complicated and explain it in very simple terms so that something which is esoteric can be easily understood. In this book Baginni does this 100 times. He takes classic philosophical problems and uses simple language, common day scenarios and some sharp wit to present 100 interesting, though provoking, challenging thought experiments.

Each experiment is separate, independent and unique and posses a "what to do" dilema? For example, as title suggests, suppose there was a pig that could communicate that they actually wanted to be eaten? Would vegitarians still have a valid argument? Or is it wrong for someone to use their neighbour's wi-fi to get broadband internet access without their neighbour even knowing if it costs the neighbour nothing?

After presenting the dilema, Baggini then works through an analysis referencing well known philosophers and intellectuals and suggest various views they had on the dilema. Nietzches, Hume, Descartes and host of others all get a mention along the way as we encouter classics Philosophical problems - Xeno's pardox, Plato's Cave, the problem of evil etc.

But the beauty of this book is that Baginni, presents the dilema or the problem in the modern terms without loosing any of the wisdom of the philosophical concept thus making it far more easier to understand. For example, Plato's cave is a famous dilema of people in a cave not understanding what their shadows on the cave walls are, despite the fact they think that they do. Someone leaves the cave and realises how the shadows are being formed but has difficulty communicating and explaining it to those that have never left the cave. Explain this in modern terms, Baggini suggests to imagine a bunch of coach potatoes who are locked in their house watching soap operas. Just like the cave dwellers couldn't understand what their shadows were, the coach potatoes don't fully understand the soap operas. They think the soap operas are real life documentaries. How are they do know it's really just a set with actors following a script? Similarly, someone then leaves the house, realises how soap operas are made and what they really are but again can't communicate or explain this to those who never left the house.

The layout of this book does not follow any strict chronological order so the reader can skip through the problems and simply pick this book up and
put it down any time.

I can imagine plenty of uses for this book. Teachers who want to give something interesting and challenging to their precocious students,
parents who want to open up a bit of rational thought and enquiry with inquisitive children or just about anyone who likes a bit brain activity.

Absolutely brilliant.

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
by Daniel C. Dennett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Takes to long to make points, 19 Mar. 2008
Why is Religion here? Is it ever going to go away? This book isn't about answering these complicated questions, but more about why we should ask these questions and how we could go about getting reliable answers.

Dennet's view is that we could examine Religion empiraclly and scientifically. By having some reliable data we would then understand the paradigm more and approach reliable answers to these questions. Religious people should not have a fear about this as if they wish to understand their Religion they should be prepared to examine it. We should then present all findings and not hide anything.

I felt that this honest and objective approach was Dennet's political correct and sensitive way of saying we must really look at Religion more critically. He is certainly not as caustic as Dawkins or Hitchens
and an approach of critizing something that people hold sacred with sensitivity is to be welcomed.

That said, I found that Dennet spent too long making some of his points. Sometimes, I felt he would take 5 pages to make a point that could have been made in half a page. This was either because Dennet was trying to convey to the reader he was being as objective as possible or it was because he needs to hire himself a good editor. Probably a bit of both.

I am not sure if Dennet pushed the buttons in this book. Who is it meant to appeal to? Most atheists I am sure will have already questioned Religion. Intelligent Religious people who don't like to be offended but who are open minded about their beliefs might like it - but how many of them are there? What about someone doing some sociology research and needs some ideas? Perhaps.

I didn't get much of it anyway. A book that described results of some of the studies and experiments Dennet's suggest would certainly be very interesting. But I was kind of hoping this book would be that, not simply saying what we could do and why we should do it. That to me is too obvious.

I also found the writing style too cumbersome. I think Dennet is a far better speaker than writer.

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